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International Journal of Osteoarchaeology

Int. J. Osteoarchaeol. 14: 374–388 (2004)

Published online 7 July 2004 in Wiley InterScience ( DOI: 10.1002/oa.722

Violence inthe Atacama Desert during the

Tiwanaku Period: Social Tension?
Escola Nacional de Saúde Pública/FIOCRUZ, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

ABSTRACT Tiwanaku influence significantly affected the lifestyle of the prehistoric peoples of the
Atacama Desert as it represented an important period of social and economic change.
Such intense changes as social stratification and new religious and ideological influences
have always been characterized as peaceful ones. Palaeopathological studies based on the
violence-induced traumatic lesions of 64 well-preserved human skeletons from an excavated
funerary site named Solcor-3 have facilitated a comparison between Pre-Tiwanaku and
Tiwanaku periods. Results show an increase in violence between males represented by
low-intensity skull traumas, arrow wounds and a high mortality rate between 20 and 30 years
of age during the Tiwanaku period. The interpretation of this data is contrary to the model of
peaceful acceptance of the changes that followed the Tiwanaku influence into the Atacama.
At least for Solcor-3, economic and political factors should be re-considered in order to
explain the emergence of social tension during the Tiwanaku period. In the future, more
detailed studies will probably help to clarify if conflicts had also extended to other sites in San
Pedro de Atacama under Tiwanaku influence. Copyright ß 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Key words: palaeopathology; violence; trauma; Chile; Atacama; Tiwanaku

Introduction This paper sets out to clarify a possible

increase in social tension during the expansion
In the last few years anthropological and paleo- of the Tiwanaku Federation over the traditional
pathological research has emphasized studies on cultures in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. Human
trauma and physical violence during prehistoric skeletons found in Solcor-3 cemetery, an archae-
times. Such studies have challenged the old con- ological site covering the two periods, were
cept that the prehistoric societies lived peace- analysed from a paleoepidemiological perspec-
fully, in perfect harmony with each other tive to compare the amount and distribution of
(Heckenberger, 1996; Wilkinson, 1997). Recent the violence during both periods in that site.
analysis encompassing those questions have
shown that violence among the prehistoric
Amerindians did not start after their contact Tiwanuku expansion and the
with Europeans as many academics and laymen emergence of social tension
believe. The iconographic and archaeological in the Atacama
evidence of defensive structures, weapons, and
especially the osteological register showing signs In northern Chile a large desert area surrounds
of beatings and other physical violence, make the the Salar of Atacama where human prehistoric
existence of antagonistic relationships inside and occupations flourished for millennia. During the
among different groups even more evident. last 2000 years, inhabitants living by horticulture
have occupied a small oasis around what is now
* Correspondence to: Departamento de Endemias Samuel Pessoa, the San Pedro de Atacama village (Figure 1). The
Escola Nacional de Saúde Pública, FIOC, Rua Leopoldo Bulhões,
1480—Térreo, Manguinhos, Rio de Janeiro, Brasil 21041-210. traditional culture of the so-called Atacamenean
e-mail: groups originated there and from that cultural
Copyright # 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Received 2 July 2001
Revised 17 June 2003
Accepted 21 October 2003
Violence in the Atacama Desert during the Tiwanaku Period 375

Figure1. Map of the Atacama Desert and circum-Titicaca region, modified from Berenguer & Dauselsberg (1989), indicating the approx-
imate location of the San Pedro de Atacama oasis.

centre they extended their influence across a very Federation was placed in a urban ceremonial
wide region, from the coast to the Andes cordil- centre, by Lake Titikaka, in the southern Bolivian
lera. Adapted to the desert, they transported, Plateau, and it is characterized by an unique style
goods and products by caravan between the of architecture and sculpture.
plateau and the coast for centuries. This well- The readily accepted model for regional pre-
structured exchange system guaranteed that the history shows that the relationship between the
items that were absent or scarce in the desert Atacamenean oasis and Tiwanaku Federation was
could be supplemented and a very prosperous still very insignificant during the Quitor phase,
supra-regional interaction with other groups took around AD 200 to 500. It intensified during the
place (Llagostera, 1996). Although peripheral in Coyo phase sometime around AD 500 to 900
relation to the large Andean societies, the Ataca- (Llagostera et al., 1988). The Tiwanakús influence
menean were under very important external is very clearly represented by the increase in
influences, both cultural and economical, mainly paraphernalia associated with the inhaling of
during the Tiwanaku expansion. The Tiwanaku hallucinogenic substances (tabletas, inhaling tubes,
Copyright # 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Int. J. Osteoarchaeol. 14: 374–388 (2004)
376 A. Lessa and S. Mendonça de Souza

