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Study provides direct evidence of cannibalism in the Southwest

CHAPEL HILL -- The first evidence of human tissue in prehistoric human waste dating back about 850 years shows that people of southwestern Colorado engaged in cannibalism during a long drought, according to a new study.

"Cannibalism is one of the most controversial issues in the archaeology of the American Southwest," said Dr. Brian R. Billman of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "Previous archaeological and osteological (bone) studies have strongly indicated that cannibalistic episodes took place in the prehistoric Southwest, but the evidence has been essentially circumstantial. "Now, we've identified biochemical remains of human tissue in a coprolite, which is the term used for prehistoric human feces," Billman said. "Analysis of the coprolite, and associated remains, at last provides definitive evidence for sporadic cannibalism in the Southwest."

A report on the findings-certain to be controversial-appears in the Sept. 7 issue of Nature, a top scientific journal. Besides Billman, authors are Dr. Richard A. Marlar of the University of Colorado School of Medicine, Banks L. Leonard of Soil Systems, Inc. of Phoenix, Dr. Patricia M. Lambert of Utah State University and Jennifer E. Marlar of the Colorado Archaeological Society.

The article draws on a multidisciplinary study of a small Anasazi site-known as 5MT10010-located in Southwest Colorado. Results of the study of artifacts, bones and architecture at that site were published in the January, 2000 issue of American Antiquity. Results indicated that three families occupied the site for approximately 20 to 30 years. When the residents abandoned their homes sometime around 1150, at least seven people-men, women and children-were systematically cut up and consumed. One of the people involved in the consumption of flesh defecated into a hearth. Researchers recovered human feces from the hearth and tested it for biochemical evidence of human tissue.

Extensive analysis of the three p
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Contact: David Williamson
rdtokids@email.unc.edu
919-962-8596
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
5-Sep-2000


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