The Poetics of Corpse Fragmentation and Processin the Ancient Southwest.

Document Type

Book Section

Publication Date


Publication Title

The Poetics of Processing Memory Formation, Cosmology, and the Handling of the Dead


Society for American Archaeology

Publisher Location

Orlando, Fl


The bioarchaeological record in the ancient Southwest has an abundance of evidence of disarticulated remains to suggest a long history of body (corpse) processing and fragmentation. From AD 800 to the 1500s, various assemblages of processed human remains have been recovered. Published studies of these have argued for a wide range of motivations that could account for such assemblages including anthropophagy/cannibalism, massacres, torture, witch executions, ritualized violence, warfare, raiding and captive-taking. Using a fine-grained bioarchaeological approach to re-imagine the diverse actions taken by the living as related and connected, a different set of motivations emerges. Using a poetics of violence approach (as imagined by Neil Whitehead) provides a different way of thinking about these disparate bone assemblages. Moreover, identifying culturally-specific patterns related to age, sex, and social status provides an increasingly complex picture of early small-scale groups. Some forms of cultural violence have restorative and regenerative aspects that strengthen community identity. Bioarchaeological data can shed light on the ways that violence becomes part of a given cultural landscape. Viewed using a poetics framework, the dismemberment and disarticulation of bodies can be seen as constitutive of social relations and identities and not of cultural rupture, violence and chaos.


Bioarchaeology; Cannibalism; Violence


American Studies | Archaeological Anthropology | Biological and Physical Anthropology