Indigenous Cannibalism in the Americas

Author Kristy McCaffrey’s Blog ~ Pathways: Cannibalism in the American Southwest – In the 1990’s definitive proof arrived when a group of archaeological sites were excavated at the base of Sleeping Ute Mountain in southern Colorado. Within the first kiva was found a pile of chopped-up, boiled, and burned human bones. In the second kiva were found the remains of five people in which evidence suggested they had been roasted, the bones defleshed and split open for the marrow. The skulls of at least two people had been placed upside down on the fire, roasted, and broken open, and the cooked brains presumably scooped out. Tools for chopping were found with traces of human blood on them. In the third kiva, however, was the most unusual find. In the ashes of a central hearth was found a nondescript lump. Further analysis revealed it was a coprolite—desiccated human feces. Testing revealed that the feces contained human myoglobin, a protein found only in skeletal and heart muscle. The only way it could get into the intestinal tract was through eating. Based on the evidence at hand it was clear the community had been attacked. The people had been killed, cooked, and eaten. Then, in an ultimate act of contempt, one of the killers defecated in a hearth, the symbolic center of the family and the household.

THE “HUMAN” DIET – Tess Gerritsen – There are many folk tales of the Anasazi, Zuni, and Hopi cultures which mention human cannibalism, but as some experts point out, the skeletal findings do not necessarily mean the remains were actually consumed; dismemberment and stripping of flesh may instead have been some sort of bizarre mortuary practice.

Now there’s proof the flesh was eaten. That proof is found in human coprolites — otherwise known as dried-up feces.

Human muscle contains myoglobin, a protein found nowhere else except in skeletal and heart muscle. When human flesh is eaten, traces of myoglobin will appear in the diner’s excrement. Just such traces were found in human coprolites in Anasazi campsites where the bones of massacred people were scattered. It’s compelling evidence that cannibalism was real.

Toni Gore // Cannibalism in the American Southwest | Popular Archaeology – exploring the past – Another theory used to explain extensive perimortem skeletal trauma currently associated with cannibalism, is the cultural practice of secondary burials. According to Kantner (1999:81), preparation of the deceased as a cause for severe perimortem bone damage has specific contextual characteristics that one would expect if cannibalism had not occurred. These characteristics include the separation of human remains from faunal remains, formal mortuary treatment, and a standardized method of preparation. This is very rarely the context in which remains suggested to have occurred from cannibalistic activities are found. This being said, a study on Canyon Butte Ruin 3 in Northeastern Arizona did discover formally buried bones matching the taphonomic signatures of cannibalism, which could suggest mortuary practices as the cause of perimortem bone damage, rather than cannibalism. However, Turner & Turner (1992:676) maintain that extensive damage to the faces suggests death in the context of violence, as this type of inhumation was considerably rare in Anasazi society. Billman et al (2000:165) supports this conclusion, noting that, “although some North American societies are known to have removed flesh from the bones of the dead as part of the death ritual, often leaving cut marks as signs of the disarticulation process, they did not bash up the remains of their dead either before or after doing so”. He further maintains that the lack of any obvious burial goods, the random distribution of body parts, as well as extensive body mutilation, do not support the hypothesis of secondary burial practices as an explanation for the types of taphonomic characteristics found at 5MT10010. These rebuttals provide strong evidence against the practice of secondary burials at this site, as well as other sites in the American Southwest that have a history of probable cannibalism.

Study provides direct evidence of cannibalism in the Southwest //

“Now, we’ve identified biochemical remains of human tissue in a
coprolite, which is the term used for prehistoric human feces,” Billman
said. “Analysis of the coprolite, and associated remains, at last provides
definitive evidence for sporadic cannibalism in the Southwest.”

