Anasazi practiced cannibalism? One scientist thinks so
Anasazi skull - 'fast food'?Anasazi practiced cannibalism? One scientist thinks so
        By 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 eaten.

                    That's how Christy Turner reads the 800-year-old evidence amid the ruins of an
              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 evidence the
              deceased were cannibalized.
                    Turner's controversial conclusions have shaken long-held perceptions of the culture
              that blossomed in the Chaco Canyon area of northwest New Mexico in about 900 A.D.
              and spread in the next 250 years across a vast region encompassing the Four Corners
              area of the Southwest.
                    The basket-making culture was known for its system of enormous buildings known
              as Great Houses, an elaborate system of roads connecting them, advanced irrigation,
              astronomical observation and peaceful ways. Around 1150 A.D., for reasons unknown,
              the culture crumbled.
                    The term Anasazi is a Navajo word meaning ancient enemies, and many of the
              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 is
              a slanderous stain on their ancestors.
                    Scientists have also criticized the Arizona State University anthropology professor
              for making broad generalizations without adequate supporting evidence.
                    Turner, a scholar who relishes controversy, takes the criticism in stride. "We've said,
              '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
           Violence in the Prehistoric American Southwest," published by the University of Utah
              Press. The 547-page work was co-authored by Turner's late wife, Jacqueline, who died
              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 some
              evidence pot paintings and the like indicating some of the southerners' religious
              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 a very
              gang-like behavior," he said. "(Cannibalism) was their gimmick. This was their weapon."
                    As evidence, Turner points to characteristics of some human remains that are
              identical to those on the bones of game animals the Anasazi killed for food.
                    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 of the
              skulls; marks on the bone where the flesh was cut from the bone; missing vertebrae;
              and "anvil abrasions," created when the bone slips as it is pounded with a stone.
                   Another unique characteristic, discovered by Tim D. White, an anthropologist at the
              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 286 people
              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 Owsley, head
              of the physical anthropology division at the National Museum of Natural History in
              Washington, D.C.
                    Owsley is compiling a database to assess 1,500 variables on bone pathology in
              some 6,000 to 7,000 Native American skeletons so they can be returned to the tribes
              and buried.
                    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, Owsley said.
                    "It's not trying in any way to cast any aspersions," he said. "It's simply trying to
              look at it objectively and obtain what the reality was."

Anasazi web-links:
The Anasazi Emergance
Intro to the Anasazi
Anasazi Culture
Anasazi Images
The Anasazi Cliff Dwellings
The Anasazi of Mesa Verde
Timelapse - Links: Anasazi
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