Osteobiography of a high-status burial from the lower Río Verde Valley of Oaxaca, Mexico

Authors

  • A. T. Mayes,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Anthropology, San Diego State University, 5500 Campanile Drive, San Diego, CA 92182-4443, USA
    • Department of Anthropology, San Diego State University, 5500 Campanile Drive, San Diego, CA 92182-4443, USA.
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  • S. B. Barber

    1. Department of Anthropology, University of Central Florida, Howard Philips Hall 309, 4000 Central Florida Blvd., Orlando, FL 32816-1361, USA
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Abstract

This paper presents the osteobiography of an individual from an early complex society who was clearly of “special” social status but was not classified a ruling elite. Our case derives from a unique burial found at the small site of Yugüe, located in the lower Río Verde valley on the Pacific coast of Oaxaca, Mexico. Burial 14-Individual 16 (B14-I16) dates to the late Terminal Formative Period (CE 100–250), an era of regional political centralization and concomitant social inequality. B14-I16 was interred with several valuable grave offerings. A plaster-backed pyrite mirror was found below his mandible, and his left hand held an elaborately incised flute made from a deer femur. The flute is the only object of its kind known for all of Terminal Formative Mesoamerica. Drawing on the physicality of inequality, we employ osteobiography to assess the social hierarchy. Although B14-I16 was clearly an individual of unusual status in the context of Yugüe, he was not immune from the biological assaults that affected people of less distinguished social position at this time. Like his contemporaries of all social statuses, he suffered ill health in the years during which he was weaned. However, a longer weaning period and access to additional resources may have positioned him to endure later illness better than others in this population. Passing the critical transition period at age 6 ½, a time when many children died in this burial site, his adolescent health was better than that of others in this population. Although B14-I16 did have adult responsibilities, he didn't engage in the kinds of physical labour that marked the skeletons of others. The placement of Burial B14-I16 in the middle tiers of the lower Río Verde valley's ancient social hierarchy provides insight into issues of inequality and status on an individual scale. Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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