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Journal ArticleDOI

A coprological view of ancestral pueblo cannibalism

01 Jan 2006-American Scientist (Sigma Xi)-Vol. 94, Iss: 3, pp 254-261

TL;DR: As the object of my scientific study, I've hosen coprolites, a sample of ancient feces preserved by mineralization or simple drying, which can shed light on both the nutrition of and parasites found in prehistoric cultures.

AbstractAs the object of my scientific study, I've hosen coprolites. It's not a common choice, but to a paleonutri tionist and archaeoparasitologist, a coprolite?a sample of ancient feces preserved by mineralization or simple drying?is a scientific bonanza. Analy sis of coprolites can shed light on both the nutrition of and parasites found in prehistoric cultures. Dietary reconstruc tions from the analysis of coprolites can inform us about, for example, the ori gins of modern Native American diabe tes. With regard to parasitology, copro lites hold information about the ancient

Topics: Coprolite (54%)

Summary (2 min read)

Introduction

  • Most Americans know the people who lived on the Colorado Plateau from 1200 B.C. onward as the Anasazi, a Navajo (or Dine) word.
  • I have analyzed hundreds of Ancestral and pre-Ancestral Pueblo coprolites that were more interesting.

Cannibalism, Without Question

  • In the arid environment of the U.S. Southwest, feces dried in ancient throes provide a 9,000-year record of gastronomic traditions.
  • (I say “thick-skinned,” because analysts generally don’t last long in this specialty.
  • From the mid-1980s to the mid-’90s, I had characterized the Ancestral Pueblo lifestyle as a combination of hunting and gathering mixed with agriculture based on the analysis of about 500 coprolites from half a dozen sites.
  • The evidence for cannibalism at Cowboy Wash has been widely published.

Cannibalism

  • Debate over a single fecal fossil offers a cautionary tale of the interplay between science and culture Karl J. Reinhard Karl J. Reinhard is a professor in the School of Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska and a Fulbright Commission Senior Specialist in Archaeology for 2004-2009.
  • The main focus of his career since earning his Ph.D. from Texas A&M has been to find explanations for modern patterns of disease in the archaeological and historic record.
  • Commonly known by the Navajo term Anasazi, the Ancestral Pueblo were considered the “peaceful people” until they were accused of cannibalism in 1990s.
  • The feces was preserved as a coprolite and would turn out to be the conclusive evidence of cannibalism.
  • My original report suggesting the coprolite was not of Ancestral Pueblo origin went largely unnoticed.

What Did the Ancestral Pueblo Eat?

  • To me, a specialist in Ancestral Pueblo diet, neither Turner’s nor Billman’s explanation made sense.
  • From Washington State University, to Northern Arizona University to Texas A & M and many more, Ancestral Pueblo coprolites were rehydrated, screened, centrifuged and analyzed.
  • In their conscientious and rigorous research, the same general theme emerged.
  • The pre-Ancestral Pueblo people adapted to starvation from seasonal food shortages by eating yucca leaf bases and prickly pear pads and the few other plants that were available in such lean times.
  • They actually ate more species of wild plants—more than 50—than their ancestors who were totally dependent on wild species.

Adapting to the Environment

  • Later, Mark Stiger of Western State College and I went to work on the problem using a statistical method that he devised.
  • Denny and I analyzed coprolites from the last occupation of Antelope House in Canyon de Chelly, Arizona.
  • Archaeological surveys show that the mesas around the canyon were abandoned as people moved into the canyon to have access to water.
  • As for meat, my colleagues Mark Sutton, with California State University, Bakersfield, and Richard Marlar have found chemical signals in Ancestral Pueblo coprolites of bighorn sheep, rabbits, dogs and rodents.

Life on the Edge

  • Compared with other agricultural traditions I have studied in other parts of the world, the Ancestral Pueblo were rarely far from agricultural failure.
  • My students and I have examined coprolites from the most primitive and advanced cultures in the Andes, from the earliest Chinchorros to the latest Incas.
  • Therefore, they maintained the hunter-gatherer dietary traditions to supplement, or replace if necessary, cultivated plants.
  • Complete caloric dependence on cultivated plants, as took place in the Andes, was simply impossible for the Ancestral Pueblo.
  • The drought did not disrupt the standard burial traditions for this three-to-four-year-old, yet X-rays showed that this child survived seven episodes of starvation.

