Indian Stew

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

But Turner thinks the terror may have been used to control the population.
One of many curious points about the Chaco Canyon buildings is the origin of the great beams supporting its roofs. There were no large trees in or near the canyon, and scientists have pinpointed locations up to 50 miles away where the Anasazi cut their beams. They weren't floated to Chaco because there are no rivers to do so. And they weren't dragged because they bear none of the scars that dragging would cause. They were carried 50 miles by humans.

"You don't haul 200,000 beams of wood voluntarily," Turner says. "Somebody was being coerced into producing Chaco. The only way you coerce people is through power and terror; you don't talk them into it."

Because the cannibalism seems to occur mostly in the easternmost realms of the Anasazi world, theoretically those portions under control of the Chaco peoples, Turner believes it came in from outside, specifically from Mexico. He doesn't believe it grew out of an older culture, a scenario in which it would more likely have shown up not only among the western Anasazi, but among related groups such as the Hohokam.

It is well-known that trade routes existed all over the Southwest in the time of the Anasazi, and that goods found their way between the Anasazi lands and southern Mexico. Santa Fe turquoise turned up in Mexico; tropical macaws were reported in Chaco, along with seashells from the Gulf of Mexico. Copper and pottery and corn moved north as well, and Turner points to similarities among the prehistoric and historic gods of various Indian cultures as further evidence of interaction. And among the skeletal assemblages, Turner found an individual whose teeth had been deliberately filed in a manner more customary of Aztec noblemen.

But his Mexican influences are the most criticized part of Turner's theory.
"To say that cannibalism came in because some Toltec guys came up here and took charge, well, that's one version of what might have happened," says David Wilcox of the Museum of Northern Arizona. "I think there's a lot of others that are very possible."

"One individual with filed teeth (quite possibly from Mexico) does not mean the spread of Mexican cultural influence in Chaco," wrote Polly Schaafsma, an expert on prehistoric rock art, in an e-mail to New Times.

Neither expert, however, refutes Turner's extensive bone work.
But indeed, it has been disputed.

Turner's book, Man Corn, sold 1,400 copies in the first month after it came out, hardly enough to get it on the New York Times best-seller list, but a respectable number for an academic text, which the book most decidedly is.

Jeff Grothwall, director of the University of Utah Press, which published the book, chuckles that New York publishers called to inquire about paperback rights, and he told them, "Let's not even talk about it until you see the book." He hasn't heard back from them.

But rumors spread among Turner's naysayers that the book had been recalled because Turner had too closely identified the locations of his sites, a mortal sin among some archaeologists, partly out of fear of pot hunters and partly out of the jealous instincts and attitudes of the field. And partly because they find the discussion of cannibalism to be politically incorrect.

Cannibalism among their own is not something Native Americans care to discuss, especially when people from New York to London are reading descriptive tales of Southwest tribes eating each other, but they don't shy away from it either.

"Why not?" says Terry Knight of the Ute Mountain Ute tribe in southern Colorado. "It's happened all over the world."

The debate over cannibalism, Knight says, is not among Indians, but rather "among the archaeologists."

"The white man is looking to the Indian as an object of curiosity instead of a man with a history. And as long as there is no proof, their research is safe."

Hopi and Zuni and Navajo have religious beliefs that make them hesitant to talk about death in general, and managing the repatriation of exhumed human remains required by federal laws has created distasteful problems for them. And inquiries about Turner are likewise not particularly welcome.

"I'm pretty tired of him," says Kurt Dongoske, an Anglo anthropologist working for Hopi. But Dongoske speaks for them on the subject.

"People actually being eaten isn't shocking to Hopi," he says. "Their question is who's eating whom? And some of the claims Turner's making is that it's pueblo against pueblo."

Dongoske does find offensive some statements Turner made to the New Yorker comparing the Hopi chief at the Awatovi massacre to genocidal leaders such as Stalin and Hitler and Pol Pot. Dongoske also wonders if the skeletons in question were not subject to some other sort of ritual--punishment for witchcraft is one that is often mentioned by anthropologists.

"What do you do, just sit around and cook a bunch of people? That always seemed far-fetched for me," he continues. "What I've been saying for the last three or four years is that it's one thing to have disarticulated and fragmented bone, which means that somebody did something to a deceased individual. But the inference that cannibalism occurred is not well supported."

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