There are roughly six criteria for determining whether human remains have been cannibalized—breakage, cut marks, abrasion from being smashed against an anvil, burning, missing vertebrae, and “pot polish” created by stirring bones in a pot. Opponents to the cannibalism theory argue that the condition of remains can also be caused by the chewing of a carnivorous animal, re-burial, or witch executions, in which the victim was cut up to locate the witch’s evil heart, anywhere from the head to the big toe. Dismembering was the only way to prevent the witch from wreaking revenge after death.
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 Navajo have stories in their folklore that reveal aspects of Chaco Canyon that are very different from the Anglo view. Elder Navajo say that Chaco was a place of hideous evil. The people there abused sacred ceremonies, practiced witchcraft and cannibalism, and made a dreaded substance called corpse powder by cooking and grinding up the flesh and bones of the dead. Their evil threw the world out of balance, and they were destroyed in a great earthquake and fire.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
In my book, THE SPARROW, I’ve weaved the idea of cannibalism into my story, not only through the Anasazi ruins that lay within the Grand Canyon, showcasing the peoples who strove to live in such a hard-to-reach place, but also through the folklore of cannibalism that exists in the Hopi heritage as well.
Hartigan, Rachel. “Dying for dinner? A debate rages over desert cannibalism.” U.S. News Magazine. July 2000.
Preston, Douglas. “Cannibals of the Canyon.” The New Yorker Magazine. November 1998.
Pringle, Heather. “Were Some Ancestral Puebloan People the Victims of Ethnic Conflict?” Archaeology Magazine. September 2010.
Turner, Christy G. and Turner, Jacqueline A. Man Corn: Violence and Cannibalism in the Prehistoric American Southwest. University of Utah Press, 1998.
Witze, Alexandra. “Researchers Divided Over Whether Anasazi Were Cannibals.” National Geographic Magazine. June 2001.