Was the Cannibal Ancestral Pueblo?

  • Work by numerous investigators thus shows that the Ancestral Pueblo possessed remarkable ecological adaptability; if they resorted to cannibalism because of environmental stress, it was a highly atypical response.
  • Besides, beyond a single sample, hundreds of coprolite analyses find not even a hint of cannibalism.
  • Overwhelmingly, the Ancestral Pueblo were primarily herbivorous.
  • A number of researchers were incredulous at the hysteria created by the Cowboy Wash cannibal coprolite.
  • Both coprolite and skeletal evidence examined by Utah State University bioarchaeologist Patricia Lambert do show that Ancestral Pueblo of Cowboy Wash were victims of violence and cannibalism—there’s little question about it.

The Peaceful People Concept

  • Christy Turner’s quote in the popular media puzzled me.
  • Earlier work had shown that violence, and perhaps even cannibalism, had taken place among the Ancestral Pueblo.
  • But in the ‘60s and ‘70s—a time of social volatility, seemingly suffused in the violence of combat and revolt—modern American culture was searching for examples of nonviolent social systems.
  • This seemed like pretty good evidence that all was not tranquil with the peaceful people, but such fires were explained as accidental.

Cannibalism at Other Sites?

  • In Man Corn, Turner carefully stated that he thought the Ancestral Pueblo were victims of terrorism imposed on them by a more violent and cannibalistic culture.
  • Initially it was thought that the bodies of two adults and 35 children were burned in the tower kiva.
  • I conclude that when analyzing the remains of the Ancestral Pueblo, it is important to consider that recent work shows that their mortuary practices were more complicated than the authors previously thought—and that complex mortuary practices should come as no surprise and constitute ambiguous evidence.
  • The Ancestral Pueblo, once thought to be peaceful, have now become, especially in the lay mind, violent cannibals.
  • The authors findings must be qualified in the context of alternative explanations.

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University of Nebraska - Lincoln
DigitalCommons@University of Nebraska - Lincoln
Karl Reinhard Papers/Publications Natural Resources, School of
5-2006
A Coprological View of Ancestral Pueblo
Cannibalism
Karl Reinhard
University of Nebraska-Lincoln, kreinhard1@mac.com
Follow this and additional works at: h9p://digitalcommons.unl.edu/natresreinhard
Part of the Archaeological Anthropology Commons, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Commons, Environmental Public Health Commons, Other Public Health Commons, and the
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8is Article is brought to you for free and open access by the Natural Resources, School of at DigitalCommons@University of Nebraska - Lincoln. It
has been accepted for inclusion in Karl Reinhard Papers/Publications by an authorized administrator of DigitalCommons@University of Nebraska -
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Reinhard, Karl, "A Coprological View of Ancestral Pueblo Cannibalism" (2006). Karl Reinhard Papers/Publications. 26.
h9p://digitalcommons.unl.edu/natresreinhard/26

