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Mexican archaeologists discover 1,000 year old cemetery in the State of Sonora
Of the 25 skeletons recovered, 17 belong to minors –between 5 months and 16 years– (pictured) and 8 belong to adults.. Photo: Cristina Garcia/INAH.

Translated by Cristina Perez Ayala

MEXICO CITY.- Three hundred meters from Onvas (town), south of Sonora, archaeologists discovered the first pre-Hispanic cemetery of the region. This cemetery is about 1000 years old and is made up of 25 individuals’ burials: 13 of these have intentional cranium deformities, and 5 also have dental mutilations, a cultural practice similar to pre-Hispanic groups in the south of Sinaloa and the north of Nayarit, which had not been previously registered in this state (Sonora).

To archaeologists, the importance of the discovery is the evidence of customs that had not been registered in ancient cultural groups in Sonora: the cranium deformation (frontal occipital lobe) applied to 13 individuals of the Cemetery –Cemetery is a name archaeologists have given the site–, as well as the modifications made to the lateral pieces to give them a “V” shape.

“The area’s finding holds unique characteristics because it mixes the cultural expressions of groups from the northern part of Mexico –such as the use of shells and spiral shells originating from the Gulf of California–, with western traditions never before seen in Sonora. With this discovery, the limit of influence of the Mesoamerican people has been shown to be more extensive than what had been registered in archaeology,” emphasized archaeologist Cristina Garcia Moreno, director of the investigation project by the Arizona State University with the approval of the Council of Archaeology of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), when the data was discovered (excavation season of 2012).

Garcia Moreno said there is no other site in Sonora that has identified similar cranium and dental modifications; neither has it been found in the southwestern part of the USA which shares the cultural area with Sonora. However, “the closest cultural groups that had developed these traditions were in the northern part of Sinaloa and the Marismas Nacionales area (south of Sinaloa and north of Nayarit), and they had incorporated into their culture some western and Mesoamerican customs.”

However, she said, “the Onavas Cemetery does not belong to Mesoamerican migratory groups, but to a sedentary one which had local development and that at some point in its history came in contact with Mesoamerica and incorporated some ideas into its own culture. We are in the process of confirming (through thorough investigation) if there was a relationship between this group and those in Sinaloa and Nayarit”.

Cristina Garcia explained that the cranium deformity in Mesoamercan cultures was used for two reasons: to differentiate social groups or for rituals. The dental mutilation in the Nayarit cultures was practiced in adolescents as a rite of passage, which coincides with the findings in Sonora, where the five bodies that bear this mutilation are over 12 years old.

Of the 25 skeletons recovered, 17 belong to minors –between 5 months and 16 years– and 8 belong to adults. Investigator Garcia Moreno believes the quantity of infants and adolescents identified in the Cemetery could be an indicator of the malpractice of cranial mutilation, which might have caused their death by excessive force when the cranium was squeezed. This might be deducted from studies which will be made to the remains whose results don’t indicate their death was caused by a disease.

Archaeologist Cristina Garcia also noted that these discoveries are encouraging more investigations in the southeast of Sonora, which has been not been subjected to a great amount of research; “the northern part (desert), the northeast and the coast have been prone to more research; since the discovery of the Cemetery we know for sure the southeast is different to what had been previously known, this side is completely

Sonora | Cristina Garcia Moreno | Old Cemetery |

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December 14, 2012

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