A report in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology shows ancient Puebloan Indians, also called Anasazi, practiced cannibalism, a claim seen as taboo by many.
The original findings were made in 2005, but were only publicised recently, due partially to the sensitivities involved. Archaeologists first noted possible evidence of the practice in 1969.
The bone fragments date to around 800 A.D., which falls under the Pueblo I era, the earliest of the periods of Puebloan civilisation. The fragments are believed to be the remains of 35 individuals. Jim Potter, the principal investigator at the Ridges Basin site near Durango, in the US state of Colorado, said:
“There was evidence of breaking and cutting off flesh, cooking and pulverizing.”
Archaeological excavations are required by US federal law which calls for the creation of a record when a key archaeological site is disturbed. Potter says there is no doubt about the existence of cannibalism, but the challenge is to understand why it occurred. All the remains are from the same pit. He said:
“We know these sites are out there, and these events occurred. Now we need to know why and when these events occurred. We’ve got the forensics down.”
Analysis of the bone fragments showed the victims were related and from a nearby settlement. Potter explained:
“I think it was ethnic conflict. They were neighbours. It’s what you see now in Rwanda. Why do people treat neighbours this way? If you can create an ideology of ‘the others,’ it can be a powerful thing.”
Contrary to many depictions of the Anasazi as peaceful farmers, Potter said:
“It was not an idyllic period where you hunt and kill a bunny, then sit around a campfire and sing ‘Kumbaya.’”