spoons, spatulas and bags with typical iconogra- Previous studies of the Atacama Desert popu-
phy of Tiwanaku). The complexity of the funerary lations suggest violence-induced lesions in differ-
rituals also indicates the strength of the religious ent periods. For 74 Chinchorro skeletons of
and political power of the local religious leaders Morro 1, Standen et al. (1984) found one indivi-
(xamãs) and landlords (señorios), as well as the dual with depressed skull fractures, two with face/
strong ideological penetration in the oasis skull trace fractures and one with a perforated
(Núñez, 1992). During the Tiwanaku period, wound probably caused by an arrow, most of
there may have been an expansion in traffic of them in adult males. One female had a ‘parry’
llama caravans connecting the oasis with the fracture. Although those authors considered head
coast, the south and northwest plateaux, including wounds as accidental, modern literature consid-
the northwest of Argentina and the Lake Titicaca ers them violent. In those papers ‘parry’ fractures
region. San Pedro de Atacama was probably a and perforated head wound were considered
distribution centre for such goods as corn, violent trauma. Munizaga (1991), describing
algarrobo, chañar, copper, semiprecious stones, paleopathological findings in 50 skeletons from
wood, salt, dry food, animal skins, ajı́, and quı́nua the Loa River also associated four skull fractures
which were taken to Tiwanaku to be exchanged with violence. In both cases the populations lived
for many different items, including those which on the coast and are not related to the Tiwanaku
expressed the different social and religious status. period.
To some archaeologists, the relationship Hypotheses about bioarchaeological differ-
between Tiwanaku and the Atacamenean oasis ences between the Tiwanaku and Pre-Tiwanaku
was based on a liturgical strategy that helped to period were also proposed in previous studies
assure social harmony in the absence of military (Neves & Costa, 1998). Neves and colleagues
coercive tactics (Núnez & Dillehay, 1995). (1996) proposed an increase in social tension
However, Berenguer et al. (1980), Berenguer & during the Tiwanaku period but the results of
Dauelsberg (1989), Browman (1980, 1981), their analysis were negative. Summing evidence
Thomas et al. (1985) and Orellana (1985) have of trauma from 161 adult skeletons from three
proposed a different interpretation. They partially different sites (Solcor-3, Quitor-6 and Coyo)
agree with the idea of a complementary system of these authors considered skull and ‘parry’ frac-
exchanging goods and resources, but they are not tures to be the only indicators of violence, and
unanimous about a peaceful acceptance of the found no increase in social tension during the
social and economical changes that occurred dur- Tiwanaku period. Two years later Costa-
ing that period. The hierarchical process that took Junqueira et al. (1998) examined only depressed
place during the Tiwanaku period may have privi- skull fractures in the same three samples. They
leged those individuals who organized and sus- also summed trauma in addults of both sexes and
tained the new alliances. Increasing religious all ages for the three samples. They concluded
power, the changes in the social relationships that a higher frequency of violence-induced
between landlords of local and other groups, and lesions occur during the Tiwanaku period. In a
controlled access to certain goods seem to confirm subsequent paper Neves et al. (1999) published
that. It would be very unlikely that a new system of further results on trauma from these sites. Con-
values could come about without social and poli- sidering the same 161 adults and adding 83
tical costs. Reorganizing forces and political links subadults, they estimated the frequency of
between local landlords, and/or landlords from non-skull fractures. Finding no fractures in sub-
adjacent regions, could strengthen some social adult skeletons, and no statistically significant
alliances and disrupt others, causing conflicts. difference between the number of fractures in
The most expressive presence of weapons in tombs adult males and females, they proposed that
of the Tiwanaku period (Llagostera et al., 1988) also except for the skull fractures, all bone trauma,
suggests this. Despite the absence of archaeologi- parry fractures included, were accidental. Since
cal evidence of war, it is relevant to ask if all the these studies took into account pathology but not
Atacameneans would have equally accepted that mortality rates, summed series and samples,
growing process of social discrepancy. instead of segregating them, and did not include
Copyright # 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Int. J. Osteoarchaeol. 14: 374–388 (2004)
Violence in the Atacama Desert during the Tiwanaku Period 377

