Indian Stew

Not every anthropologist can digest Christy Turner's theory that the Anasazi were cannibals

"This place was just as violent as any place else in the world," says Turner. "Mean and unhappy."

Turner has identified one cannibal site that, if he's correct on its date, would move it out of the age of Anasazi prehistory and into Hopi history.

"Almost every reaction we've had has been, 'It can't be! How could the Hopi do things like this? How could the Zuni do this?'" he says.

More than one anthropologist has said that they couldn't have. Turner hasn't proved a thing, they say.

"Proof is not the issue," William Kimbel, a paleoanthropologist at ASU's Institute of Human Origins, says in Turner's defense. "The goal is legitimate inference."

"The prevailing way of thinking," says Turner, "influenced by the beautiful architecture and the beautiful pottery, is that the people who created such beautiful things couldn't possibly have done these things. The ruins are terribly romantic. There's beautiful country. It's a fantasy world, and that's a great influence on a lot of archaeologists."

Christy G. Turner II, is a graying and bespectacled man of 65. He rides a neon pink bicycle to campus from his Frank Lloyd Wrightish home in Tempe, and so his hair is matted from the helmet as he paces in front of the class, ad-libbing a lecture from an outline in his head. He speaks quirkily but authoritatively, feathering in editorial asides about other researchers, exotic anthropological trivia, and cracking corny old jokes with a cackle and a peep like Danny Kaye might have made in a '50s movie. He fits a profile of a university professor, in other words, a stereotype nearly as old as the skeletons he studies.

But students haven't changed much in the last several decades either, judging from the 45 men and women who file into the lecture hall. The hair length is sometimes shorter than 20 years ago, the clothes nearly as bad. But the affects are unchanged: angst or attitude, aloofness or lost and hopeless puzzlement, grad-student weariness and other-worldliness.

Students find Turner warm and personable; in 1998 they voted him an award for teaching excellence.

But his colleagues on campus and off find Turner unknowable, even if they have done field work with him. He's considered a loner at best, and difficult at worst.

"He has always aimed for the national and international, and the locals be damned," says one ASU prof who asked that his name be kept out of the discussion. "He's kept his personal life very private, and he's not played a very big role in our program or department."

"I want to use my time in different ways," Turner counters. "I spend most of my time in a professional capacity. My friends are few but close, but I don't get the benefit that other people get chatting over hamburgers at lunch. Most of the people I know have lunch here while doing paperwork."

And in that regard, he eschews e-mail and voice mail, feeling that there are already too many ways for people to get in contact with him. His schedule is his own.

For more than 40 years he worked in close collaboration with his wife, Jacqueline. They worked together in the field, traveled the world to pore over dusty museum bone collections, and co-authored Man Corn.

Jackie died of breast cancer in 1996. She worked on the book right up to the end of her life.

"We continued the project because we were interested in what we were doing," Turner says. "It was also distraction, which was a very important purpose in that regard. I can't say we had any great sense of hurrying."

But distraction for whom? Turner's daughter Korri, an archaeologist and graduate student in anthropology at ASU, describes an urgency in her mother's last years to finish a labor of love. Turner's close friends describe the marriage as a long love affair and say that Turner was devastated by his wife's death. He refuses to talk about it, his voice choking up as he changes the subject.

The New Yorker profile quotes Turner as saying, "I have no friends, but I have no scars."

His daughter Korri disputes it.
"It's a good quote, but it's not true," she says.
And indeed, while talking of the pot shots he's taken from the anthropology world, Turner blurts out, "You see the scars?"

Korri recalls accompanying her father to the Soviet Union as a teenager in 1983. It had seemed an appropriate time for her to read George Orwell's novel about totalitarianism, 1984. At the end of the novel, the protagonist is punished by having a mask filled with rats affixed to his face to bring about his worst fears. And so Korri decided to ask her father what his worst fears were.

"Not to have my freedom," he answered.
"I didn't appreciate it at the time," Korri says. "I thought, 'Well, that's not very fun.' I wanted something gory. But as I get older, I see how that epitomizes him."

Turner was born in Missouri in 1933, but his family moved to Southern California in 1941. As a high-school student he felt torn between art and science, and when he went off to college at the University of Arizona, he fell into anthropology because it was "a place where you could put all your talents together in one place and anything was legitimate."

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