Unexplained burial rites are a common source of mystery for archaeologists and historians. When graves are discovered that show signs of abnormal burial procedures, the most common theories are ancient beliefs in supernatural forces or perhaps even a fear of the undead rising from their graves. Now, the discovery and analysis of scores of mysterious burial sites across the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico has archaeologists speculating that there could be a perhaps less supernatural but no less sinister force behind these unexplained graves.
According to a study published in Current Anthropology, the graves suggest an ancient blood feud took the lives of thousands of early North Americans between 2100 B.C. and A.D. 50. The researchers claim that the abnormal positions in which these remains were buried and the nature of some of the damage they sustained suggests that bodies were desecrated post-mortem.
In their published study, the authors claim that these bodies could have been desecrated in order to serve as a warning or inflict damage on members of rival groups in the afterlife:
[…] atypical burials from these sites appear to represent acts of violence upon the corpse at, or after, the death of the individual that fall outside of the normative conformity to prescribed mortuary ritual. We propose that these cases represent perimortem signaling, a form of costly signaling conditioned as basal violent reactions, possibly stemming from socialization for violence.
In a University of Arizona (UA) press release, bioarchaeologist and lead researcher James Watson claims that these ancient blood feuds could have been spurred on by the rise of agriculture, which led to conflicts over land usage and access to water sources:
This was right when agriculture came into the area, and these were the earliest villages, so we think that some of this violence comes from growing pains, as villages are established and people are claiming territory and farming the desert river valleys. Social tensions develop between communities, or even within communities, and end up boiling over into violence.
The dating of these remains reveal that they were buried directly around the development of agriculture throughout the now-desertified area of the Sonoran Desert, which stretches across Southern California, Arizona and parts of Mexico. Along with other recent archaeological discoveries, these graves could prove that there is much more mystery surrounding the history of the Americas than we might currently know.