Tempe (USA) : Grave of Disabled Young Woman
This special status might also explain the lavish condition of her grave, Cox added.
“The thing that broke out as unusual, beside her skeletal deformity, was the amount of grave items that were placed in the burial with her,” he said.
The grave goods included a half-dozen ceramic items, including a jar, a cylindrical vessel, a bowl placed near the woman’s head, another coated in schist placed upside-down over her feet, and another bowl by her left side that contained a small ceramic effigy of a duck. (Image courtesy E. Cox/Kiva)
The woman’s grave featured at least a half-dozen ceramic items, including a jar, a cylindrical vessel, a bowl placed near her head, another coated in the metallic mineral schist placed upside-down over her feet, and another bowl by her left side that contained a small ceramic effigy of a duck.
Among the 172 burials unearthed at La Plaza, the grave goods in Burial 167 were rivaled only by three other graves, Cox said — two of an older male and female, and one of a five-year-old girl.
“She had more items than a majority of the other ones,” he said.
What, if any, ritual power the young woman had is a matter of pure speculation, he cautioned.
But her burial treatment — and the fact that she lived as long as she did — shows that her community saw her as a valuable member, even if she couldn’t directly contribute to the livelihood of the group.
“Conceivably, someone with these kinds of deformities is not going out and working in the fields or making pots,” Cox said.
“But they took care of her for decades. It wasn’t like she was taken out to a hill and left to die because she was never going to be a productive member. The community banded together and took care of this woman for her whole lifetime.”
Regardless of what her medical history or social status really was, her treatment in death gives insights into what Cox and his colleagues describe as the bioarchaeology of care — a glimpse into how prehistoric cultures cared for their ill and infirm.
“It humanizes the Hohokam, by looking at their human and cultural response to adversity,” he said.
“In my way of thinking — and this is just me personally — I think she was probably born with this deformity. And because of that, she was imbued with some sort of ritual power or knowledge, and so she was treated differently from other people in her community, which may have led to being kept inside and eating a specialized diet. And then they took care of her until she passed away.
“And you could say in that respect that she was a contributing member of her group, through the ritual aspect of her life.
“And when she passed away, they made her burial more substantial than other people who died at the same time.”
Through the bioarchaeology of care, Cox concluded, researchers can learn about someone who lived at another time and in another culture “as a person, instead of just another number.”
“I think one of the most important things that we can get out of this, is that we can start looking at these less as burials and skeletons, and look at them more as people,” he said.
“This was a girl that had a really rough life in a lot of ways. Yet she was well taken care of by her community and celebrated in her death, which says a lot more about the people that lived there at the time than about her.
“If you look at people today, if you have a child that’s born with a handicap, you take care of that child and you love that child and you do what you can to give that child the best life possible,” he added.
“And I think that correlates with this sort of obscure Hohokam culture and makes it more personable.
“They’re just the same as we are.
“They didn’t have air conditioning and motor vehicles, but their wants and their desires and the way they lived their lives were fairly similar, when you get down to the basics.”
Cox and his colleagues report their findings in the journal Kiva.
Dongoske, K., Cox, E., & Rogge, A. (2016). Bioarchaeology of Care: A Hohokam Example KIVA, 80 (3-4), 304-323 DOI: 10.1080/00231940.2016.1147160