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Jane E. Buikstra 17 Studying Maya Bioarchaeology My great desire was to discover an ancient sepulchre , which we had sought in vain among the ruins of Uxmal. ... ... We continued the work six hours, and the whole appearance of things was so rude that we began to despair of success, when, on prying up a large flat stone, we saw underneath a skull. ... I was exceedingly anxious to get the skeleton out entire, but it was impossible to do so.... as this [th~ earth] was removed it all fell to pieces.... ... I had them [the bones] carried to Uxmal, and thence I bore them away In their rough journeys on the backs of mules and Indians they were so crumbled and broken ... and they [the bones] left me one night in a pockethandkerchief to be carried to Doctor S. G. Morton of Philadelphia. ... this gentleman ... says that this skeleton, dilapidated as it is, has afforded him some valuable facts, and has been a subject of some interesting reflections. ... The bones are those of a female. Her height did not exceed five feet three or four inches. The teeth are perfect, and not appreciably worn, while the epiphyses, those infallible indications of the growing state, have just become consolidated , and mark the completion of adult age. . .. The skull was crushed into many pieces, but, by a cautious manipulation, Doctor Morton succeeded in reconstructing the posterior and lateral portions. The occiput is remarkably flat and vertical, while the lateral or parietal diameter measures no less than five inches and eight tenths. A chemical examination of some fragments of the bones proves them to be almost destitute of animal matter, which, in the perfect osseous structure, constitutes about thirty-three parts in the hundred. On the upper part of the left tibia there is a swelling of the bone, called, in surgical language, a node, an inch and a half in length, and more than half an inch above the natural surface. This morbid condition may have resulted from a variety of causes, but possesses greater interest on account of its extreme infrequency among the primitive Indian population of the country (Stephens 1843:276-282). 221 An antiquarian enthusiasm for Maya sepulchres led the 19th century excavator-explorer/lawyerdiplomat , John L. Stephens, to develop one of the earliest collaborative investigations of a Maya interment. Eager to learn as much as possible about ancient Maya through the study of their remains, Stephens submitted his find to the premier American physical anthropologist of the day, Dr. Samuel George Morton. Morton carefully described a range of biological attributes , including stature, cranial form, pathology , chemical composition, age, and sex of the deceased, features which continue to interest Mayanists today. The collaboration with Morton stimulated Stephens to address a prominent 19th century theoretical issue, the origin of the peoples who built the great cities of the Americas . The physical similarity of the Maya remains he recovered from the ruins within the hacienda of San Francisco (which site he attributed to the ancient Maya city of Ticul) to those of South American mummies caused him to conclude that "these crumbling bones declare, as with a voice from the grave, that we cannot go back to any ancient nation of the Old World for the builders of these cities; they are not the works of people who have passed away, and whose history is lost, but of the same great race which, changed . . . still clings around their ruins" (Stephens 1843 :284). Just as the study of human skeletal remains led Stephens to examine a key controversy of his day, this volume reports perspectives on competing contemporary models for the development of Maya complexity , for the Maya collapse, and for the impact of the Spanish entrada upon indigenous Maya. The Stephens-Morton discussion also underscores the fragile condition of their "dilapidated " skeleton and the painstaking procedures required to gain human biological data. Although poor preservation continues to challenge Maya bioarchaeologists, the many significant contributions contained in the previous chapters illustrate that the information gained 222 I Jane E. Buikstra through the excavation and study of Maya burials continues to be well worth the effort. This volume (Danforth et at.) presents a comprehensive bibliography of Maya physical anthropology, including contributions from virtually all the prominent (physical) anthropologists of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Morton , Virchow, Boas, Hooton, Hrdlicka, Comas, and Stewart have each added to our knowledge of ancient Maya. As in the Stephens-Morton example cited above, topical foci ranged widely...


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