Charles “Chuck” Merbs

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There are many methods for the analysis of human remains that are regularly used by bioarchaeologists and forensic anthropologists. Standard analytical procedures involve the assignment of age at death and sex, the diagnosis of diseases, the reconstruction of height and body robusticity, and the determination of antemortem (premortem) and perimortem trauma. These basic analyses provide the identity of individuals. More importantly however is the use of these empirically based bone attributes to be used in the service of answering questions about human behavior. Social theory can be used to frame interesting questions that can be answered using bone data.
The use of violence as a means of social control among higher status members of the Ancestral Pueblo is explored by using data derived from the burials and the burial context of several sites between AD 850 and 1300. High-status burials, while relatively rare in the archeological record, are of interest because of the role the individuals are assumed to have played in the culture. It has been suggested that there were “elites” among the Ancestral Pueblo during a particularly volatile period that corresponds with the growth, development, and decline of Chacon Canyon and to a lesser extent Aztec Ruins, two major political and ritual centers. Using a bioarchaeological approach that integrates the human remains with the archeological context, burials from Chaco Canyon were compared with burials from other sites in the region based on demographic (age and sex), nutritional (stature), activity (robusticity and entheses), health (pathological conditions), violence (cranial trauma), and cultural (mortuary pattern) patterns. Crucial for expanding our understanding of the role of hierarchy and social control in the Pueblo world, these data suggest that there were high-status individuals who functioned as political and ceremonial leaders.
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