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About This Publication
List of Tables
List of Illustrations
Research Design
Population Estimates
Faunal Remains
Archaeobotanical Remains
Human Skeletal Remains
Rock Art
Yellow Jacket Pueblo as Community Center

Human Skeletal Remains

by Cynthia S. Bradley


In keeping with the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center's policy regarding the treatment of human remains and associated funerary artifacts (see the field manual), excavators made no deliberate attempt to find human remains during testing at Yellow Jacket Pueblo (Site 5MT5). However, six "human remains occurrences," or HROs, and 102 isolated skeletal elements were found in multiple locations during Crow Canyon's test excavations at the site (see Database Map 263 for locations of excavated units). Crow Canyon defines a human remains occurrence as either a human burial or a concentration of articulated or disarticulated human bones representing one or more individuals. A skeletal element is either a bone or a tooth. "Isolated remains" are defined as fewer than five disarticulated bones or teeth occurring together. No intact burials, articulated remains, or grave goods were found by Crow Canyon researchers. Previous disturbance of the remains precluded observations on mortuary positioning. Artificial cranial deformation, a distinguishing skeletal trait of ancestral Pueblo people, was not observed, because no sufficiently complete parietal or occipital bones were exposed during Crow Canyon's testing. The determination of an ancestral Pueblo cultural affiliation is therefore based on associated nonmortuary artifacts and archaeological context.

Since the late 1800s, Yellow Jacket Pueblo has been heavily disturbed by nonprofessional excavations. Crow Canyon archaeologists mapped more than 800 potholes resulting from these activities (Database Map 267). Most of the potholes are located in midden areas and probably resulted from attempts to retrieve complete vessels from burials. Many of the human remains found during testing by Crow Canyon were collected from midden areas, and almost all had been displaced both vertically and horizontally by previous, nonprofessional digging. It was not unusual to find bones that were apparently from a single individual in two or more strata. Joe Ben Wheat estimated that nonprofessional diggers had disturbed at least 500 burials at Yellow Jacket Pueblo (Wilson 1990*1:4). Little research has been conducted on any of those remains; however, Wilson (1990*1) provides some information on eight partial, unprovenienced skeletons in private collections that were obtained during nonprofessional excavations at this site. In addition, some human remains in the great tower complex (Architectural Block 1200) were disturbed by field school excavations conducted by the Museum of Western State College in 1931. It is not known whether those excavations affected disturbed or undisturbed remains; the brief, and only known, report on the excavations (Hurst and Lotrich 1932*1) provides no information on human remains.

For many years, the University of Colorado Museum conducted a field school at three small, neighboring sites (Sites 5MT1, 5MT2, and 5MT3; see Database Map 335) in the Yellow Jacket community, mostly under the direction of Joe Ben Wheat. The many human remains found at those sites have been discussed in several publications (e.g., Karhu 2000*1; Malville 1989*1, 1994*1, 1997*1), and some data in those publications are used here for comparative purposes.

This chapter reports on the first analysis of human remains from Yellow Jacket Pueblo to incorporate both skeletal data and well-documented archaeological information. Unfortunately, information from these poorly preserved, fragmentary skeletal elements can contribute comparatively little to our understanding of the lives of the Yellow Jacket villagers, and the research potential for regional or thematic studies on health or violence is also limited. For these reasons, the primary purpose of this chapter is to provide basic information on the human remains recovered, including condition, mortuary circumstances, and health status. When possible, comparisons with other data from ancestral Pueblo sites will be made to place these remains in a broader cultural context.


Bones were excavated with bamboo tools and brushes; dental picks were reserved for cleaning teeth. Skeletal analyses were performed by Cynthia Bradley, the author of this chapter, or Debra Martin, a bioarchaeological consultant. Osteological data were collected according to the criteria set forth in Standards for Data Collection from Human Skeletal Remains (Buikstra and Ubelaker 1994*1). The information recorded included skeletal inventories and assessments of age, sex, dentition, pathologies, trauma, and nonmetric traits; measurements were taken when possible. Although it is standard bioarchaeological practice to address possible causes of death when the data allow, the skeletal evidence from Yellow Jacket was mostly inadequate for this purpose (but see paragraph 71 for a discussion of injuries sustained by one individual at or around the time of death).