254
A
s the object of my scientic study,
I’ve chosen coprolites. It’s not a
common choice, but to a paleonutri-
tionist and archaeoparasitologist, a
coprolite—a sample of ancient feces
preserved by mineralization or simple
drying—is a scientic bonanza. Analy-
sis of coprolites can shed light on both
the nutrition of and parasites found in
prehistoric cultures. Dietary reconstruc-
tions from the analysis of coprolites can
inform us about, for example, the ori-
gins of modern Native American diabe-
tes. With regard to parasitology; copro-
lites hold information about the ancient
emergence and spread of human infec-
tious disease. Most sensational, how-
ever, is the recent role of coprolite anal-
ysis in debates about cannibalism.
Most Americans know the people
who lived on the Colorado Plateau
from 1200 B.C. onward as the Anasazi,
a Navajo (or Dine) word. The modern
Pueblo people in Arizona and New
Mexico, who are their direct descen-
dants, prefer the description Ancestral
Pueblo or Old Ones. Because the image
of this modern culture could be tainted
by the characterization of their ances-
tors, it’s especially important that ar-
chaeologists and physical anthropol-
ogists come to the correct conclusion
about cannibalism. This is the story of
my involvement in that effort.
When a coprolite arrived in my lab-
oratory for analysis in 1997, I didn’t
imagine that it would become one of
the most contentious nds in archaeo-
logical history. Banks Leonard, the Soil
Systems archaeologist who directed ex-
cavation of the site at Cowboy Wash,
Utah, explained to me that there was
evidence of unusual dietary activity by
the prehistoric individual who depos-
ited the coprolite. He or she was possi-
bly a cannibal.
I had been aware of the cannibalism
controversy for a number of years, and
I was interested in evaluating evidence
of such activity. But from my scientic
perspective, it was simply another sam-
ple that would provide a few more data
points in my reconstruction of ancient
diet from a part of the Ancestral Pueblo
region that was unknown to me.
The appearance of the coprolite was
unremarkable—in fact, it was actually
a little disappointing. It looked like a
plain cylinder of tan dirt with no obvi-
ous macrofossils or visible dietary in-
clusions. I have analyzed hundreds of
Ancestral and pre-Ancestral Pueblo
coprolites that were more interesting.
Indeed, I have surveyed tens of thou-
sands more that, to my experienced eye,
held greater scientic promise. Yet this
one coprolite, when news of it hit the
media, undid 20 years of my research
on the Ancestral Pueblo diet. On a
broader scale, it caused the archaeolog-
ical community to rethink our percep-
tion of the nature of this prehistoric cul-
ture and to question what is reasonable
scientic proof.
Cannibalism, Without Question
In the arid environment of the U.S.
Southwest, feces dried in ancient throes
provide a 9,000-year record of gastro-
nomic traditions. This record allows me
and a few other thick-skinned research-
ers to trace dietary history in the deserts.
(I say “thick-skinned,” because analysts
generally don’t last long in this specialty.
Many have done one coprolite study,
only to move on to a more socially ac-
ceptable archaeological specialty.)
From the mid-1980s to the mid-’90s, I
had characterized the Ancestral Pueblo
lifestyle as a combination of hunting
and gathering mixed with agriculture
based on the analysis of about 500 cop-
rolites from half a dozen sites. Before
me, Gary Fry, then at Youngstown State
University, had come to the same con-
clusion in work he published during
the ‘70s and ‘80s, based on the analysis
of a large number of Ancestral Pueblo
coprolites from many sites. These peo-
ple were nely attuned to the diverse
and complicated habitats of the Colo-
rado Plateau for plant gathering, as well
as for plant cultivation. The Ancestral
Pueblo certainly ate meat—many kinds
of meat—but never had there been any
indication of cannibalism in any copro-
lite analysis from any site.
The evidence for cannibalism at
Cowboy Wash has been widely pub-
lished. A small number of people were
Published in American Scientist 94:3 (May/June 2006), pp. 254-261.
Copyright © Sigma XI Science Research Society. Used by permission.
A Coprological View of Ancestral Pueblo
Cannibalism
Debate over a single fecal fossil offers a cautionary tale
of the interplay between science and culture
Karl J. Reinhard
Karl J. Reinhard is a professor in the School of Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska and a Fulbright Commission Senior Specialist
in Archaeology for 2004-2009. The main focus of his career since earning his Ph.D. from Texas A&M has been to nd explanations for mod-
ern patterns of disease in the archaeological and historic record. He also developed a new specialization called archaeoparasitology, which
attempts to understand the evolution of parasitic disease. Address: 309 Biochemistry Hall, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE 48503-0578.
Figure 1. What was the nature of the people
who occupied much of the Colorado Plateau
for two and a half millennia up until about
1300 A.D.? Commonly known by the Navajo
term Anasazi, the Ancestral Pueblo were
considered the “peaceful people” until they
were accused of cannibalism in 1990s. The
answer is more than academic, as their de-
scendants still occupy the southerly reaches
of the Ancestral Pueblo domain. The author
has studied hundreds of Ancestral Pueblo
coprolites—dried or fossilized feces—and
has found all but one to contain residues of a
diverse mixture of plant matter, both domes-
ticated and wild, and meat. Only one shows
evidence of cannibalism. Should that single
sample be used to condemn an entire cul-
ture? The human efgy shown here is from
Pueblo III culture, circa 700-1100 A.D.

