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INTERPERSONAL VIOLENCE AT PLAYA VENADO, PANAMA (550–850 AD): A REEVALUATION OF THE EVIDENCE

  • Nicole E. Smith-Guzmán (a1) and Richard G. Cooke (a1)
Abstract

Many Spanish chroniclers detail violent cultural practices of the indigenous populations they encountered in the Isthmo-Colombian Area; however, lack of physical evidence of interpersonal violence from archaeological contexts has made uncertain the veracity of these claims. At the precolumbian site of Playa Venado in Panama, these accounts of violent mortuary rituals may have influenced the interpretation of the burials encountered in excavations, leading to claims of mutilations and sacrifice, with little or no supporting evidence. This paper considers the physical evidence for interpersonal violence and sacrificial death at Playa Venado based on the burial positioning, demographic composition, and trauma present on the human remains recovered from the site. Analysis of field notes, excavation photos, and the 77 individuals available for study from the site yielded no evidence of perimortem trauma nor abnormal body positioning unexplained by taphonomy. The demography at the site tracked with normal patterns of natural age-at-death at the non-elite site of Cerro Juan Díaz rather than the abnormal patterns seen at the large ceremonial sites of Sitio Conte and El Caño. Therefore, we propose an alternative interpretation of the site as a non-elite cemetery containing evidence of re-use and secondary burial practices associated with ancestor veneration rituals.

Aunque varios cronistas españoles detallaron prácticas culturales violentas por parte de las poblaciones indígenas en el Área Istmo-Colombiana, la falta de evidencia física de violencia interpersonal en contextos arqueológicos ha puesto en duda la veracidad de estas afirmaciones. En el caso del sitio precolombino de Playa Venado en Panamá, las descripciones de rituales mortuorios violentos en las crónicas coloniales pudieron haber influido en las interpretaciones de los entierros hallados en el sitio. En este trabajo se realiza una reevaluación de la evidencia de este sitio, para lo cual se revisaron las notas de campo de Samuel Lothrop y sus colaboradores, se consultaron las fotografías tomadas en las excavaciones de 1951 y se realizó un análisis pormenorizado de los restos óseos de 77 individuos almacenados en el Instituto Smithsoniano en Washington, D.C. Se concluyó que no existe evidencia alguna de trauma perimortem o de posicionamiento corporal anormal. Asimismo, la demografía indica una tasa de mortalidad normal. Se propone una interpretación alternativa del sitio como un cementerio que recibió a los difuntos que no hacían parte de la élite y que contiene evidencia de reutilización y de prácticas de entierro secundario asociadas con rituales de veneración de los antepasados.

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(smithn@si.edu, corresponding author)
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