A report on the findings—certain to be controversial—appears in the Sept.
7 issue of Nature, a top scientific journal. Besides Billman, authors are Dr.
Richard A. Marlar of the University of Colorado School of Medicine, Banks L.
Leonard of Soil Systems, Inc. of Phoenix, Dr. Patricia M. Lambert of Utah State
University and Jennifer E. Marlar of the Colorado Archaeological Society.

The article draws on a multidisciplinary study of a small Anasazi site—known
as 5MT10010—located in the Southwest Colorado. Results of the study of
artifacts, bones and architecture at that site were published in the January,
2000 issue of American Antiquity. Results indicated that three families occupied
the site for approximately 20 to 30 years. When the residents abandoned their
homes sometime around 1150, at least seven people—men, women and children—were
systematically cut up and consumed. One of the people involved in the
consumption of flesh defecated into a hearth. Researchers recovered human feces
from the hearth and tested it for biochemical evidence of human tissue.

Extensive analysis of the three prehistoric dwellings known as pithouses at
the site, and the human bones and tools found inside, along with laboratory
tests, showed:

human blood residue on two stone tools used in butchering

human myoglobin, which could only come from human muscle, in the human
excrement and on a cooking pot.

cutmarks and charring on human bones, including skulls, entirely
consistent with food preparation.

no evidence of other mammals, corn or other vegetable matter in the
coprolite, which suggested that other food was unavailable.

One unusual finding at the excavation was that in the pithouses, almost all
roofing material, tools and other valuables remained. When people abandon a
home, they almost always take with them anything that can be used again unless
they are somehow prevented from doing so. Indications are that the victims had
no time to leave peaceably or to flee in panic.

Soil Systems, Inc., a private archaeological consulting company for which
Billman worked before moving to UNC-Chapel Hill, conducted the excavations. The
Ute Mountain Ute tribe contracted with the company to excavate 60 archaeological
sites before newly irrigated agricultural fields destroyed them. Results of the
investigations indicated that people colonized and abandoned that part of
Southwest Colorado several times between 700 and 1300.

“During periods of good climate, farmers would establish small
communities consisting of clusters of homesteads,” Billman said,
“Eventually each colonization failed, probably because of drought.”
Farmers who periodically occupied the area likely were ancestors of such tribes
as the Hopi and Zuni.

New Data Suggests Some Cannibalism By Ancient Indians – The New York Times – By JOHN NOBLE WILFORDSEPT. 7, 2000
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Scientists have found what they say is the first direct evidence of cannibalism among prehistoric Indians in the American Southwest, belying the image of these people as steadfastly peaceful farmers.

The finding may well reignite a long-smoldering controversy over whether ancestral Indians ever made it a practice to eat human flesh, a conclusion deeply resented by their descendants.

The latest evidence sprang from the site of an ancient Anasazi settlement near Mesa Verde in southwestern Colorado, where archaeologists came upon butchered human bones and stone cutting tools stained with human blood. A ceramic cooking pot held residues of human tissues. But the most telling of the evidence was found in human feces: biochemical tests revealed clear traces of digested human muscle protein in the dried coprolite, or fossilized prehistoric feces.

”Analysis of the coprolite and associated remains at last provides definitive evidence for sporadic cannibalism in the Southwest,” Dr. Brian R. Billman, an archaeologist at the University of North Carolina, said yesterday in an announcement of the discovery.

Europe’s Hypocritical History of Cannibalism | History | Smithsonian – By Sarah Everts
April 24, 2013

In 2001, a lonely computer technician living in the countryside in Northern Germany advertised online for a well-built man willing to participate in a mutually satisfying sexual act. Armin Meiwes’ notice was similar to many others on the Internet except for a rather important detail: The requested man must be willing to be killed and eaten.

Meiwes didn’t have to look far. Two hundred and thirty miles away in Berlin, an engineer called Bernd Brandes agreed to travel to Meiwes’ farmhouse. There, a gory video later found by police documented Brandes’ consensual participation in the deadly dinner. The cannibalism was both a shock to the German public and a conundrum to German prosecutors wanting to charge Meiwes with a crime.

