Isotopic insights into mortuary treatment and origin at Xunantunich, Belize

Carolyn Freiwald, Jason Yaeger, Jaime Awe, Jennifer Piehl

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

19 Scopus citations


Burial practices can provide insight into the complex and multilayered identities of both individuals and communities. We explore one aspect of identity-an individual's origin-and the way that it was expressed in funerary treatment at Xunantunich in the Belize Valley. Strontium, carbon, and oxygen isotope values in the tooth enamel of 19 individuals show that some individuals with nonlocal origins were buried in the same households, or even the same graves, as locally born individuals. In contrast, most individuals with Central Peten-like isotope values were placed in atypical burial positions and graves, including termination ritual contexts. We discuss the relationship between their origins and burial treatment in relation to major political changes that were occurring during Late and Terminal Classic periods in the Maya lowlands, and show that origin also was important in burial treatment in contemporaneous cultures elsewhere in the Americas.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Bioarchaeology of Space and Place
Subtitle of host publicationIdeology, Power, and Meaning in Maya Mortuary Contexts
PublisherSpringer New York
Number of pages33
ISBN (Electronic)9781493904792
ISBN (Print)1493904787, 9781493904785
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences
  • General Arts and Humanities


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