Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Bone Rasps at Calixtlahuaca

Note: This post contains photos of human bone. 
During the archaeological excavations at Calixtlahuaca, Dr. Michael Smith and his team uncovered two different burials of bone rasps sometimes called Omichicahuaztli by the Aztecs. These bone rasps have been examined and analyzed by Kristin Nado, PhD Student with the School of Human Evolution and Social Change at Arizona State University. Her studies include details of both burials involved in the 2006-07 excavations as well as comparisons with burials found at the same site by Garcia Payon during his excavations in the 1930’s. She then makes a comparison of the burials found in Calixtlahuaca to bone rasps uncovered at a site in Zacapu Michoacán, Mexico.
Several secondary burials at Calixtlahuaca contain bone rasps. Some, discovered by Garcia Payon, are formal offerings near public architecture, including complete human femurs, tibias and crania.  One secondary burial found by Dr. Smith and his team was found in a terrace deposit with fragmented arm and leg bones and partial crania. The fragmented bones show evidence of green bone breakage, meaning they were ritualistically killed or “broken” after just a few years of use. A second (and most interesting) burial was also discovered by Dr. Smith’s team and it was found in a colluvial deposit and consists of fragmented bones, possibly of a child, with green bone breakage and partial crania. What makes this burial different is that all the notched bones showed distinct signs of wear and were burned. In contrast the bone rasps discovered in Zacapu Michoacán were of adults and young adults and consists of humerus, ulnas, femurs and tibias with no mention of crania. The bones show clear signs of mass use as well as green bone breakage. Unfortunately, context is not well known.
Terrace Deposit Burial
Colluvial Deposit Burial

            What was the purpose of the Omichicahuaztli to the Aztecs? That question is still under debate. Major consensus is that they were used in mortuary rituals and symbolized the myth of Quetzalcoatl’s gathering of the bones of past creations to recreate human beings. The examinations of the Omichicahuaztli burials at Calixtlahuaca are still in its infancy, as studies progress these enigmatic bones will surrender even more information.  I would like to acknowledge Dr. Michael Smith, Ms. Angela Huster, Ms. Juliana Novic and the rest of the Calixtlahuaca excavation crew as well as a special thanks to Kristin Nado, whose power point presentation this information is based on, for without their dedication, expertise, and sense of curiosity the Calixtlahuaca project and this blog would not be possible.

Brenda Smalley
Undergrad Intern
Calixtlahuaca project 
Arizona State University

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