A Co pr o lo g iC A l Vi e w o f AnC e st r Al pu e bl o CA n n i b A li s m 255
The Art Archive/Southwest Museum/Pasadena/Laurie Pratt Winfrey

256 KAr l re in h Ar d i n A m e r i c A n S c i e n t i S t 94:3 (m A y /Jun e 2006)
undoubtedly killed, disarticulated and
their esh exposed to heat and boiling.
This took place in a pit house typical
of the Ancestral Pueblo circa 1200 A.D.
At the time of the killings, the appear-
ance of the pit house must have been
appallingly gruesome. Human blood
residue was found on stone tools, and
I imagine that the disarticulation of
the corpses must have left a horrifying
splatter of blood around the room. But
the most conclusive evidence of can-
nibalism did not come from the room
where the corpses were dismembered.
It came from a nearby room where
someone had defecated on the hearth
around the time that the killings took
place. The feces was preserved as a cop-
rolite and would turn out to be the con-
clusive evidence of cannibalism.
My analysis of the coprolite was not
momentous. I could determine from
its general morphology that it was in-
deed from a human being. However,
the tiny fragment that I rehydrated
and examined by several microscopic
techniques contained none of the typ-
ical plant foods eaten by the Ances-
tral Pueblo. Background pollen of the
sort that would have been inhaled or
drunk was the only plant residue that
I found. Thus, I concluded that the cop-
rolite did not represent normal Ances-
tral Pueblo diet. It seemed to represent
a purely meat meal, something that is
unheard of from Ancestral Pueblo cop-
rolite analyses.
After analyzing the Cowboy Wash
coprolite, I took a half-year sabbatical
as a Fulbright scholar in Brazil. When
I returned, I learned that my analysis
had been superseded by a new technol-
ogy. Richard Marlar from the Univer-
sity of Colorado School of Medicine and
colleagues had taken over direct anal-
ysis of the coprolite using an enzyme-
linked immunosorbent assay to detect
human myoglobin, and their work had
conrmed and expanded my analysis.
The coprolite was from a human who
had eaten another human. The technical
paper appeared in Nature and was fol-
lowed by articles in the New Yorker, Dis-
cover, Southwestern Lore and the Smith-
sonian, among many others. The articles
became the focus of a veritable explo-
sion of media pieces in the press, on ra-
dio and television, and on the Internet,
amounting to an absolute attack on An-
cestral Pueblo culture.
Initially, I sat and watched the me-
dia feeding frenzy and Internet chat de-
bates with a sense of awe and post-sab-
batical detachment. My original report
suggesting the coprolite was not of An-
cestral Pueblo origin went largely unno-
ticed. The few journalists who did call
me for an opinion proved uninterested
in publishing it. In some cases it was too
far to y to Nebraska to lm; in others
my opinion didn’t t into the context of
the debate. Well, I have looked at more
Ancestral Pueblo feces than any other
human being, and I do have an opinion:
The Ancestral Pueblo were not canni-
balistic. Cannibalism just doesn’t make
sense as a pattern of diet for people so
exquisitely adapted to droughts by cen-
turies of hunting-gathering traditions
and agricultural innovation.
Then a media quote knocked me out
of my stupor. Arizona State University
anthropologist (emeritus) Christy G.
Turner II, commenting in an interview
about a book he co-authored on Ances-
tral Pueblo cannibalism, said, “I’m the
guy who brought down the Anasazi.”
Perhaps to temper Turner’s broad gen-
eralization, Brian Billman (a coauthor of
the Marlar Nature paper) of the Univer-
sity of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,
suggested that a period of drought
brought on emergency conditions that
resulted in cannibalism. Beyond the sci-
entic quibbling about who ate whom
and why, I am amazed at the vortex of
debate around the Coyote Wash copro-
lite. The furor over that one coprolite
represents a new way of thinking about
the Ancestral Pueblo and archaeologi-
cal evidence.
What Did the Ancestral Pueblo Eat?
To me, a specialist in Ancestral
Pueblo diet, neither Turner’s nor Bill-
man’s explanation made sense. So, in
the years since the Nature paper ap-
peared in 2000, I have renewed my
analyses of Ancestral Pueblo coprolites
to understand just what they did eat in
times of drought. And let me say em-
phatically that Ancestral Pueblo cop-
rolites are not composed of the esh of
their human victims. Some of their di-
etary practices were, perhaps, peculiar.
I still recall in wonderment the inch-di-
ameter deer vertebral centrum that I
found in one sample. It was swallowed
whole. The consumption of insects,
snakes and lizards brought the Ances-
tral Pueblo notice in the children’s book
It Was Disgusting and I Ate It. But look-
Figure 2. Cowboy Wash, Utah, near the San
Juan River and Four Corners, is the only An-
cestral Pueblo archaeological excavation to
turn up coprological evidence of cannibal-
ism. Evidence from other sites (red dots) con-
rms the people’s diverse diet. (Topographic
map courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey.)

