Indian Stew

Page 6 of 7

"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."

This despite evidence that the bones were cooked. But Dongoske raises a strong point.

"Cannibalism is a pretty dramatic event," he says. "There is enough rock art in the Southwest that don't you think at some point someone would have depicted the consumption of human flesh in the renderings on the stone? They depicted horses coming in, they depicted the Spaniards coming in, they depict clan migration routes, ceremonies. You'd think they'd depict human flesh being consumed."

There is a powerful school of thought among anthropologists that it never happened. Anywhere. At least not as a social phenomenon. Sure, Jeffery Dahmer sociopaths have always existed, they argue, but cannibalism as a part of culture is nothing more than hearsay, the accusations that one tribe makes against another that they don't like much. The Hopi and Navajo, for example, make such inferences about each other.

And as for Turner's theories in the Southwest, "We pretty much don't accept it over here," says Peter Bullock, an anthropologist at the Museum of New Mexico in Santa Fe. "In fact, we consider it pretty much of a joke."

Cannibalism is a non-issue, Bullock continues, not worth studying, and he thinks Turner in particular works his ideas too hard, forcing the evidence into paradigms.

There are politics underlying this debate, political correctness. In one instance at least, Turner notes, apparently cannibalized remains have disappeared from a museum collection without explanation. The repatriation of prehistoric Native American remains has become largely politicized, and the layers of state and federal regulations dictating archaeological mitigation in many parts of the country has given archaeologists power they never had before.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Kiefer