Cannibalism might be humanity’s most sacred taboo, but consent of a victim typically eliminates a crime, explains Emilia Musumeci, a criminologist at the University of Catania, in Italy, who studies cannibalism and serial killers.

More technically, cannibalism is not designated as illegal in Germany’s extensive criminal code: Until that point, laws against murder had sufficed to cover cannibalism. If Brandes had volunteered his own life, how could Meiwes be accused of murder?

Because of his victim’s consent, Meiwes was initially found guilty of something akin to assisted suicide, and sentenced to eight years in jail. Had there not been widespread uproar about the seemingly lenient penalty, Meiwes would be out of jail by now. Instead, the uproar led to a subsequent retrial, where Meiwes was found guilty of killing for sexual pleasure. He will likely spend the rest of his life in jail.

The unusual Meiwes case is just one of the topics to be discussed this weekend at an interdisciplinary cannibal conference to be held at the Manchester Museum—the world’s first, say many attending the meeting.

The idea of a cannibalism conference might sound like the basis for a macabre joke about coffee-break finger food. However, there’s serious cannibal scholarship taking place in many disciplines, says conference organizer Hannah Priest, a lecturer at Manchester University, who has previously hosted other academic meetings on werewolves and monsters under the banner of her publishing company Hic Dragones. “From contemporary horror film to medieval Eucharistic devotions, from Freudian theory to science fiction, cannibals and cannibalism continue to repel and intrigue us in equal measure,” advertises the conference’s website.

When the call for abstracts went out last fall, “our first response was one from anthropology, another one was on heavy metal music and the third was on 18th-century literature,” Priest says. “Academics will quite happily discuss very disturbing things in quite polite terms and forget that not everybody talks about this stuff all the time.”

It is perhaps fitting that the conference should take place in Europe because the region has a long chronicle of cannibalism, from prehistory through the Renaissance, right up to the 21st-century Meiwes case. In addition, the area has bequeathed us a bounty of fictional cannibals, including Dracula, who is arguably the world’s most famous consumer of human blood and a gory harbinger of the current pop culture fascination with vampires and zombies.

Tough news to swallow: Europeans saw nothing wrong with cannibalism until the 1900s, two new books claim | Daily Mail Online – Sugg, from the University of Durham, told The Smithsonian: ‘The question was not, “Should you eat human flesh?” but, “What sort of flesh should you eat?”.

He explains how Thomas Willis, a 17th-century pioneer of brain science, brewed a drink for apoplexy, or bleeding, that mingled powdered human skull and chocolate. Meanwhile the moss that grew over a buried skull, called Usnea, was used to cure nosebleeds and possibly epilepsy.

Human fat was thought to cure gout, and German doctors soaked bandages in the fat for wounds.

A clue to our grisly past can be found in our literature, says Noble, from the University of New England in Australia. She found references in everything from John Donne’s ‘Love’s Alchemy’ to Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’.

Sugg also tells how fresh blood was highly valued for it’s ‘effects on vitality’. The German-Swiss physician Paracelsus, in the 16th century, believed blood was good for drinking.

Some followers advocated drinking blood fresh from the body, which does not seem to have caught on, but poor people could pay a small price for a cup of warm blood, served seconds after executions.

Europe’s ‘Medicinal Cannibalism’: The Healing Power of Death – SPIEGEL ONLINE – Finally, it was to be hung up “in a very dry and shady place.” In the end, the recipe notes, it would be “similar to smoke-cured meat” and would be without “any stench.”

Johann Schröder, a German pharmacologist, wrote these words in the 17th century. But the meat to which he was referring was not cured ham or beef tenderloin. The instructions specifically called for the “cadaver of a reddish man … of around 24 years old,” who had been “dead of a violent death but not an illness” and then laid out “exposed to the moon rays for one day and one night” with, he noted, “a clear sky.”

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