Phone calls have a way of setting one’s life on ear! This one—“Would you be willing to help with a burial excavation—tomorrow?”
The two burials were located in and extruding from an embankment along the Cienega Creek, in the BLM Empire Ranch area. Recent rains had threatened to break up the bank and release the bones and all possible information down stream; in fact, some portions had been washed away. The bones had been found by a BLM Herpetologist, several days before the call came in.
A BLM crew had already removed one individual; had identified the burial as Sobaipuri period, aka: protohistoric (roughly 1540-1750?) and they had run out of time to complete the rest of the excavation. They called Jim V. of Center for Desert Archaeology who is doing his PhD dissertation on the Sobaipuri. Luckily, I had been working with Jim on another Sobaipuri site and he knew I was interested.
Thursday morning was hot and humid. With the full sun on our backs, we started mapping, profiling and trying to ascertain the best way to attack the remaining portion of the excavation.
Jim determined right away the soil profile, which gave us an idea of the situation/soils in which the skeletons were located. Bog! They were on the edge of a bog when they were “thrown” in, that had a drop off to deeper water. Huge rocks, including a metate, had been thrown on top of them—to hold them down? The rocks had been removed by the BLM crew.
The remaining skeleton, partially exposed, was lying on abdomen; right wrist appeared to extend under right pelvis in “an ouch!” tummy holding position; left arm extended along the body with palm up; ribs were fractured, splintered; skull was facing to left (not face down) and severely fractured, we think by a rock; lower legs were missing.
The two individuals had been in a head to toe arrangement so most likely some of the bones intermingled. Our individual’s right hand was not recovered so this may have been part of the intermingling or perhaps - cut off! I think the individual we were recovering was alive when thrown into the bog. Why was the skull facing left instead of face down?
This was not a burial. This was a demeaning, brutal attack with a graceless disposal of bodies thrown into the bog in a final show of contempt. Sobaipuri buried their dead in a pit often in vertical seated position.
I had to stand on a stool to excavate, and was just getting used to this stance and had barely scraped a bit of dirt when I saw a projectile point in situ. I said, “Jim I need a bag for this point” by the time he brought the bag to me I had four more points! So, it continued throughout the next days. The “I need a bag” became a point of laughter as Jim would say, “How many?”
We point provenienced all artifacts: northing, easting, elevations and bearing of shots — all tedious, exacting, time consuming measurements but will do well for possible 3D mapping at a later date. Jim took photos of the points in-situ for further documentation and he maintained extensive notes and maps during the excavation process.
To make the seven, 10-hour day, and hot excavation story short—and to the point! —Pun intended—This individual had been shot with 77 projectile points and stabbed twice, all of the points are Sobaipuri who, by the way, were known to poison their projectile points! I think there were five shooters, rank speculation on my part. Bearings on the points may tell us this after computer data is processed.
Whole points were recovered from the abdominal cavity; many whole points from the rib/lungs but some had broken on impact with the ribs. This poor soul had projectile points in hips, both “buns”, kidneys, wrists, hands, neck, and one point went through 2 lower vertebrae horizontally. I would assume this caused instant paralysis. Upper neck was not spared either. Both arms were broken/shattered and full of points.
Most of the ribs were broken/shattered and at each break site there was a projectile point and sometimes up to five. Same with the arms and clavicles (collar bones), projectile points at each break. More projectile points than I have ever seen. Fingertips of the left hand were smashed—stepped on maybe?
About four projectile points were recovered from the 1/8th inch mesh screen—oversight on my part. These points are very small, about 1-2cms long and will go thru a ¼ inch mesh screen, as they are narrow.
Are we talking over kill here? Boy, was someone angry!
Exactly what happened? Why? Who were these individuals?
None of the analysis has been done. We are just out of the field.
No metal was recovered in-situ, so we doubt they are Spaniards who had just made “contact.” Were they Apache warriors? Were they Sobaipuri from another tribe and had been caught doing something wrong? Were they witches? Sobaipuri had witches as documented by the Spanish priests (Father Kino). Was this murder, justifiable homicide or was this war?
The only piece of metal was a Winchester Repeater Rifle 44 shell casing—1880s—but a rodent burrow was nearby and rodents love shiny objects. Time frame is a mind boggler especially with the one piece of pre-historic pottery recovered! A conundrum! We think these two artifacts lend nothing to the story; are just ‘background noise.’
About 5 days into the dig, we uncovered a bone and fragments of what appears to be cow—Spanish brought in the cow about (1693?) This would date the site to after 1693. Or, it could be Bison? The Sobaipuri traded for Bison meat and skin—but bone?
Not the ‘right’ teeth were in place for Indian vs. Anglo identification to be made on site. Indian incisors can be shovel shaped at the back. The gracile appearing pelvis was smashed at the symphysis pubis by points so we may never know gender—Mandible looked rather thin though –could this be a female? Or, an old individual, as the few teeth in-situ had cavities and were very worn down. One tooth cavity exhibited signs of stick ‘cleaning’ as the perfectly round hole was worn and shiny. Most of the mandible had been without teeth for a long time—long enough to heal over completely without a trace of teeth ever having been in place.
The Tohono O’odham elders have been contacted and they have the final say as to what type of analysis can be done. We do believe that ASM will be able to look at the bones and do a limited analysis. We know the Tohono O’odham elders will not allow anything destructive so DNA recovery may not be possible—and they may not allow residue analysis of the points. Apaches will not allow any analysis and nor will not take the bones for reburial either.
We may never know what happened. So many more questions than answers!
I do know this: I NEVER want to get anyone this angry with me! And, I know I will NEVER have this type of excavation experience again.
Addendum: Primary bone analysis by Lane B. of ASM; Our individual, male, between 50-55 years old—teeth were present but worn down so not visible by an inexperienced observed (me!) Incisors showed great wear with an “o” shaped opening appearing from eyetooth to eye tooth. The right hand had been cut off! Multiple cuts appeared at the wrist are peri-mortem. This man had slight arthritis in the shoulder. He had been beaten by a club, as many of the breaks were blunt trauma breaks. His skullcap had cut marks that seem to indicate “scalping” had taken place.