Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Distinguishing between natural and cultural taphonomic agents in skeletal assemblages from human sacrifice sites in Pre-Columbian northern coastal Peru
by Backo, Heather, Ph.D., Tulane University, 2012, 363; 3519916
Abstract (Summary)

This study expands upon traditional taphonomic techniques to distinguish between natural and cultural agents of modification among several Pre-Columbian human sacrificial sites from the north coast of Peru. The definition of taphonomy used here goes beyond traditional usage to include research issues in bioarchaeology and modern forensics. For the purposes of this research, taphonomy is thus defined broadly as the study and description of all postmortem processes, both natural and culturally-derived, which affect the subsequent recovery, condition and interpretation of skeletal remains.

The use of both established techniques as well as innovative methodologies provide a fresh look on sample size estimation, element representation, disarticulation, and orientations. Unusual patterns of element loss, dismemberment, trauma, and dispersal, and grouping/positioning is quantified and graphically illustrated, and then compared to known patterns of taphonomic activity, which are then either confirmed or excluded. In addition, these techniques give additional insight into the overall level of taphonomic winnowing present.

The resulting patterns were attributed almost exclusively to cultural rather than natural modifications. It was therefore possible to exclude both carnivore and fluvial activity from playing a central role at any of the included sites. In addition, the overall picture created by the taphonomic patterns both identified and elaborated upon several specific ritual activities practiced by these prehistoric cultures of Northern Peru. This included the deliberate removal of the cranial vault, a practice that was found to extend through the Moche III to the later Transitional period. Evidence from the Templo Nuevo suggested that the cranial vault was displayed or utilized for a period of time after removal. The deliberate removal of phalanges was also found to be present at the Moche III Plaza 3C and Transitional era Templo Nuevo, again illustrating cultural continuity. Also of note is the earliest evidence for the deliberate opening of the chest cavity involving cut marks on the manubrium from the Templo Nuevo, a practice that continued on into the later Chimu/Lambayeque periods. However, disarticulation patterns at Plaza 3C illustrate a focus on the torso area that could extend the practice even further in time to the Moche III era.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Verano, John W.
School: Tulane University
School Location: United States -- Louisiana
Source: DAI-A 73/11(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Archaeology, Physical anthropology, Forensic anthropology
Keywords: Human sacrifice, Moche, Paleopathology, Peru, Skeletal trauma, Taphonomy
Publication Number: 3519916
ISBN: 9781267512840
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