arrow wounds as violence indicators, the question youths were underrepresented at Solcor-3, reach-
of the occurrence of violence in prehistoric ing no more than 50% of the adults. They were
populations from San Pedro de Atacama remains not included in the present study because vio-
partially unsolved. lence against children, except under special cir-
This paper reviews the theme of social tension cumstances is scarcely mentioned in the literature
during the Tiwanaku period, taking into account (Walker, 1989, 2001).
the published literature and also our previous Along with the paleopathological literature
analysis of 34 adult skeletons from Solcor-3 and (Steinbock, 1976; Ortner & Putschar, 1985;
Quitor-6 (Mendonça de Souza et al., 1996). A Merbs, 1989; Walker, 1989; Jurmain, 1991;
paleoepidemiological analysis was performed for Burbank, 1992; Martin & Frayer, 1997; Burns,
only one site, Solcor-3, comparing violent trau- 1999), epidemiological analyses, clinical reports
mas in different periods as well as mortality and forensic studies have been useful in this
prevalence. The meaning of the data was clarified search for specific signs of violence. According
by the segregation of the sample into age and sex to the literature depressed skull fractures, broken
categories. Bias was minimized by the exclusion facial bones, especially the nasal bones, fractures
of disturbed and badly preserved burials and of the middle and distal ulnar shaft, as well as the
those from undefined cultural contexts. presence of arrow points or lithic splinters stuck
to bones are some of the most important signs of
violence in the literature. Other kinds of fractures
Material and methods may be violent or not, depending on the context.
Among modern peoples, depressed skull frac-
Solcor-3, held in Le Paige Museum collection, is tures are most commonly associated with violent
the largest and best preserved series of skeletons causes (Gurdjian, 1973). Many authors believe
representing the Pre-Tiwanaku and Tiwanaku that this situation was the same for prehistoric
periods. One section of this cemetery was populations (Walker, 1989; Wilkinson, 1997;
unearthed during a road construction (Bravo & Martin, 1997; Lambert, 1997; Robb, 1997; Smith,
Llagostera, 1986) and was partially excavated by 1997). Differential diagnosis of violent skull frac-
the Museu Le Paige team in 1986. The series of tures is generally based on anatomical features.
burials sums to 251 individuals of both sexes and Fractures are generally concentrated around the
all ages, but many of them are disturbed and not frontal bone and are expected to have a regular
all skeletons as in good state of preservation. As morphological pattern (circular, oval shaped)
with other cemeteries of the same region, Solcor- that may be matched to the common weapons.
3 also had several tombs affected by subsequent Accidental fractures can also occur on skulls, but
prehistoric and historic occupations. In many they are generally represented by fracture lines,
cases the disturbance confused cultural contexts. tend to be irregular in morphology and assume
The skeletons for this study were selected different anatomical locations (Walker, 1989,
according to the field and laboratory archaeolo- 1997). Contrary to most accidental fractures,
gical data about the burial (grave goods), and the violent fractures generally follow a differential
available data were produced by Agustin Llagos- pattern characterizing a specific age/sex segment
tera, Maria Antonieta Costa and colleagues of the of the society. Fractures of the facial bones,
Instituto de Investigaciones Arqueológicas y especially at the nose, are also generally the result
Museo R. P. Gustavo Le Paige, S. J. Only those of violence. One other reason to consider head
skeletons belonging to burials with clear Tiwa- fractures as violence induced is that during fights
naku or Pre-Tiwanaku characteristics were con- it is more usual to strike the head and the neck,
sidered. As a result, 64 adults of both sexes, although some cultural variation can also occur.
25.4% of the recovered individuals, had more The reason for this strategy is that wounds in
than 70% of the skeleton preserved and clear these anatomical locations will be more painful
cultural affiliation, were available for trauma ana- and the sequellae can be easily seen, both helpful
lysis. Considering the demographic patterns of a consequences to demonstrate domination over a
natural population (Hassan, 1981), children and wounded antagonist (Walker, 1997). The ‘parry’
Copyright # 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Int. J. Osteoarchaeol. 14: 374–388 (2004)
378 A. Lessa and S. Mendonça de Souza

fracture of the ulna (Adams, 1976; Ortner & of this research. Observations were limited to
Putschar, 1985; Merbs, 1989; Jurmain, 1991; visual assessment, while the diagnosis was estab-
Webb, 1995) is usually associated with a defen- lished using comparative criteria available in
sive movement of raising the arm to fend off a paleopathology. Radiology and histological test-
blow but it may occur when someone falls on the ing were not carried out at San Pedro de Atacama
arm or tries to protect the body against a falling village. Fractures were counted for each kind of
heavy object. Projectile points in bone, besides bone or anatomical region resulting in a different
clearly indicating violence (Jurmain, 1991; number of individuals examined (N) for each
Lambert, 1997; Walker, 1997; Smith, 1997; case. Arrow wound lesions were quantified based
Maschner, 1997; Keeley, 1997), can be helpful on the number of individuals in each sample or
in reconstructing the spacial relations of victim subsample, since those lesions occurred in differ-
and aggressor, penetration trajectory and the ent parts of the skeleton. Perimortem fractures
general situation during the attack. Mortality were registered but were not considered, because
rate is an important violence indicator, especially in the absence of precise information about burial
when young males are the most affected because context it should be very difficult to distinguish
this is contradictory to the demographic profile post-mortem causes.
of a natural population (Hassan, 1981). Segregat- The series were compared by cultural period,
ing samples instead of summing them, despite age and sex. The age groups were divided as
reducing the number of individuals per category follows: I, 18–30 years; II, 30–40 years; III, 40þ
allowsfor a comparison ofvariation in violencerates years. Chi square and Fisher exact tests were
among different groups. The confounding effect of performed to assess the significance of the differ-
medium values is eliminated and biocultural inter- ences between samples.
pretation is improved (Waldron, 1994).
The identification of trauma in the bones was
carried out based on the presence of new bone Results
formation, bone absence and/or destruction and
remnant fracture lines. Abnormalities in texture Of the 64 Solcor-3 adult skeletons studied for
of the surface, form and size of the bones were violent trauma, 16 skeletons show bone lesions.
also considered (Ubelaker, 1978; Steinbock, Most of the skeletons exhibit just one lesion but
1976). Lesions in teeth were beyond the scope four have two and one has four (Table 1). Only

