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Archaeo News 

18 August 2010
Ancient utensils made of human bones

An ancient Mexican civilization used human bones to make buttons, combs, needles, spatulas, and dozens of other everyday utensils, archeologists say. The discovery comes from a new analysis of 5,000 bone fragments found in the ancient city of Teotihuacan, a large archaeological site about 48 kilometers northeast of Mexico City. Teotihuacan was one of the largest ancient urban centers in the Americas and thrived between about 100 BCE and 650 CE. This pre-Hispanic culture is known to have practiced human and animal sacrifices.
     The fragments, which date between 200 and 400 CE, show only marks left by the defleshing process and no signs of ritual sacrifice. For now archaeologists don't know who was working at the 'bone factory' or what was done with the removed flesh. Femurs, tibias and human skulls were transformed into household items shortly after death, noted team leader Abigail Meza Peñaloza of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). "The Teotihuacanos used different stones as knives to finely remove the flesh and muscles from the bones."  The bodies had to be as fresh as possible because, after a person dies, his or her bone quickly becomes too fragile to sculpt. Rebecca Storey, a Teotihuacan expert at the University of Houston, said that making utensils out of human bone fits with the ancient culture. "They were not particularly afraid of death," said Storey, who was not involved in the discovery. "They buried the members of their family under and around their houses and manipulated their bones.
     Peñaloza said her team does plan to run an isotope analysis to figure out where the people whose bones became utensils likely lived. "When I compared frontal sinuses used in the artifacts with those from buried skeletons, they were identical," Peñaloza said. The bone shapes didn't match samples from skeletons of sacrificed foreigners, indicating that the bone artifacts were made from fellow Teotihuacanos. She hopes the find will eventually help archaeologists better understand the symbolism of using bone to make housewares.

Source: National Geographic News (10 August 2010)

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