A recent application of the Saxe-Binford hypothesis in establishing social persona

Barbara Ann Holz, University of Nevada, Las Vegas


An excavation and analysis of an abandoned cemetery located in Las Vegas, Nevada was used to test the Saxe-Binford hypothesis regarding social persona. A total of 128 individuals (117 nonveterans and 11 veterans) were disinterred. These remains were in various different states of decomposition, two different burial types (casket and copper box), three different burial locations, and age ranges between fetal and elderly adult (90s); According to the Saxe-Binford hypothesis certain mortuary attributes should reflect social information. Attributes studied were burial location, burial type (coffin type, urn), headstone type, and associated grave goods. The boundaries of the cemetery sections, burial locations, depths of the deceased were unknown. Thus, archaeological as well as physical anthropological methods were used. These methods included: (1) archival research to acquire all information regarding the deceased, (2) metal detection to located metal caps establishing boundaries, (3) surface probing to establish depth, (4) ground penetrating radar to locate subsurface caskets and bodies not associated with caskets, and (5) the sexing, aging and minimum number of individual methods used by physical anthropologists; This study only partially supports the Saxe-Binford model: (a) children were buried in small plywood coffins, (b) cremations were in copper boxes and adults were in regular sized coffins, and (c) all veterans had two headstones. The following evidence does not support the model: (a) females and males were buried in the same area, (b) veterans were buried with nonveterans, and (c) the grave goods and clothing did not provide evidence of the social persona of the deceased.