Table1. Distribution of acute violent traumatic lesions in the skeletal series of Solcor-3 site, San Pedro de Atacama,Chile

Individual Period Sex Age N of lesions Lesion Anatomical location

1049 Tiw M II 1 Crushing fracture Nasal bones

1080 Pre¤-Tiw F III 1 ‘Parry’ fracture Left ulna
1236 Tiw M I 2 Depressed fracture Frontal bone
Arrow penetration Left rib
1516 Tiw F II 2 Depressed fracture Occipital bone
Crushing fracture Right maxilla
1628 Pre¤-Tiw F III 1 ‘Parry’ fracture Right ulna
2150 Pre¤-Tiw M III 1 Arrow penetration Left rib III
2269 Pre¤-Tiw F II 1 Depressed fracture Frontal bone
3063 Tiw M I 1 Depressed fracture Occipital bone
3589 Tiw F II 1 Depressed fracture Frontal bone
3599 Tiw M I 4 Arrow penetration Left ilium
Depressed fracture (3) Frontal bone
3607 Tiw M I 1 Arrow penetration Right ilium
3611 Tiw F I 1 Arrow penetration Sternum;T-7
13,111 Tiw M II 1 Arrow penetration Left humerus
13,118 Tiw M I 2 Arrow penetration Right ribs III and VI
13,156 Tiw M I 1 Arrow penetration Right humerus
13,586 Tiw F II 2 Crushing fracture Nasal bones; mandible

Copyright # 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Int. J. Osteoarchaeol. 14: 374–388 (2004)
Violence in the Atacama Desert during the Tiwanaku Period 379
Table 2. Distribution of acute violent traumatic lesions according to anatomical location in the skeletal series of Solcor-3 site, San
Pedro de Atacama,Chile

Individual Period Sex Depressed and crushing fractures ‘Parry’ fracture Arrow penetration
Ulna Post-cranial bones
Nasal Frontal Parietal Occipital Max/Mand

1049 Tiw M X
1080 Pre¤-Tiw F X
1236 Tiw M X X
1516 Tiw F X X
1628 Pre¤-Tiw F X
2150 Pre¤-Tiw M X
2269 Pre¤-Tiw F X
3063 Tiw M X X
3589 Tiw F X
3599 Tiw M X X
3607 Tiw M X
3611 Tiw F X
13,111 Tiw M X
13,118 Tiw M X
13,156 Tiw M X
13,586 Tiw F X X
Total 2 4 1 2 2 2 8

two skulls show perimortem lesions, one male infectious complication, and no death can be
from each period. The two main types of violent associated with them (Figures 2 and 3). Arrow
trauma are depressed cranial fractures and arrow point wounds are small and healed, having regular
wounds (Table 2). ‘Parry’ fractures were found in rounded margins, except in the case of #3611
two females (Table 2). female. Entire lithic points or splinters were found
Only one male (5.8%) and three females (23%) inside those wounds, either firmly stuck inside
from the Pre-Tiwanaku period had suffered vio- the bone callus or trapped in healed cavities
lent trauma, all of them in the oldest age group (Figure 4). Seven in eight arrow wounds occur
(Table 3). Of those from the Tiwanaku period, in males from the Tiwanaku period.
both males (47%) and females (23.5%) show Depressed skull fractures occur in one of the
violent trauma, most of them young adults, whose 12 (8.3%) females and no men from the Pre-
mortality was higher than in the previous period Tiwanaku period, while ‘parry’ fractures occur in
(Table 4). Depressed skull fractures are oval and two out of 13 (15.3%) females. Only one Pre-
regular, smooth, and healed, being restricted to Tiwanaku male skeleton (5.8%) has an arrow
the outer table with little variation in size (0.8– point wound (Table 5). Of those from the
1.8 cm wide/0.4–2.5 cm long). There is no sign of Tiwanaku period, depressed skull fractures

Table 3. Number of individuals from the Pre-Tiwanaku period Table 4. Number of individuals from the Tiwanaku period on
on Solcor-3 site with acute violent traumas, distributed by age Solcor-3 site, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, with acute violent
and sex groups traumas, distributed by age and sex groups

Age Male Female Total Age Male Female Total

(N) n % (N) N % (N) n % (N) n % (N) N % (N) n %

I 3 0 0 2 0 0 5 0 0 I 8 6 75 3 1 33.3 11 7 63.6
II 8 0 0 7 1 14.2 15 1 6.6 II 8 2 25 9 3 33.3 17 5 29.4
III 6 1 16.6 4 2 50 10 3 30 III 1 0 0 5 0 0 6 0 0
Total 17 1 5.8 13 3 23 30 4 13.3 Total 17 8 47 17 4 23.5 34 12 35.2

(N) ¼ number of individuals examined; n ¼ number of individuals (N) ¼ number of individuals examined; n ¼ number of individuals
with lesion. with lesion.

