Polydactyly and the Maya: A review and a case from the site of Peligroso, upper Macal River Valley, Belize

Gabriel D. Wrobel, Christophe Helmke, Lenna Nash, Jaime J. Awe

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations

Abstract

A single right fifth metatarsal found in Tomb 1 at Peligroso, Belize exhibited a small deformity in the form of a small (7 mm) accessory digit emanating from the plantar surface at mid-shaft. This Type A postaxial polydactyly is the first archaeological example of polydactyly reported for Mesoamerica. Polydactyly is one of the more commonly reported morphological anomalies and thus its appearance in Maya populations would have been prevalent enough to demand explanation. A review of related terminology in pertinent Amerindian languages is presented as a means of exploring the manners in which digits and the human body are conceptualized. Maya iconographic representations of polydactyly at Palenque have parallels to other Mesoamerican renderings of supernumerary digits used to identify divinities and deified ancestors. However, the Peligroso mortuary context comprised disarticulated and commingled bones, suggesting that the individual did not have a distinctive social role related to the presence of an extra digit.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)131-142
Number of pages12
JournalAncient Mesoamerica
Volume23
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 2012
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)

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