Monday, June 13, 2011

Eaters of the Dead

I'm more convinced than ever that some of the Anasazi were cannibals. It's mostly because of this book, which I picked up at a price considerably cheaper than the one Amazon has listed.

It's a boring, academic book with an unfortunate musty smell, but it's methodical and very convincing. It examines a collection of skeletal remains excavated at one site and finds that most of the bones show evidence of butchery and cooking, which probably means those people were eaten.

And when I say methodical, I mean, methodical. Chapter 7: The Head. Chapter 9: The Arm. Chapter 10: The Leg.

These splinters show the bone was crushed and the marrow extracted. These cutmarks? That's where the tendon was sheered off with a stone blade. That smooth rounded part on the end? Pot polish from rolling around in a stew.

It speculates some in the final chapter, but for the most part it's a straight-up factual account. Either the people in that village were attacked (likely) or they attacked someone else and brought the bodies home for supper.

The obvious question this raises is how did this fit in with the culture of the time?

And here's a few things to consider. That whole region, from Chaco Canyon all the way up to Mesa Verde and out to Canyon De Chelly, was way more populated then than it is now. Chaco Canyon was basically an urban environment, lots of people to meet, things to do, places to go. It would be tempting to think that this Mancos settlement existed in isolation of this whole burgeoning culture around it, but the truth is, it was right in the middle of it. And having a fairly large building, we can assume these people had some status.

Now I'm not calling them gentry, but if the Anasazi king came by for a visit, they probably would have been able to entertain him.

And yet someone massacred them, cut them into steaks, roasts, and rib racks, and had a big barbecue...right in the middle of the Anasazi nation. Word travels fast, even by foot. Horror was probably one reaction, hence the building of cliff dwellings and other defensive structures.

So was it warfare, or something else? If it was warfare, who were they fighting? One guess would be themselves. As their fields become less productive, some groups resorted to attacking a neighboring village and eating the dead. Perhaps it was just a way to get by in lean times. You ransack their house, steal their stores and their seedcorn, have a feast, get all those vitamins and minerals that you've been lacking for months in one big blast, then go back home and hope for better times.

And hope someone doesn't eat you.

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