Copyright # 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Int. J. Osteoarchaeol. 14: 374–388 (2004)
380 A. Lessa and S. Mendonça de Souza

Figure 2. Healed depressed fracture of the frontal bone, female #2269, Pre-Tiwanaku period.

Figure 3. Healed depressed fracture of the occipital bone, right side, male #3063,Tiwanaku period.

Copyright # 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Int. J. Osteoarchaeol. 14: 374–388 (2004)
Violence in the Atacama Desert during the Tiwanaku Period 381

Figure 4. Stone projectile point embedded in the distal epiphysis of the left humerus, male #13,111,Tiwanaku period.

occurred in 26.6% (four out of 15) of the men and The Pre-Tiwanaku individual skull fracture was
18.7% (3 out of 16) of the women. No ‘parry’ on the frontal. The male skull fractures during the
fractures were found, but arrow points were Tiwanaku period are distributed as follows: nasal
identified in 35.2% of the men and 5.8% of the bone (14.2%), frontal bone (57.1%), left parietal
women (Table 6). bone (14.2%) and occipital bone (14.2%) for the

Table 5. Distribution of individuals from the Pre-Tiwanaku period on site Solcor-3, San Pedro de Atacama,Chile, according to type
of violent traumatic lesion

Lesion Male Female Total

(N) n % (N) n % (N) n %

Depressed/crushing fractures 16 0 0 12 1 8.3 28 1 3.5

‘Parry’ fractures 16 0 0 13 2 15.3 29 2 6.8
Arrow penetration 17 1 5.8 13 0 0 30 1 3.3

(N) ¼ number of individuals examined; n ¼ number of individuals with lesion.

Table 6. Distributionof individualsfromtheTiwanakuperiodon site Solcor-3,San Pedro de Atacama,Chile, accordingtotype of vio-

lent traumatic lesion

Lesion Male Female Total

(N) n % (N) n % (N) n %

Depressed/crushing fractures 15 4 26.6 16 3 18.7 31 7 22.5

‘Parry’ fractures 17 0 0 17 0 0 34 0 0
Arrow penetration 17 6 35.2 17 1 5.8 34 7 20.5

(N) ¼ number of individuals examined; n ¼ number of individuals with lesion.

Copyright # 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Int. J. Osteoarchaeol. 14: 374–388 (2004)
382 A. Lessa and S. Mendonça de Souza
Table 7. Distribution of frequency of lesions caused by arrow points on individuals from theTiwanaku period on the Solcor-3 site,
San Pedro de Atacama,Chile, according to penetration trajectorya (considering the orthostatic position)

Sex Front Back From the top From the side

N T N % n % n % n %

M 6 6   3 50 1 16.6 2 33.3
F 1 1 1 100      

N ¼ number of individuals with lesion;T ¼ total of the observed lesions; n ¼ number of the observed lesions.
It was considered just the lesions of which the trajectory of the arrow penetration could be inferred.

males; nasal bone (16.6%), frontal bone (16.6%), (13.3%). Lesions are also more prevalent in
occipital bone (16.6%) and maxillary bone (50%) young men from the Tiwanaku period and the
for the females. The small and shallow skull mortality of young men seems unusually high.
fractures, similar in males and females, suggests Despite the absence of data on soft tissue
that the implements used were blunt and applied lesions for the mummified bodies in the Atacama,
with limited force. precocious mortality suggests that the number of
The trajectories of the arrows were estimated individuals subjected to violent acts was possibly
considering the standing position. In the only higher than the bones can demonstrate, as is
wounded Pre-Tiwanaku male the arrow entrance proposed in the literature (Ubelaker, 1978;
site is located at the upper front of the thorax. Hassan, 1981; Machado, 1992; Mendonça de
The Tiwanaku male skeletons show projectile Souza, 1992/93). In the case of violence, there
trajectories from the back (50%), from above is a clear association between morbidity and
their heads (16.6%) and from both sides mortality that helps to solve the apparent osteo-
(33.3%) (Table 7). Although none of the men logical paradox of the healthy deceased. Archae-
had anterior entrance sites for projectiles, the ological evidence in San Pedro de Atacama does
female skeleton, #3611, shows an anterior not suggest warfare during the political transition
entrance at the sternum and the arrow is lodged to the Tiwanaku period, but the osteological
in the seventh lumbar vertebra. analysis is testimony to increased social tension
The 2 test (5% significance level) indicates expressed as physical violence against young men
that the difference between the number of Pre- of this site. The results reinforce the view that, at
Tiwanaku individuals suffering violent trauma least at Solcor-3, the transition to the Tiwanaku
and the Tiwanaku individuals with similar lesions period was followed by a period of social tension.
is statistically significant (2 ¼ 4.04, p-value ¼ Perhaps this is true for other Atacama settle-
0.0445579). The difference between males and ments, as proposed by Costa-Junqueira et al.
females for both periods was also tested. The (1998).
results are statistically significant for males The most common violent traumas in the
(2 ¼ 7.19; p-value ¼ 0.0073447), but not for Solcor-3 Tiwanaku sample are skull and
females (2 ¼ 0.00; p-value ¼ 0.9772243). Fisher face fractures, most of them healed lesions of
exact tests were also performed for age and sex the outer table with little variation in size. The
subgroups but no significant differences could similar oval/round morphology of the wounds as
be found probably because of the reduced well as their prevalent frontal and parietal loca-
N values in theses segregating samples. tions are consistent with club strikes to the fore-
head during hand-to-hand conflict. Although
some skeletons have other bone traumas, three
Discussion individuals have only face fractures, and one
individual has only face and skull wounds, sup-
The number of violent lesions in the Solcor-3 porting a violent aetiology for these lesions. The
skeletons is greater in individuals from the Tiwa- two perimortem skull fractures could also repre-
naku period (35.2%) than in the preceding one sent lethal lesions, but their inclusion would not
Copyright # 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Int. J. Osteoarchaeol. 14: 374–388 (2004)
Violence in the Atacama Desert during the Tiwanaku Period 383

