We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

The Bioarchaeology of Violence

Debra L. Martin

Publication Year: 2012

Human violence is an inescapable aspect of our society and culture. As the archaeological record clearly shows, this has always been true. What is its origin? What role does it play in shaping our behavior? How do ritual acts and cultural sanctions make violence acceptable?

These and other questions are addressed by the contributors to The Bioarchaeology of Violence. Organized thematically, the volume opens by laying the groundwork for new theoretical approaches that move beyond interpretation; it then examines case studies from small-scale conflict to warfare to ritualized violence.

Experts on a wide range of ancient societies highlight the meaning and motivation of past uses of violence, revealing how violence often plays an important role in maintaining and suppressing the challenges to the status quo, and how it is frequently a performance meant to be witnessed by others.

The interesting and nuanced insights offered in this volume explore both the costs and the benefits of violence throughout human prehistory.

Published by: University Press of Florida

List of Figures

pdf iconDownload PDF (49.5 KB)
pp. vii-viii

List of Tables

pdf iconDownload PDF (33.2 KB)
pp. ix-x

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (80.3 KB)
pp. xi-xiii

Violence is at the top of any list of central discussions in social science. One has only to look at leading professional periodicals in sociology, political science, and psychology to see the strong presence of academic considerations of conflict in these literatures. Today, reporting of violence permeates the popular press and at all levels, from accounts of personal ...

read more

Introduction: Bioarchaeology and the Study of Violence

pdf iconDownload PDF (91.3 KB)
pp. 1-10

Ancient human remains and the mortuary contexts in which they are located represent a uniquely rich data set for a wide range of investigations. Yet criticisms have been rightly made of earlier analysis that disconnected burials from their larger mortuary contexts and from their connection to living descendants (Martin 1998, 171). An additional problem that has limited the full interpretive ...

Part I. Method and Theory

read more

1. The Politicization of the Dead: Violence as Performance, Politics as Usual

pdf iconDownload PDF (214.7 KB)
pp. 13-28

Violence has played an essential role in human social relations. Explanatory models that use a single disciplinary lens are not sufficient to provide the temporal and spatial expanse or the cross-cultural analysis that an interdisciplinary approach to the study of violence offers (Pérez 2010). The literature on violence and warfare has become so large that a truly comprehensive overview is no longer feasible. Some of it is theory driven, ...

read more

2. The Bioarchaeology of Structural Violence: A Theoretical Model and a Case Study

pdf iconDownload PDF (396.4 KB)
pp. 29-62

Bioarchaeologists are uniquely positioned to explore the origins, nature, and variations in the expressions of human violence and nonviolence because of the cross-cultural, empirical, and diachronic perspectives that human skeletons can provide (Walker 2001, 574). The bioarchaeology of violence has advanced significantly over the past 30 years. ...

read more

3. Deciphering Violence in Past Societies: Ethnography and the Interpretation of Archaeological Populations

pdf iconDownload PDF (132.5 KB)
pp. 63-80

Research on violence and warfare has typically focused on modern populations and on ancient civilizations for which there are written records. However, a growing body of research focuses on interpersonal, collective, and organized violence among prestate and precontact societies. Research on violence in the past includes ethnographic work (Chagnon 1974; Evans-Pritchard ...

Part II. Small-Scale Conflict

read more

4. The Social and Cultural Implications of Violence at Qasr Hallabat

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.3 MB)
pp. 83-110

Investigations of trauma in human skeletal remains can provide a wealth of information concerning the nature of human interactions during periods of expansion and conquest, changes in political regimes, and environmental fluctuations. Unfortunately for researchers, the discovery of human remains that display evidence of violent confrontations is rare because of problems with preservation or with locating gravesites. ...

read more

5. Community Violence and Everyday Life: Death at Arroyo Hondo

pdf iconDownload PDF (93.9 KB)
pp. 111-120

Three young children—ages 3, 4, and 4 1/2—were interred together in the trash fill of a room at the fourteenth-century ancestral pueblo of Arroyo Hondo in the Northern Rio Grande. Their shared burial, their body positions (two were partly flexed but one individual was partly laid on top of the other two with the left arm extended above the head), and the fact that two large mano fragments are laid directly on the bodies are all unusual ...

read more

6. Bioarchaeological Signatures of Strife in Terminal Pueblo III Settlements in the Northern San Juan

pdf iconDownload PDF (884.4 KB)
pp. 121-138

Ancestral Pueblo farmers inhabited the northern San Juan area of the American Southwest for two millennia before completely and permanently vacating the region about ad 1280. The catalysts and societal context for this population movement, which brought about monumental changes in the Pueblo world, have been the subject of speculation by archaeologists and the public for many decades. ...

