Bioarchaeology of Life and Death in Colonial South America: Systemic Stress, Adaptation, and Ethnogenesis in the Lambayeque Valley, Peru AD 900-1750
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Series/Report no.:2008 Edward F. Hayes Graduate Research Forum. 22nd
The last 10,000 years witnessed a handful of major historical and biological transformations – the most recent and violent of which was contact between Native Americans and Europeans. It has long been assumed contact resulted in indigenous biological, demographic, and cultural collapse. Recently, bioarchaeologists in North and Central America uncovered evidence encoded in human skeletal and dental remains revealing increased native morbidity following contact. Yet, almost nothing is known of indigenous postcontact culture and behavioral adaptations. Moreover, the bioarchaeology of historic South America remained essentially unwritten. This research unites the study of human burials and skeletal remains to establish the first empirical and holistic study of postcontact culture and biology in the Central Andes on the north coast of Peru. Here, three hypotheses are tested: (1) the indigenous Mochica of the Lambayeque Valley could not escape health burdens created by Spanish colonialism; (2) Colonial Mochica burials represent involuntary conversion and adoption of Catholic rituals, and; (3) depopulation, always assumed but never tested, resulted in substantial loss of genetic diversity. Excavation and data collection since 2003 generated a sample of 1,048 skeletons spanning A.D. 900-1750. The hypotheses were tested using independent lines of data derived from archaeology, ethnohistory, burial patterning, skeletal pathological conditions that record multiple forms of biological stress, and inherited dental traits. The Colonial Mochica indeed experienced increased biological stress. Paleodemographic reconstructions indicate the sensitive balance of female fertility was disrupted as postcontact birth rates plummeted. Quantitative epidemiological analysis of acute childhood stress recorded in dental enamel defects reveals many children died rapidly from diseases such as smallpox. Cranial lesion among the survivors shows increased levels of childhood iron deficiency anemia. Among adults, increased chronic skeletal infection is clear. Spanish labor extraction resulted in radical lifestyle alterations, evidenced by elevated prevalence of traumatic injury and destructive osteoarthritis lesions in arm and knee joint systems. Markedly poor postcontact oral health reveals a shift to a less nutritious diet. Yet, under these conditions, the Mochica did not culturally collapse, but initiated a creative cultural interchange involving formation of hybrid Catholic-Mochica burial practices incorporating pre-Hispanic soul-transfer and fertility rituals. Population genetic analyses of dental traits indicate major postcontact genetic transformation. This was not linked to depopulation, but unprecedented high levels of gene flow. The Mochica apparently widened local mating networks and the definition of ethnicity among themselves as a survival strategy, resulting in a valley-wide hybrid native coalition. We accept the first hypothesis and reject the latter two. Lambayeque, Peru did not experience a stereotypical postcontact disaster. This research tells the story of a group of Andean people, who, despite unprecedented biological stress, adapted to the Colonial reality through ethnogenesis: the creation of a new kind of society, grounded in a process of local biological hybridization paralleled by cultural hybridization with European customs and religion. Methodologically, this study unites sources of anthropological information traditionally treated as separate domains, and operationalizes a new configuration of theory and method in the study of burials to create dynamic, holistic, and humanized reconstructions of the past.
Social and Behavioral Sciences; Social Work; Law: 1st Place (The Ohio State University Edward F. Hayes Graduate Research Forum)
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