change the comparative interpretation because possible, or not useful as a defence. Another
they were equally distributed between Tiwanaku explanation is that combat techniques or special
and Pre-Tiwanaku periods. body protection avoided that type of trauma.
Women’s depressed skull fractures have a simi- Violent depressed head fractures are also less
lar morphological pattern and the same preva- prevalent among women. The sex linked distri-
lence in both periods, but contrary to men’s, they bution of ‘parry’ fractures could be an indication
are not associated with premature death or arrow of violence in domestic contexts (Lessa, 1999;
wounds. This suggests that the aetiology was Lessa & Mendonça de Souza, 2000), and not just
probably also violent, and even the weapon could accidental as proposed by Costa-Junqueira et al.
be the same, but the social explanation may be (1998) and Neves et al. (1999).
different. An Atacamenean prehistoric pattern of Better models for paleopathology and more
domestic abuse is also a possible cause. refined paleoepidemiological approaches, as pro-
Arrow penetration, one of the most universally posed by Buikstra & Cook (1980), Waldron
accepted lines of evidence for violence (Jurmain, (1994) and others are progressively changing
1991; Ortner & Putschar, 1985; Lambert, 1997; and detailing our interpretations. Standen et al.’s
Walker, 1997; Smith, 1997; Maschner, 1997), (1984) descriptions of depressed skull fractures in
was frequent during the Tiwanaku period. The the Chinchorros considered them accidental,
presence of lithic damage,1 shards, or entire lithic while ‘parry’ fractures were considered absolutely
points in the bone leaves little doubt as to the violent. In previous studies of San Pedro de
differential diagnosis of violence. The Atacame- Atacama ‘parry’ fractures were first considered
neans used very small arrows and the small flint violent (Neves et al., 1996) and in the following
points in the skeletons, measuring 1 to 2 cm, papers (Costa-Junqueira et al., 1998; Neves et al.,
partially explain why most of the individuals 1999), non-violent trauma. Adjusting models by
completely recovered from these wounds, parti- associating data and using a biocultural interpre-
cularly since they had not occurred in vital areas tation helps us to approach the most probable
of the body. Bennett (1946) considered Ataca- interpretation of trauma. Treating the ‘parry’
menean bows and arrows ‘too small for effective fracture as an absolute and independent indicator
use in warfare’, but even small points can be very of violence can lead to misinterpretations, as can
lethal, as proven by the female #3611. According excluding them from violence-induced trauma.
to Chagnon (1992) the use of bow and arrows is The prevalence of violence among men is
generally associated with conflicts between major during the Tiwanaku period when com-
groups that are not closely related. In the case pared to the previous period, while, similar values
of Solcor-3, this could point to social tension were found for women in the two periods.
among distant Atacamenean or other groups According to Larsen (1997), the substitution of
involved in the complex spheres of cultural and lesions caused by accidents for those caused by
economic interactions during the Tiwanaku violence is frequently associated with a more
period. complex social stratification at the human
‘Parry’ fractures were found in two women out groups: according to Burbank (1992) this gener-
of the total sample, despite the higher overall ally happens to men. Wrangham & Peterson
frequency of violent injuries against men during (1996), using ethnographic reports, also high-
the Tiwanaku period. This indicates that at light the fact that power, supported by political
Solcor-3 the ‘parry’ fracture is not a good measure alliances, as well as participation in fights and
of social tension. The lack of association between combats, are essentially male attributes. Societies
‘parry’ fractures and other violent trauma could in which women are directly involved in conflicts
possibly be explained by the fact that during between groups are very rare. At Solcor-3, the
masculine conflicts lifting arms was either not social changes during the Tiwanaku period,
expressed in grave gifts, point to the introduction
1 of a new ideology, to the expansion of the
Some healed stabbing scars on the bones, like the rib of Tiwanaku
male #1236, suggest that atypical wounds could also have been product exchange system, to property accumula-
caused by arrow penetration. tion, and to the strengthening of the local
Copyright # 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Int. J. Osteoarchaeol. 14: 374–388 (2004)
384 A. Lessa and S. Mendonça de Souza