A Co pr o lo g iC A l Vi e w o f AnC e st r Al pu e bl o CA n n i b A li s m 257
ing beyond such peculiarities, their diet
was delightfully diverse and testies to
the human ability to survive in the most
extreme environments. To me, diet is
one the most fundamental bases of civ-
ilization, and the Ancestral Pueblo pos-
sessed a complicated cuisine. They were
gastronomically civilized.
Widespread analysis of coprolites
by “paleoscatologists” began in the
1960s and culminated in the ‘70s and
‘80s when graduate students worked
staunchly on their coprological theses
and dissertations. From Washington
State University, to Northern Arizona
University to Texas A & M and many
more, Ancestral Pueblo coprolites were
rehydrated, screened, centrifuged and
analyzed. Richard Hevly, Glenna Wil-
liams-Dean, John Jones, Mark Stiger,
Linda Scott-Cummings, Kate Aasen,
Gary Fry, Karen Clary, Molly Toll and
Vaughn Bryant, Jr., to name a few,
joined me in puzzling over Ancestral
Pueblo culinary habits. In their consci-
entious and rigorous research, the same
general theme emerged. The Ancestral
Pueblo were very well adapted to the
environment, both in times of feast and
in times of famine.
In general, the Ancestral Pueblo diet
was the culmination of a long period
of victual tradition that began around
9,000 years ago, when people on the
Colorado Plateau gave up hunting big
animals and started collecting plants
and hunting smaller animals. Prickly
pear cactus, yucca, grain from drop-
seed grass, seeds from goosefoot and
foods from 15 other wild plants dom-
inated pre-Ancestral Pueblo life. One
of the truly interesting dietary patterns
that emerged in the early time and con-
tinued through the Ancestral Pueblo
culture was the consumption of pol-
len-rich foods. Cactus and yucca buds
and other owers were the sources of
this pollen. Rabbit viscera probably pro-
vided a source of fungal spores of the
genus Endogane, although I doubt that
these people knew they were eating the
spores when they ate the rabbits. The
pre-Ancestral Pueblo people adapted to
starvation from seasonal food shortages
by eating yucca leaf bases and prickly
pear pads and the few other plants that
were available in such lean times.
Prey for the pre-Ancestral Pueblo peo-
ple included small animals such as rab-
bits, lizards, mice and insects. In tact,
most pre-Ancestral Pueblo coprolites
contain the remains of small animals.
My analysis of these remains shows that
small animals, especially rabbits and
mice, were a major source of protein in
summer and winter, good times and bad.
The Ancestral Pueblo per se de-
scended from this hunter-gatherer tra-
dition. Coprolite analysis shows that
they were largely vegetarian, and plant
foods of some sort are present in ev-
ery Ancestral Pueblo coprolite I have
analyzed. But these later people also
expanded on their predecessors’ cui-
sine. They cultivated maize, squash
and eventually beans. Yet they contin-
ued to collect a wide diversity of wild
plants. They actually ate more species of
wild plants—more than 50—than their
ancestors who were totally dependent
on wild species.
Adapting to the Environment
In 1992, I presented a series of hy-
potheses addressing why the Ancient
Pueblo ate so many species of wild
plants. Later, Mark Stiger of Western
State College and I went to work on the
problem using a statistical method that
he devised. We determined that the An-
cestral Pueblo encouraged the growth
of edible weedy species in the distur-
bances caused by cultivation and vil-
lage life. In doing so, they increased the
spectrum of wild edible plants avail-
able to them, often using them to spice
Figure 3. Small seeds were an important part of the Ancestral Pueblo diet. Because they are
typically quite small and are often fragmented from stone grinding, their identication in cop-
rolites can be difcult. Shown here (clockwise, from upper left) are seeds of pigweed, goose-
foot, purslane, dropseed grass, an unknown seed present in on|y one sample and hedge-
hog-cactus fruit. These are only a few examples of the seeds that the Ancestral Pueblo ate.
(Vegetation photographs by the author.)

