CSI: New Mexico – Possible Genocide? (ca. 1275 AD)

By: The Scribe on Tuesday, July 17, 2007

CSI New Mexico

It was around 1100 AD that an obscure native culture, known as the Gallina, lived in a small area of New Mexico’s northwest. And it was around 1275 AD that the entire culture suddenly vanished without a trace.

Until recently, less than one hundred skeletons from the Gallina culture have been found, but a new cache of seven skeletons has added a twist to the tale of this vanishing group of people. The bones of five adults, one child, and one infant all show evidence of violent murder. One skeleton had a fractured skull, jaw, forearm, pelvis and thighbone, and several ribs were also cracked. Another body had cut marks on the upper arm, similar to the kind of marks made by an axe. The skull of the child, probably about two years old at the time of death, had been crushed.

Two of the bodies were also arranged in an unusual way: an adult male and a female were face down, on their knees, with their heads bent back far enough to rest between their shoulder blades. The female’s head had been snapped back so far that a piece of her vertebrae had been forced into the back of her skull. This could have been the result of a deliberate pose, or it is possible that the individuals were crouched defensively when their necks were broken. This kind of position also shows that whoever killed these people did not bother to bury them – they simply carried out the murders and moved on.

Another unusual feature of the murder scene was a burnt pit house quite near to where the bodies were found. According to reports from previous Gallina sites, in 90% of cases, attackers tended to throw their Gallina victims inside their own houses and then burn the houses on top of them. However at this site, the bodies had simply been thrown into a pile. According to archaeologists working at the site, it is extremely likely that more bodies and burnt houses are nearby – though whether they will show such evidence of brutal murder is uncertain.

Although very little is known about this culture, two of the adult skulls showed distinct evidence of culturally-induced cranial deformation – they have an unusual flattened shape which has not show up anywhere else in the American southwest. It is entirely possible that distinctive internal traits such as these were the cause of violent conflicts with other groups of Gallina people in the area, or it may have also been the result of drastic climate change in the region.

Gallina murder dig

In fact, one of the main theories on the massacre site is that the Gallina culture’s disappearance was the result of genocide. Around 1100 AD, shortly after the culture appears in the archaeological record, the southwest of New Mexico was struck with severe drought. By about 1150 AD, the water table had begun to drop, preventing inhabitants of the region from growing as much corn as was needed to survive – it is possible that this could have been the source of stress between villages, as they struggled to ensure each group had enough resources. With competition for water and arable land, it is possible that internal strife took a turn for the worse – resulting in mass killings for the sake of food and water.

A second theory rests on the known evidence that other established cultural groups in the area, such as the Anasazi, abandoned their own massive settlements during the drought. If established groups like the Anasazi saw the new Gallina people as a threat – new, alone, without any political allies – they may have done what they thought they needed to do to restore the land’s harmony. After all, if they had no problems growing their corn for hundreds of years – and then a new group of people came into the area, and all of a their sudden corn wasn’t growing anymore – who were they going to blame?

Although the fate of the Gallina culture remains undetermined, the horrendous violence inflicted on the most recent skeletons certainly shows that whatever happened, the conflict was swift and ruthless – and let toward a complete destruction of an entire culture.

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Tomorrow: 2000 year old noodles, yummy!


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