hierarchy associated with xamã’s magic-religious for these skeletons. This is a problem for future
activities and the señorios’ political power (Llagos- investigation.
tera et al., 1988; Berenguer & Dauelsberg, 1989; Despite the suggestive association between
Llagostera, 1996). The rearrangement of power wounds and mortality, other possible explana-
and values for the Atacamenean society would tions for premature deaths must be considered.
directly affect men in social performance and The dry climate of the desert, the ‘white winds’
could explain increasing violence. (Nuñez, 1992), frequent contacts with the
Ethnographic data propose that in Atacame- Andean plateau groups, population crowding at
nean society chieftainship was inherited via patri- the oasis, the use of low, dark and insulated
lineal descent (Bennett, 1946). According to houses and other epidemiological conditions
Wrangham & Peterson (1996) violence, like beat- favoured pulmonary tuberculosis (Allison et al.,
ing or raping, is usually practised by men from 1973; Buikstra & William, 1991; Ariazza et al.,
patrilineal societies even in a domestic context. 1995; Salo et al., 1994; Prat & Mendonça de
According to Levinson (1989) women’s violent Souza, 2003). This infection could certainly be
behaviour is usually ascribed to polygamous a cause of premature death, especially under
societies. According to these models unchanged conditions of higher stress (Buikstra & Williams,
levels of domestic abuse, performed by Atacame- 1991). A parallel search for signs of primary and
nean men against their women, might explain the secondary infections in the form of periosteal
violent scars in Solcor-3 women in both periods. reactions or lithic lesions of the ribs and verteb-
For the Tiwanaku period sample, 75% of the rae (Mendonça de Souza, 2000; Mendonça de
men with violent injuries died at less than 30 Souza et al., 2003) was performed at Solcor-3, but
years and no one aged over 40 shows signs of skeletons of the young adults showed no bone
violent trauma. On the other hand, during the foci or active periosteal reactions on the visceral
Pre-Tiwanaku period, violent trauma was uncom- face of the ribs (Kelley & Micozzi; 1984; Santos,
mon and sequellae were found at older ages. Here 2000).
we have an interesting paleoepidemiological pro- Considering the weapons, ethnographic data
blem that could be more easily answered if we from Atacama refer to the bow and arrow, sling
had more information about the time lapse and stones, knuckle-dusters and wooden clubs
precise prehistoric meaning of the Solcor-3 mor- (Bennett, 1946). Stone and metal clubs and
tality cohort. Contrary to what happened to the axes, also found, would be more like ritual weap-
women, as well as to Pre-Tiwanaku men, violence ons. The morphology of Solcor-3 skull lesions
against Tiwanaku men was not a low-lethality, eliminates from consideration such weapons as
equally distributed permanent risk. If so, violent stone and copper clubs and axes. Knuckle-dusters
sequellae would be more prevalent among the and wooden clubs match well to the fractures.
oldest individuals, considering its cumulative The frontal and parietal position of most of the
effect during one’s life (Lovejoy & Heiple, 1981). depressed skull fractures suggests a frontal close
As the violence mostly affected males dying strike. Wilkinson (1997) suggests that such
between 20 and 30 years, and there is no accu- lesions could indicate the intention to hurt but
mulation of scars in the oldest individuals, some not kill, sparing alliances, which could be lost in
questions should be raised here. Perhaps the the case of a death. Although the hypothesis of
imbalance of mortality and the smaller number distant fights cannot be ruled out, because the
of individuals in age categories II and III could be slings are typical Atacamenean weapons, the
explained as bias. If it is not bias, particularly in frontal depressed scars are more suggestive of
the case of Solcor-3, the sample might represent ‘hand-to-hand’ fights (Lambert, 1997; Walker,
a short moment of the political and economic 1997). The hypothesis of ritual duels (Chagnon,
transition to the Tiwanaku period, and older 1992; Walker, 1997), a cultural hallmark for the
individuals could have lived through less troubled Andean plateau, must be considered here, espe-
times; the young could represent a special social cially because the Tiwanaku period coincides
segment recruited to deal with a violent with an intensification of religious and ideologi-
period. So far we do not have absolute14C dates cal influences coming from the Andean plateau.
Copyright # 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Int. J. Osteoarchaeol. 14: 374–388 (2004)
Violence in the Atacama Desert during the Tiwanaku Period 385

