08/10/2005: More from "Collapse"
Continuing with these posts of tid-bits from “Collapse” by Jared Diamond about Paleoarchaeology and the incredibly weird and amazing science used to determine the characteristics and conditions of these past places and observations about what probably led to their demise.
If you wish to read more of these analysis techniques which and science which are as fascinating and sad as they are startling; click on the "more" button.
Other middens (which means “refuse heaps”) studied at these sites involve human left overs and garbage (not only packrats):
Further evidence of human use is a huge buried midden, one of the largest know from Southeast Polynesia, running for 300 yards in length and 30 yards in width…
Among the midden’s garbage left behind from generations of people feasting, and identified in small test pits excavated… are enormous quantities of fish bones (14,751 bones in just two thirds of a cubic yard of sand tested!), plus 42,213 bird bones comprising tens of thousands of bones of seabirds (especially petrels, terns, and tropicbirds), and thousands of bones of land birds (especially the flightless pigeon, rail and sandpiper)
The person who pored through 6,433 bones of birds and other vertebrates from early middens at Anakena Beach, probably the site of the first human landing and first settlement on Easter, was zooarchaeologist, David Steadman. As an ornithologist myself, I bow in awe before Dave's indentification skills and tolerance of eye strain; whereas I wouldn't know how to tell a robin's bone from a dove's or even from a rat's, Dave has learned how to distinguish even the bones of closely related petral species from each other.
”Food remains in rubbish at archaeological sites [Anasazi] attest to the growing problems of the canyon’s inhabitants in nourishing themselves: deer decline in their diets, to be replaced by smaller game, especially rabbits and mice. Remains of completely headless mice in human coprolites (preserved dried feces) suggest people were catching mice in the fields, beheading them, and popping them in whole.”
But what is awfully sad (horrific) to realize is that often what also happens as these collapses occur:
”Other Anasazi sites show more abundant evidence of strife, including signs of cannibalism…”
The signs of warfare-related cannibalism among Aanasazi are an interesting story in themselves. While everyone acknowledges that cannibalism may be practiced in emergencies by desperate people, such as the Donner Party trapped by snow at Donner pass en route to California in the winter of 1846-47, or by starving Russians during the siege of Leningrad during World War II, the existence of non-emergency cannibalism is controversial…The practice took two forms: eating either the bodies of enemies killed in war, or else eating one’s own relatives who had died of natural causes. New Guineans with whom I have worked over the past 40 years, have matter-of-factly described their cannibalistic practices, have expressed disgust at our own Western Burial customs of burying relatives without the honor of eating them, and one of my best New Guinean workers quit his job with me in 1965 in order to partake in the consumption of his recently deceased prospective son-in-law.
…The strongest evidence comes from an Anasazi site…consistent with [seven people] having been killed in a war raid rather than properly buried. Some of the bones had been cracked in the same way that bones of small animals consumed for food were cracked to extract marrow. Other bones showed smooth ends, a hallmark of animal bones boiled in pots, but not of ones not boiled in pots. Broken pots themselves from that Anasazi site had residues of the human muscle protein myoglobin on the pots’ inside, consistent with human flesh having been cooked in the pots...The most direct sign of cannibalism at the site is dried human feces…proved to contain human muscle protein, which is absent from normal human feces, even from the feces of people with injured and bleeding intestines.”
Karen on 08.10.05 @ 10:28 AM CST