He borrowed the collection and brought it to ASU for further study.
The anthropologist who had first analyzed the bones years earlier had described them as a ceremonial burial because it was out of the ordinary. Anasazi burials are generally quite orderly, with largely intact--or articulated--skeletons lying on their backs or on their sides. These remains of 30 individuals had been disarticulated, scattered, and shattered. The earlier researcher also felt that the assemblage dated to the Anasazi. Turner thought from the excellent condition of the bones that they couldn't be that old. He has since learned that bone that has been defleshed--as in butchering--does not rot as quickly as bone with flesh left on. But to confirm his hunch, he had radiocarbon dating tests done on a piece of rib. That established a date of 1600 to 1700, making it younger than Anasazi, and, given the location where it was found, a desolate spot named Polacca Wash, suggested the bones were Hopi.
Curiously, the individuals in the assemblage were all women or children or men who were small and feminine, an out-of-the-ordinary social group. Turner began tracking Hopi oral history and matched his date for the bones to a Hopi tale about a massacre in a village called Awatovi. According to oral history, one group of Hopi descended on another, killing the men in the village and taking women and children hostage. Then, after an argument over what to do with the captives, they killed them.
The legend, however, said nothing of cannibalism. This Turner deduced from the state of the remains. That the people had died violently was evident from the smashed teeth and bashed skulls, but cut marks on the bone indicated that they had been butchered as well.
Turner came up with the title of his recent book, Man Corn, as a literal translation of a Nahautl (the Aztec language) word for human sacrifice, and the first paragraph of the book not only sets the tone of the book, but hints at the author's sense of humor as well:
The word cannibal comes from the Carib Indian tribal name. It refers to a person who eats human flesh, as well as any other organism that eats the flesh of its own kind. Regardless of a few local, affirmative customs involving cannibalism, humans are usually enjoined not to eat one another, at least not their own family, friends, and neighbors (a practice usually referred to as endocannibalism). Eating strangers or enemies, called exocannibalism, is less strongly prohibited and sometimes even expected. Aztec feasting on sacrificed enemy captives was permitted, for example, although supposedly only by members of the upper class.
In other words, it's not nice to eat people. And as Turner well knows, it's not polite even to talk about it.
Reports of cannibalism are not unique to the American Southwest by any means. They turn up in the ethno-historic record or in the archaeological record in every continent. In North America, claims for cannibalism have been made at sites in Alaska, New York, the Pacific Northwest and even Wisconsin. The first published account of possible cannibalism in the Southwest was in 1902, when a Smithsonian scientist named Walter Hough presented his findings at an Arizona site to Harper's Monthly.
After Turner's first paper on cannibalism was published in 1970, other archaeologists were suddenly turning up possible cannibal sites in Arizona and New Mexico. Turner established a checklist for determining if remains had been cannibalized, and he and his wife catalogued 76 sites over the course of researching Man Corn, poring through museum collections and going out on digs. They would have investigated more if Jackie hadn't become too ill to continue.
The Polacca Wash remains, the assemblage that had led Turner to this study, turned out to be unique among the bones they examined. Turner believes they date to the 18th century. Most of the other sites spanned the Anasazi centuries, roughly from A.D. 900 to 1300, with most of them dating to the 1100s, which are usually thought of as the height of Anasazi civilization. Other anthropologists think Turner is mistaken about the Polacca Wash date.
"Because it is an anomaly, you have to wonder about the dates," says David Wilcox, an anthropologist at the Museum of Northern Arizona and a longtime friend of Turner's.
Wilcox, too, believes the Polacca Wash assemblage comes from the 1100s, which would only strengthen Turner's theories on cannibalism among the Anasazi.
Turner believes that the killing migrated north from Mexico, where a tradition of cannibalism and human sacrifice flourished before and after the brief historical Chacoan period.
One of the great mysteries of archaeology is the downfall of the Anasazi and the apparent abandonment of the great houses and kivas at Chaco Canyon near Farmington, New Mexico. From the archaeological record, Chaco appears to have grown from 900 to its zenith around 1100, then fallen into decline and was deserted by 1300.