In the case of women’s injuries the same weapons The presence of special groups, like a
or any other domestic object with similar con- Tiwanaku sacerdotal caste for instance, has also
sequences could be used (Wrangham & Paterson, been proposed for the Atacama (Thomas et al.,
1996; Lambert, 1997). 1985), but the majority of archaeologists think
In a previous study of non-violent trauma there is no evidence to sustain it (Browman, 1980,
(Lessa & Mendonça de Souza, 2001), a high pre- 1981; Orellana, 1985; Berenguer & Dauelsberg,
valence of rib fractures (46.1%) were found 1989), and the osteometric data from Solcor-3
in Pre-Tiwanaku women. This kind of lesion is (Llagostera et al., 1988) are not suggestive of
usually associated with accidental trauma and ethnic heterogeneity.
was considered as accidental by Neves et al. It is more coherent to the historical and
(1999). However it is interesting to note that cultural Atacamenean context to consider that
injuries to the chest are also very common during social tension may have arisen from new political
strikes (Walker, 1997). In the presence of such alliances, from the search for prestige and power,
violence indicators, it is necessary to consider or from general dissatisfaction created by change.
that part of the chest trauma in Solcor-3 observed The progressive social hierarchization and new
in females may also be associated with domestic ideological and religious influences that followed
beating. Tiwanaku presence in the area certainly unba-
Arrow wounds indicate distant fights. Their lanced previous social links. According to
presence in Solcor-3 skeletons point to possible Llagostera (1996), the political situation during
conflicts between groups (Chagnon, 1992). They the period of Tiwanaku’s interaction must have
could be associated with ambushes that occurred been more complex, especially for men sharing
when the victim was crossing a path or canyon. power and decisions.
The Atacama landscape, the routine activities of Data from Solcor-3 force us to rethink the
the caravaneers and miners in the desert, crossing interaction process between the Atacama oasis
and stopping at unevenly grounded regions, and Tiwanaku, considering that even in the
would be compatible with this kind of risk. The absence of domination by strength, some vio-
hypothesis of strikes beyond the village limits lence could have occurred in some places. Inter-
could also explain the fact that at Solcor-3, such esting grave findings in the same cemetery are
lesions would spare senile adults and women, described as the ‘killing of the weapons’. These
who were probably not involved in external are represented by some weapons such as bow
distant activities. Most of the arrow wounds are and arrows, or hand axes, that were intentionally
healed probably because they did not affect vital broken or modified before being disposed with
areas of the body and no deadly poison was used. the dead (Bravo & Llagostera, 1986). Could this
Although ritualistic fights should not be exclu- be part of the symbolic behaviour connected to
ded, strikes between members of Solcor-3 people those violent events?
and other groups must be considered, because of The low frequency of violent lesions among
the rearrangement of political and religious Pre-Tiwanaku men may express a condition of
power. Ember & Ember (1997) say that social social balance, fully guaranteed by stable political
tension is frequently related to economic and agreements and secular interaction in the region.
political strategies. Martin (1997) suggests that Rearrangements resulting from the increasing
at La Plata Valley, New Mexico, immigration and participation of the powerful Tiwanaku Federa-
population growth, imbalance of food supply, tion in the secular partnerships, in addition to the
food control and enforced labour may have caused instability caused by a deeper social stratification
bursts of social tension. At Solcor-3 economic and may temporarily have broken the social bonds
political changes were occurring despite the resulting in increasing violence.
absence of archaeological evidence for food From the point of view of paleoepidemiology
scarcity or demographic growth (Nunez, 1992; (Waldron, 1994; Mendonça de Souza et al.,
Neves and Costa 1998). The rearrangement of 2003), segregation instead of summing of samples
political power can also be a matter of social must be carefully considered, because results
tension. change especially if cultural transition periods
Copyright # 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Int. J. Osteoarchaeol. 14: 374–388 (2004)
386 A. Lessa and S. Mendonça de Souza

affecting the different sites are considered. The the Solcor-3 cemetery. These intriguing findings
results presented here illustrate the Solcor-3 have to be tested in other archaeological series
situation, and cannot be generalized to the entire concerning the same cultural and economic
Atacama Desert. Although no bone dating has transition.
been obtained for Solcor-3, archaeological
evidence indicates that the skeletal samples
(Tiwanaku and Pre-Tiwanaku) came from a minor Acknowledgements
cemetery sector and represent a short cohort
population in a specific moment of time. Other Our thanks to Maria Antonieta Costa, Agostin
cemeteries at the Atacama Desert should be Llagostera and Macarena Oviedo (Instituto de
studied before the results can be better under- Investigaciones Arqueológicas y Museo R. P.
stood in the prehistoric context of the region. Gustavo Le Paige S. J.) for their inestimable
collaboration during our stay at San Pedro de
Atacama. We also thank the valuable suggestions
Conclusions and comments of the referees and editors, espe-
cially Dr Shelley Saunders.
The comparison of Pre-Tiwanaku and Tiwanaku
periods suggests that, during the later period,
there was an outbreak of social tension affecting References
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