Ritual Violence and the Perception of Social Difference: Migration and Human Sacrifice in the Epiclassic Basin of Mexico
Archaeologists have long contended that large-scale human migrations played an essential role in the cultural development of pre-Hispanic central Mexico. During the Epiclassic period (600-900 CE), migration is implicated in the appearance of new forms of material culture, sociopolitical disruptions, and the emergence of new regional polities. Sweeping social changes accompanied these developments, including demographic reorganization and increased levels of violence. Research across the social sciences finds that violence directed at individuals perceived as categorically distinct also typically increases during such periods of socio-political upheaval. This dissertation investigates identity-based violence in the Epiclassic Basin of Mexico to consider how diverse social identities contributed to the selection of victims of ritual violence.
This research examines the skeletal remains from a sacrificial deposit at the Epiclassic shrine site of Non-Grid 4 in the Basin of Mexico, where a minimum of 180 human crania were interred as ritual offerings. The project reconstructs patterns of paleomobility and biological relatedness to determine whether individuals with distinct categorical social identities were more likely to become victims of human sacrifice. It answers the questions: (1) Were the sacrificed individuals predominantly locals who lived in the Basin of Mexico throughout their lives?; (2) Were the sacrificed individuals comprised of a single kin-group biologically continuous with pre-extant populations in the Basin of Mexico?; and (3) If victims were migrants biologically discontinuous with antecedent populations, from where in ancient Mesoamerica did they originate?
Results indicate that a majority of sacrificial victims were immigrants originating north and south of the Basin of Mexico. Biogeochemical analyses of sacrificed individuals find that 80% are non-local migrants into the Basin, suggesting that they were likely targeted for violence based on their divergent residential histories. Multi-scalar biodistance analyses of Non-Grid 4 sacrificial victims demonstrate that they represent two biologically distinct groups. There was evidence, however, for both biological continuity among victims and pre-extant central Mexican populations, as well as for migration from northern and southern Mexico. This project therefore not only improves knowledge of migration during the central Mexican Epiclassic, but also contributes to broader anthropological understandings of the social context of violence.