Figures (5)
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Abstract: COPROLITE STUDIES IN BIOARCHAEOLOGY Human coprolites currently provide an expanding array of information about the diet, health, and ecology of prehistoric people in the Southwest, but for many years coprolites were not recognized or preserved, or they were not considered important and thus were not saved (Bryant and Dean 2006). With the expansion of archaeological field work during the last half of the twentieth century archaeologists have increasingly explored the " complete " potentials of sites, including the collection and analysis of geomorphologic, botanical, and faunal data. In some ideal habitats (e.g., very dry or frozen) this includes exploring the scientific potential of human coprolite studies. This is not easy to do: very few coprolites have what might be considered a " characteristic shape and size. " In our experience, the majority of coprolites are usually fragmented, flattened by age, or in many cases are preserved as amorphous masses of various sizes similar in shape to " paddies " left behind by cattle. These flat, amorphous human coprolites are especially common in sites used by foragers with diets very high in plant fiber. Coprolites and coprolite fragments are sometimes collected in situ during archaeological excavations, but most often they are found during screening, when dirt is being separated from artifacts. If unrecognized, coprolites may be crushed into dust, along with clods of dirt, and their contents lost. In the American Southwest the arid climate, protected sites, and dry rock shelters provide some of our best areas in North America for the preservation of human coprolites and the long record of biological history they help to reveal. Starting in the early 1960s with the pioneering efforts of Eric Callen (1963) and Martin and Sharrock (1964), but especially in the seventies and eighties, coprolites were the focus of many interdisciplinary research A large number of articles, chapters, and monographs were published as a result of this early As summarized by Reinhard and Bryant (1992) these works explored the application of many fields to coprolite analysis including archaeopalynology, archaeobotany, archaeoparasitology, zooarchaeology, biochemistry, starch analysis, and phytolith analysis. (Phytoliths are microscopic mineral deposits produced by plants within their cells. Phytoliths are extremely durable and their morphologies are frequently specific to family, genus, and even species.) Each research project offered new methodological innovations and several salient works came from this period. Williams-Dean's dissertation (1978) was a milestone in combining studies of modern feces with the …

46 citations


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  • ...A number of coprolite studies reported that the breadth of Ancestral Pueblo diets was generally nutritionally sound (Cummings 1994; Fry 1980; Minnis 1989)....

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  • ...…trichura (whipworms), Ascaris lumbricoides (giant intestinal roundworms), Ancylostomidae (hookworms), Acanthocephala (thorny headed worms), Strongyloides stercoralis (threadworm), taeniid tapeworms, hymenolepidid tapeworms, Enterobius vermicularis (pinworm), ticks, lice, and possibly flukes....

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  • ...Parasite 6:201-208 Iñiguez, A. M., K. J. Reinhard, A. Araújo, L. F. Ferreira, and A. C. P. Vicente 2003 Enterobius vermicularis Ancient DNA from North and South American Human Coprolites....

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  • ...The molars of these people tended to have smooth, polished occlusal surfaces and rounded occlusal margins from chewing tough fibers and grit in their foods....

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  • ...Chaves, S. M., and K. Reinhard 2006 Critical Analysis of Prehistoric Evidence of Medicinal Plant Use, Piauí, Brazil....

    [...]


Journal ArticleDOI
Abstract: This article presents an evaluation of coprolite specimens from the Lower Pecos canyonlands as records of individual dietary decisions. Prior studies of coprolites from this region have greatly expanded our knowledge of Archaic subsistence patterns, but have not taken full advantage of the record of individual dietary decisions recorded in each coprolite specimen. The menu, or dietary combinations, reflected in individual coprolite specimens are assessed through the identification of several congruent botanical components derived from the same food resource, phytoliths, fiber ultimates, and epidermal sheets. The data is analyzed with hierarchical cluster analysis, an exploratory statistical technique. The resultant menus reflected in these clusters are evaluated with reference to a diet-breadth model developed for the known staple resources of the canyonlands. Three main menus are apparent in the specimens. The first menu consists of prickly pear (Opuntia sp.) cladodes, or nopales, and was principally, although not exclusively, consumed in the late spring. This menu is primarily consumed when other resources were not readily available and may be considered a dependable but undesirable meal. The second menu consists of pit-baked lechuguilla (Agave lechuguilla) and sotol (Dasylirion sp.) caudices, or hearts, common throughout the cool season. This menu entails high processing costs, but would provide a reliable caloric return. The third menu exhibits a monolithic reliance on prickly pear fruits, or tunas, during the summer. The ease of harvest and consumption is reflected in the seasonal dominance of this resource, which was assuredly a highly desirable meal. The dietary patterns recorded in the coprolite specimens from the Lower Pecos canyonlands demonstrate a seasonally variable diet-breadth that incorporated low-ranked resources during times of seasonal scarcity as well as a monolithic dependence on high-ranked resources when they were available in the local landscape.

