September 30, 2022

Why Did 16th-Century Andean Villagers String Together the Bones of Their Ancestors?

The dates the scientists obtained from the vertebrae fall in a range in between 1520 and 1550 C.E. The reeds, meanwhile, date from about 1550 to 1590, which coincides with the time period the Spanish arrived in Chincha. To Bongers and his associates, this timeline points to a tentative explanation: The vertebrae were collected from formerly buried, disjointed human remains and put on reeds as an intentional mortuary practice, established maybe in action to European destruction of the tombs.

Approximately 500 years back, vertebrae were organized on sticks in Peruvian tombs.
C. Oshea/ Antiquity Publications Ltd., Bongers et al

South America

Just a few generations after forming their alliance with the Inca, the Chinchas were ravaged by the Spanish conquest. Written sources show that in 1533, there were 30,000 Chincha heads of household. Within 50 years, that number dropped to 979. They suffered from scarcity, illness and extreme political and spiritual suppression, including the ransacking of tombs. Composed sources even explain a few of the destruction. For instance, Pedro Cieza de León, a 16th-century conquistador and chronicler, wrote that in the Chincha area particularly “there was a huge variety of tombs in this valley in the hills and wastelands” and claimed that many “were opened by the Spaniards, and they eliminated large sums of gold.” It was not just a quest for riches that drove this grave-robbing.

Bongers states he hopes future research could offer more insights about the hereditary history of those buried in these burial places and others who became part of the Chincha Kingdom. As part of a previous study, Bongers and his colleagues evaluated DNA from remains in a Chincha Valley chullpa which contained the bones of more than 100 people, and eight examples of sticks with vertebrae. Their results, released in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2020, suggested that the dead in this burial place surprisingly originated in the north Peruvian coast. These people were possibly mandated to move south under a known Inca policy of forced resettlement. “We have yet to find the regional genetic signature of the Chincha people, but there is more DNA work that is being done today,” he states. “The story is certainly not closed at this moment.”

Discovered within a chullpa, this vertebrae-threaded post was inserted into a cranium, the only case of such a plan.

. Over the next couple of years, the researchers would go back to the area to take a look at the chullpas throughout the valley. They documented 192 examples of vertebrae on sticks found together with other bones and occasionally other artifacts like fabric bundles. “Just the sheer variety of these I believe is the most shocking bit,” Bongers states. An analysis of the remains became the basis for his doctorate work at UCLA.

Peru

The Europeans, however, saw this veneration of the dead as heretical to their Christian practice. In Peru, the Spanish led systematic projects to ruin objects of Indigenous praise, a colonial policy that scholars call the Extirpation of Idolatry. “When you view it in that light, it ends up being more tenable to envision them going back into these burial grounds and attempting to reconstitute their ancestors,” Tung says.

” It seems to be one of the few recorded cases of an alliance that was forged between the Inca and a complicated polity,” states the lead author of the brand-new study, Jacob Bongers, a senior research study partner at Sainsbury Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England.

Artifacts

J.L. Bongers/ Antiquity Publications Ltd., Bongers et al

Archaeology

Incas

Nearly 200 sticks strung up with human vertebrae have actually been found by archeologists checking out tombs in Perus Chincha Valley. The Inca palace at Huaca La Centinela, the significant Chincha site in the lower part of the valley, is uncharacteristically little, eclipsed by a much larger Chincha complex. Bongers says he hopes future research could offer more insights about the hereditary history of those buried in these others and burial places who were part of the Chincha Kingdom. As part of a previous study, Bongers and his associates evaluated DNA from remains in a Chincha Valley chullpa that contained the bones of more than 100 people, and 8 examples of sticks with vertebrae. “We have yet to discover the regional genetic signature of the Chincha people, however there is more DNA work that is being done right now,” he states.

Death

By the time of the Inca Empire, the mummies of departed leaders were kept on view in their palaces. Andean societies at this time were “worried with the wholeness of the dead body, which may have represented social order and memory,” Bongers and his associates wrote in the research study.

. Almost 200 sticks strung up with human vertebrae have been discovered by archeologists exploring tombs in Perus Chincha Valley.

When he took a trip to the location in 2012 with a field expedition led by archaeologist Charles Stanish of UCLA, bongers was not yet in graduate school. One day the group surveyed the less-studied part of the middle valley. There, they discovered the ruins of numerous stone burial chambers known as chullpas which had not been methodically examined prior to. Inside a few of these burial places, they discovered a number of reed posts strangely enough threaded with human vertebrae.
” We werent really sure what to make of it,” Bongers states. “We initially believed probably some looters can be found in here and made a joke. We kept discovering more.”

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The bones come from children and grownups alike, and appear to have been taken from currently disintegrated remains; the vertebrae do not show proof of cut marks and numerous of them are strung up out of order, according to the research study. Bongers states he spoke to farmers in the area about the tombs. They had come throughout the bones on sticks and ensured him these were not the work of recent looters or vandals.

” Its not just looting from a couple of greedy conquistadores,” states Tung. “It became part of a systemic policy to enter and ruin Andean mummies and andean cemeteries.”

Thanks to river water that flows from the Andes, the Chincha Valley is a fertile oasis in an otherwise arid environment near the Pacific coast, about 130 miles south of Lima. The Chincha Kingdom grew in the area from around 1000 to 1400 C.E., and it included a wealthy, organized society with merchants, seafarers, farmers and a well-regarded oracle. In the 15th century, they were subsumed into the Inca Empire, however significantly, they maintained some autonomy. The Inca palace at Huaca La Centinela, the major Chincha site in the lower part of the valley, is uncharacteristically small, eclipsed by a much bigger Chincha complex. Written sources indicate that a Chincha leader even sat next to Inca emperor Atahualpa when they initially came across the Spanish.

” When you put the empirical data in the bigger cultural context, the interpretation, I think, is quite compelling,” says Tiffiny Tung, an anthropologist at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, who has actually studied pre-Hispanic treatment of the dead in the Andes however wasnt associated with the brand-new Antiquity paper.

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