practiced cannibalism? One scientist thinks so
Robert Gehrke * Associated Press writer * (from deseretnews)--
The remains of seven people littered the floor of the dusty home, the
victims of an unimaginable slaughter. They had been scalped, their skulls
roasted, cracked open like nuts and the contents eaten. The rib cages were
torn open, the cracked bones boiled and the fat extracted. The tongue of
one victim was cut out, and the flesh stripped from the bones and apparently
That's how Christy Turner reads the 800-year-old evidence amid the ruins
Anasazi pueblo along the Puerco River near the Arizona-New Mexico border.
It has been
more than 30 years since he first came upon remains he believes contains
deceased were cannibalized.
Turner's controversial conclusions have shaken long-held perceptions of
that blossomed in the Chaco Canyon area of northwest New Mexico in about
and spread in the next 250 years across a vast region encompassing the
area of the Southwest.
The basket-making culture was known for its system of enormous buildings
as Great Houses, an elaborate system of roads connecting them, advanced
astronomical observation and peaceful ways. Around 1150 A.D., for reasons
the culture crumbled.
The term Anasazi is a Navajo word meaning ancient enemies, and many of
culture's descendants resent the characterization. Hopis, for example,
use the term
Hisatsinom, meaning the people of long ago.
Descendants also object to Turner's conclusions, arguing the claim of cannibalism
a slanderous stain on their ancestors.
Scientists have also criticized the Arizona State University anthropology
for making broad generalizations without adequate supporting evidence.
Turner, a scholar who relishes controversy, takes the criticism in stride.
'Let's open our eyes and look at the darker side of ourselves,' " he says
of his claim of
cannibalism among the Anasazi.
It is that dark side Turner explores in a new book, "Man
Corn: Cannibalism and
in the Prehistoric American Southwest," published by the University
Press. The 547-page work was co-authored by Turner's late wife, Jacqueline,
of breast cancer in 1996.
The Turners hypothesize that cannibalism was brought
from Mexico into the Anasazi
territory, perhaps by religious cultists. Cannibalism
was common in Mesoamerica, dating
back 2,500 years, and Turner believes the cultists used it to terrorize
and control the
There is a history of commerce between the Anasazi and Mexican tribes and
evidence — pot paintings and the like — indicating some of the southerners'
traditions were incorporated by the Anasazi.
Remains at the Puerco River site are very similar
to remains of victims of ritual
sacrifice in Mexico, Turner says.
"We choose to see it as a group of people coming in and taking over in
gang-like behavior," he said. "(Cannibalism)
was their gimmick. This
was their weapon."
As evidence, Turner points to characteristics of some human remains that
identical to those on the bones of game animals the Anasazi killed for
For example, the long human bones were broken so the marrow could be
removed; there was evidence of roasting on some bones, including the back
skulls; marks on the bone where the flesh was cut from the bone; missing
and "anvil abrasions," created when the bone slips as it is pounded with
Another unique characteristic, discovered by Tim D. White, an anthropologist
University of California at Berkeley, is "pot polishing," which occurs
when bones boiled in
a clay pot rub along the side of the pot and are buffed smooth.
In his book, Turner looked at 76 sites excavated since 1893 where archaeologists
have asserted there was violence and possibly cannibalism. Turner said
that at 38 of
those sites, mostly in a 90-mile radius around the Four Corners area, some
were butchered and eaten.
All this adds up to compelling evidence for some but not for others.
"If it's not cannibalism, I don't know how you'd explain it," said Doug
of the physical anthropology division at the National Museum of Natural
Owsley is compiling a database to assess 1,500 variables on bone pathology
some 6,000 to 7,000 Native American skeletons so they can be returned to
He said he has seen evidence that considerable warfare and even massacres
occurred along the border of the Anasazi and Fremont tribes. And in some
cases — in
the Great Plains and the Southwest — Turner's telltale signs are evident,
"It's not trying in any way to cast any aspersions," he said. "It's simply
look at it objectively and obtain what the reality was."