Part III. Warfare

read more

7. The Space of War: Connecting Geophysical Landscapes with Skeletal Evidence of Warfare-Related Trauma

pdf iconDownload PDF (390.9 KB)
pp. 141-159

Warfare is a cultural process that has significant ramifications for many aspects of everyday life. Milner (1995, 221) defines warfare as “purposeful violence calculated to advance the ambitions of separate political factions, regardless of who was involved, the regularity of fighting, the number of participants, or specific combat tactics.” Bioarchaeological analysis has revealed that warfare in prehistoric eastern North America was widespread and varied, ranging from small-scale ambushes ...

read more

8. Where Are the Warriors? Cranial Trauma Patterns and Conflict among the Ancient Maya

pdf iconDownload PDF (807.5 KB)
pp. 160-179

Missionary Juan de Torquemada vividly recounts a dramatic encounter between European and Maya militias during the early sixteenth century. Spanish explorer Francisco Hernández de Córdoba and his party were making landfall on the Yucatecan coast near Champotón when they suddenly found themselves in the middle of a skirmish with Maya ...

read more

9. Violence against Women: Differential Treatment of Local and Foreign Females in the Heartland of the Wari Empire, Peru

pdf iconDownload PDF (300.9 KB)
pp. 180-198

Bioarchaeological studies that employ a population-level approach to violence-related trauma are essential for gaining insights into the larger social and political contexts of ancient communities. This bird’s-eye view may permit a clearer understanding of social norms regarding the role of violence both in everyday life and in seemingly extraordinary circumstances, such ...

Part IV. Ritualized Violence

read more

10. Meaning and the Bioarchaeology of Captivity, Sacrifice, and Cannibalism: A Case Study from the Mississippian Period at Larson, Illinois

pdf iconDownload PDF (267.6 KB)
pp. 201-225

Bioarchaeological studies of violent conflict have formed a substantial foundation for reconstructions of past behavior. Diverse forms of interpersonal violence, including warfare and gender violence, have been inferred from human skeletal remains with increasing frequency in the past 15 years. More research, however, is necessary to understand the particular social contexts and meanings, including captivity and violent ...

read more

11. Performances of Imposed Status: Captivity at Cahokia

pdf iconDownload PDF (156.5 KB)
pp. 226-250

Captive experiences vary greatly based on the culture, gender, and age of captives and the interpersonal relationships sought by both captor and captive in specific contexts. Recent and historic captivity events point to large differences in how captors treat/have treated captives. Relationships between captives and other non-elites from the captors’ own societies are undoubtedly different in hierarchically arranged societies. ...

read more

12. Biological Distance Analysis in Contexts of Ritual Violence

pdf iconDownload PDF (470.6 KB)
pp. 251-275

In the past decade, there has been a considerable increase in research by physical anthropologists and archaeologists that focuses on ritual violence (Andrushko et al. 2005; Andrushko, Schwitalla, and Walker 2010; Chacon and Dye 2007; Chacon and Mendoza 2007a, 2007b; Eeckhout and Owens 2008; Spence et al. 2004; Sugiyama 2005; Tiesler and Cucina 2007; Tung 2008). One question that has received particular attention ...

read more

Conclusion: Implications and Future Directions

pdf iconDownload PDF (69.8 KB)
pp. 276-280

Bioarchaeological studies that focus on violence, as the chapters in this volume demonstrate, contribute unique and nuanced insights to theories about why violence is ubiquitous in human groups. Invigorating the practice of bioarchaeology with a strong set of theoretical frameworks provides a nonreductionist and complex set of interpretations that are culturally specific and historically situated yet universally applicable to ...

List of Contributors

pdf iconDownload PDF (33.8 KB)
pp. 281-282


pdf iconDownload PDF (724.0 KB)
pp. 283-291

E-ISBN-13: 9780813043630
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813041506
Print-ISBN-10: 0813041503

Page Count: 304
Illustrations: 40 b&w photos, 20 tables, 5 drawings, map
Publication Year: 2012