The 89th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2020)

Mortuary Contexts in Palenque, Mexico: Bone needles as indirect evidence for the presence of mortuary dress in poorly preserved Prehispanic Maya burials


Interdisciplinary Humanities, School of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts, UC Merced

April 16, 2020 , Platinum Ballroom Add to calendar

Bone needles found in Prehispanic Maya mortuary contexts are frequently interpreted according to the sex of the associated individual. If the individual is female, there is typically a gender-related interpretation focused on activities carried out in life. If the individual is male, then bone needles are generally associated with practices of self-sacrifice or bloodletting. Although these interpretations may be valid, preliminary results from two recently excavated domestic burials (burial 1, infant; burial 23, middle-aged woman) and two previously reported contexts (ruler Pakal and his wife) from Palenque, Mexico, show how bone needles could have had a different function in some funerary contexts. These individuals were buried with bone needles in the neck area. In Pakal’s burial, where preservation was good because of the elaborate funerary context, there is direct evidence of textiles and a needle that closely resembles a pin. Additional iconographic data demonstrates that the royal individuals were covered by a funerary cape and these needles may have served to grasp the textile. Burial 1 presents anatomical evidence of a funerary bundle wrapping the individual (“verticalization” of the right clavicle, transposition of the right radius and ulna). Burial 23, like the royal contexts, presents no evidence of body constriction, perhaps indicating a cape rather than a funerary bundle. Although further evidence is needed, I suggest bone needles found in the neck area could be evidence for the presence of funerary cape or a practice of bundling the dead and merits exploration in contexts presenting this characteristic.

Slides/Poster (pdf)