Anthropology Publications


Wandering Bones: Archaeology, Forensic Science and Moche Burial Practices

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International Journal of Osteoarchaeology





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URL with Digital Object Identifier<192::AID-OA422>3.0.CO;2-5


The focus of this study is a sample of human burials from the Precolumbian archaeological site of San José de Moro, Perú. This site is located in the coastal desert of northern Perú and this sample dates to the latter half of the Moche period (AD 450-750). Upon discovery, many of the burials from this site were found to demonstrate various degrees of disarticulation. Stratigraphic analysis demonstrates that this disturbance cannot be the product of post-depositional forces. An analysis of the distribution of the bones within the tombs, and a review of the process of corporeal decomposition suggests that the disturbance happened before the bodies were interred. The results indicate that the cadavers were wholly or partially mummified before burial, and that disarticulation occurred as the brittle, mummified body was manoeuvered into the tomb. The body was mummified either as a deliberate measure before transporting the corpse over long distances, or as a natural product of the curation of the body above ground in a dry environment, during an extended funeral ritual. This combination of archaeological and forensic analysis yields important new insights into the burial practices of the Moche.