36 citations


Journal ArticleDOI
Abstract: The detailed analysis of human coprolites as a recognized field of archaeological science is barely 40 years old. Dr. Eric O. Callen, the founder and developer of the discipline, has been dead for more than 30 years, yet the ideas he developed and techniques he perfected continue to guide the discipline today as it widens analysis into more areas than he ever dreamed possible. Callen would be gratified to learn that others have extended his initial research efforts to include the routine analysis of plant macrofossils, pollen concentration values, fauna and insects, phytoliths, and more recently, immunological proteins, trace elements, gas chromatography, and the extraction and identification of DNA from prehistoric human feces.

34 citations


References
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Journal ArticleDOI
TL;DR: Analysis of cases from the Mesa Verde region indicates a sharp increase in cannibalism around A.D. 1150, a time of drought and the collapse of the Chaco system, which supports the interpretation that people prepared and consumed human body parts.
Abstract: The existence of cannibalism has emerged as one of the most controversial issues in the archaeology of the American Southwest. In this paper, we examine this issue by presenting the results of our investigation at 5MT10010, a small early Pueblo III habitation site in southwestern Colorado. Battered, broken bones from seven individuals were discovered in two adjacent pithouses at 5MT10010. Mixed and incomplete remains of four adults and an adolescent were recovered from the floor and ventilator shaft of one pithouse; the remains of two subadults were found on the floor and in various subfeatures of the second. Cut marks and percussion scars implicate humans in the disarticulation and reduction of these bodies. Evidence of heat exposure on some bone fragments and laboratory analyses of a human coprolite recovered from one of the pithouses support the interpretation that people prepared and consumed human body parts. The discovery of disarticulated human remains at 5MT10010 is one of a number of similar finds in the northern Southwest. Analysis of cases from the Mesa Verde region indicates a sharp increase in cannibalism around A.D. 1150, a time of drought and the collapse of the Chaco system. The causes, consequences, and nature of this apparent outbreak of cannibalism are examined in light of 5MT10010 and other recent finds.

129 citations


Journal ArticleDOI

79 citations


Journal ArticleDOI
TL;DR: The response to the study by Billman et al. is intended to provide a critical yet constructive commentary, propose fresh ways of thinking about what assemblages of disarticulated and broken bones might mean, and reformulate how research questions are being asked.
Abstract: The article by Billman et al. contributes to a growing body of data that demonstrates the complex variability of the Pueblo world during the twelfth century. Although the article's title promises a comprehensive review of major cultural and environmental processes (drought, warfare, cannibalism, regional interactions), relatively little theory regarding these processes informs their research design, and much of their interpretation is based on weak inferences. Their empirical data are not used to test alternative hypotheses or rigorously examine expectations derived from modeling. Dynamic aspects of cultural patterns relating to migration, settlement, environment, abandonment, mortuary behaviors, conflict, and group identity are implicated in their research but are not adequately contextualized. Our response to the study by Billman et al. is intended to provide a critical yet constructive commentary, propose fresh ways of thinking about what assemblages of disarticulated and broken bones might mean, and reformulate how research questions are being asked.

54 citations


01 Jan 1993
TL;DR: The large number of coprolites analyzed from North America reveals direct ingestion of small animals and indicates that small animal remains from sites indeed reflect human dietary patterns.
Abstract: Researchers tend to underestimate or ignore the importance of small animals to the prehistoric diet due to the difficulty of separating cultural from noncultural faunal debris excavated from sites. Human coprolite analyses (dessicated human feces) indicate prehistoric dietary consumption of small animals. The large number of coprolites analyzed from North America reveals direct ingestion of small animals and indicates that small animal remains from sites indeed reflect human dietary patterns. The coprolites reveal that reptiles, birds, bats, and a large variety of rodents were an important and prevalent component of the prehistoric diet.

28 citations