Field Museum conducts archaeological excavation at 'The Place of the Dead'

July 08, 2009

Scientists previously believed pre-Hispanic Zapotec rulers carried around human femurs as a symbol of power and legitimacy, as evidenced from a carved lintel at the site of Lambityeco, where a ruler is depicted with a femur in his hand. Now, a Field Museum excavation team has confirmed they did remove femurs from earlier graves and that this custom may have been widely practiced by heads of households outside of the ruling class.

The missing femur was located in an early adobe cist internment, circa 500 AD, that lay under an excavated house at the Mitla Fortress, in the Valley of Oaxaca, some 322 miles southeast of Mexico City. While excavating this residential terrace, or house lot, the Museum team found a total of 16 burials that include 21 individuals. The systematic excavations are the largest ever conducted at this site well-known to archaeologists for more than 150 years.

Field Museum Curator of Mesoamerican Anthropology, Gary Feinman, and Adjunct Curator of Anthropology, Linda Nicholas, are analyzing the burial sample and other finds from the Mitla Fortress. The Fortress is less than two miles west of Mitla, which is indigenously known as the "Place of the Dead."

Although this ancient Zapotec custom of bearing a femur of a corpse has long been recognized, the excavated burial provides clear evidence of the re-opening of an earlier burial in order to remove a bone. The evidence could further reveal that this bone-carrying custom may apply beyond rulers - since the excavated house is not a ruler's residence. Field Museum archaeologists hope to excavate a more elaborate house in the future to gain more perspective.

The burials were discovered in a former residential terrace, likely occupied between A.D. 500 and 1200-1500. Most were buried under floors or behind walls of the terrace. Zapotecs and other Mesoamerican people throughout the pre-Hispanic period tended to keep their dead relatives close to home.

The archaeological site of Mitla has long been known for its palaces, adorned with elaborate facades of cut stone grecas. The Field Museum team also found ample evidence of stone working, particularly obsidian, during the occupation of the terrace. These discoveries help document that the pre-Hispanic occupants of Mitla may have had a much longer history working stone than is indicated by the famous stone palace facades.
The Field Museum excavations were carried out with permission from the Institute of Anthropology and History of Mexico and were authorized by the authorities of Villa San Pablo Mitla. Awards from The Field Museum's Anthropology Alliance and Women's Board are facilitating this investigation.

For images and captions, please open this link.

Field Museum

Related Carved Lintel Articles from Brightsurf:

Tradition of petrified birds in the Dome of the Rock
The legend of Solomon and the birds associated with the Dome of the Rock was developed over time.

How catastrophic outburst floods may have carved Greenland's 'grand canyon'
For years, geologists have debated how and when canyons under the Greenland Ice Sheet formed, especially one called 'Greenland's Grand Canyon.' Its shape suggests it was carved by running water and glaciers, but until now its genesis remained unknown, scientists at UMass Amherst and Denmark's Center for Ice and Climate say.

Catastrophic outburst floods carved Greenland's 'Grand Canyon'
Buried a mile beneath Greenland's thick ice sheet is a network of canyons so deep and long that the largest of these has been called Greenland's 'Grand Canyon.' This megacanyon's shape suggests it was carved by running water prior to widespread glaciation, but exactly when and how the island's grandest canyon formed are topics of intense debate.

The colors of the Pachacamac idol, an Inca god, finally revealed
Researchers have shown colors formerly painted on the Pachacamac idol, a 15th century Inca God and oracle.

Imaging uncovers secrets of medicine's mysterious ivory manikins
Little is known about the origins of manikins -- small anatomical sculptures thought to be used by doctors four centuries ago -- but now advanced imaging techniques have offered a revealing glimpse inside these captivating ivory dolls.

Increasing value of ivory poses major threat to elephant populations
The global price of ivory increased tenfold since its 1989 trade ban by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), new research has found.

What gives meteorites their shape? New research uncovers a 'Goldilocks' answer
Meteoroids coming from outer space are randomly shaped, but many of these, which land on Earth as meteorites, are found to be carved into cones.

More mysterious jars of the dead unearthed in Laos
Archaeologists have discovered 15 new sites in Laos containing more than one hundred 1,000-year-old massive stone jars possibly used for the dead.

WVU researcher unearths an ice age in the African desert
A field trip to Namibia to study volcanic rocks led to an unexpected discovery by West Virginia University geologists Graham Andrews and Sarah Brown.

Antarctica's hidden landscape shaped by rivers in warmer era
Antarctica's hidden landscape of mountains and valleys was formed by rivers -- rather than glaciers as was previously thought -- before the continent became covered in a thick ice sheet, research shows.

Read More: Carved Lintel News and Carved Lintel Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to