War Trophies and Ancestor Veneration, A Bioarchaeological Analysis of Maya Secondary Interments at Formative Cuello and K'axob in Northern Belize

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Secondary interments, common among Maya burials, are typically identified by disarticulated or unnatural positioning of the skeleton within the grave. Various beliefs and procedures are responsible for these atypical burials, including partibility, the taking of human trophies, and ancestor veneration. The Formative skeletal populations from Cuello and K’axob, in Northern Belize, each contained 46 secondary interments that were analyzed to pinpoint trophies and ancestors. Based on various criteria, including grave location and presence or absence of accoutrements, six individuals were identified as trophies, and 19 were identified as ancestors. Analysis of secondary interments’ skeletal assemblages revealed partibility was practiced at both sites, with the skull, teeth, legs, and arms being most frequently interred, while hands and feet were the least commonly interred. The patterns within the Formative period secondary burial contexts changed over time, in correlation with the social and political changes that were occurring prior to the Classic period.

Ancestor veneration, Archaeology, War trophies, Partibility, Secondary interment, K'axob, Cuello, Formative period, Maya, Preclassic Maya, Bioarchaeology