Burial Excavations in Plaza 1 of Los Pilarillos, Zacatecas, México
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Research Year: 1997
Location: Zacatecas, México
Site: Los Pilarillos
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Recent work has shown that multiple, disarticulated burials are one of the hallmarks of the Epiclassic (A.D. 600-900) northern Mesoamerican frontier. Our 1997 FAMSI-funded excavations at a Malpaso Valley village were designed to assess models of human sacrifice and cannibalism, catastrophic attacks, ritualized warfare, coercive local social control, and ancestor veneration. The excavations revealed a secondary multiple burial; another burial containing two individuals; an ovoid pit of unknown function; a circular, stone-lined hearth; a midden deposit, and fragments of a possible plaza floor.
ASU graduate students John Millhauser and Denise To excavated the burial. Their training in human osteology permitted them to identify and measure many bones in the field that disintegrated upon removal. In the secondary multiple burial, 25 crania as well as all other elements were packed into a 1.2 × 1.2 × .25 m squarish pit, showing no discernible pattern. Almost all bones of the human skeleton were found, including the delicate ones, but only four long bones were found in articulation. Both males and females were included in the deposit; adults and subadults were identified as well. Burning, crushing, peeling, cut marks, and abrasion striae were all observed. Notable artifacts included the parts of a pseudo-cloisonné and a black burnished olla, artifacts which parallel the copa-olla complex found in a multiple, disarticulated burial beneath the Hall of Columns at Alta Vista. Holien and Pickering interpret that burial as evidence of Tezcatlipoca-related ritual.
Another rectangular pit, about the same size, contained only two individuals resting in sub-pits separated by remnants of adobe material. The first skeleton was in a flexed position on its right side and a Santa Rosa White-on-red olla placed near the head, which was oriented to the southeast. The second individual, a large male aged 30-32, was disarticulated and accompanied only by an extra skull and femur. Both the trophy skull and that of the large male exhibited evidence of possible perimortem wounds.
Plaza 1 is a new kind of burial context in the valley, the only example of a formal cemetery and the only multiple burial outside of La Quemada. The fact that villages, in addition to major ceremonial centers, participated in complex mortuary programs may rule out internal social control as the main explanation for the skeletal deposits. Furthermore, not all individuals who came to rest in multiple burials were young male warriors. Whole (though disarticulated) bodies of females and males, ranging from infancy to old age, contradict the proposition that all multiple burials in the region are related to ritualized warfare or sacrifice. The decedents might have been victims of an attack, or they could have been placed in the graves after a period of above-ground curation, as might occur in ancestor veneration. These possibilities, as well as that of cannibalism, are the subjects of ongoing analysis at the ASU laboratory in Zacatecas.
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Submitted 12/07/1998 by:
Ben A. Nelson