Because the deposits in which human remains were found had been previously disturbed, and because the condition of the most of the remains was poor, it was difficult for even experienced archaeologists to identify some of the bones as human in the field. Some bone concentrations were not designated HROs until they were examined in the laboratory; only two—HROs 1 and 5—were designated in the field and therefore analyzed in situ. In situ analyses were performed with minimal lifting and washing of the bones. Archaeological and osteological observations were recorded on a number of different forms, depending on (1) whether the remains were designated HROs or were recovered as isolated bones and (2) whether analysis took place in the field or in the lab. Information was recorded on Standard Osteological Database (SOD) forms (developed by Buikstra and Ubelaker [1994*1]), when appropriate, and/or on a variety of Crow Canyon forms designed for the recording of both field and laboratory data.


In this chapter, baseline mortuary and biological data obtained through Crow Canyon's research are presented and interpreted. This information is summarized in the accompanying data tables. An explanation of each characteristic precedes the presentation of the data. The biological data for HROs 1–5, which consist of the partial remains of single individuals, are summarized in Table 1. The data for the isolated skeletal elements and HRO 6 are presented in Table 2; HRO 6 is included in this table rather than in Table 1 because it consists of bones from more than one person. Many skeletal assessments could not be made because of poor preservation or incomplete exposure of the bones in the field. No statistical analyses are possible because of the small number of individuals represented. Those comparisons that could be made are limited to frequency analyses.

Condition of the Remains

The overall condition of the human remains found at Yellow Jacket Pueblo is very poor. Well over 50 percent of the skeletal elements are missing from each HRO (there are 206 bones in the human body; the most represented in any single HRO is 81 [Table 3]), and of the bones that are present, the majority are less than 25 percent complete (Table 4). Most of the bones are highly fragmentary, many are eroded, and many are weathered. Few of the isolated bones were mapped or assigned point-location numbers because of the difficulty of identifying such fragmentary bones as human in the field. Only 10 of the 90 isolated elements are identified as long bones, and all but one are less than one-quarter complete. Cranial bones are few in number. The poor condition of the remains is probably the result of prior disturbance, of the poor preservational qualities of clay soils, and of interment in shallow middens. The condition of the bones in the disturbed contexts indicates that these remains were not reburied with care after being disturbed.

Age, Sex, and Demography

Evaluations of the age and sex of the individuals represented by the Yellow Jacket Pueblo human remains were hindered considerably by the fragmentary and incomplete condition of the bones, as well as by the disturbed nature of the deposits in which they were found. Skeletal data and provenience information were used together to determine the age, sex, and minimum number of individuals (MNI) represented by the HROs and isolated remains. Rather than calculate MNI on the basis of the most common isolated skeletal element per age class, I determined, and then summed, the minimum number of individuals by age category for each excavation unit. In excavation units with evidence of prior postdepositional disturbance, bones from multiple strata likely were commingled, as were bones from adjoining test pits and potholes. Because single teeth and single phalanges can be lost without loss of life, neither of these types of elements was used in these assessments. For example, three strata in Nonstructure 704 contained, in total, three adult hand phalanges and one adult clavicle in addition to two loose, erupted deciduous teeth. The biological evidence thus indicates at least one adult and at least one child, yielding a total MNI of two people from this excavation unit.

Using this method, I calculate that a minimum of 34 people are represented in the Yellow Jacket Pueblo human remains assemblage. At least 25 individuals are represented by isolated skeletal elements. In addition, HROs 1–5 each contain the bones of a single person, and biological evidence indicates that these concentrations almost certainly represent portions of previously disturbed, discrete burials. HRO 6, found in a disturbed midden deposit, was a concentration of bones from at least four people. This concentration of bones from multiple individuals resulted either from historic disturbance and mixing of discrete burials or from undetermined ancestral Pueblo behaviors. Because HRO 6 contains the bones of more than one person, the biological data for this HRO are presented with, and in addition to, the isolated skeletal elements in Table 2. Several bones in HRO 6 are thought to be from one adolescent, as indicated by the "Link 1" designation in the table. A "link" is a designation assigned to (1) isolated elements that are probably from the same individual but which are insufficient in number or in skeletal-element diversity to warrant an HRO designation, or (2) elements within a multiple-person HRO that are believed to be from one individual. The assignment of link designations to bones is based on spatial proximity of the bones, similarity of skeletal material, size, preservational qualities, and nonduplication of elements.

The 16 subadults (birth to 20 years of age) and 18 adults (more than 20 years of age) in the Yellow Jacket human remains assemblage are further categorized into finer age groups in Table 5 (following Buikstra and Ubelaker [1994*1]). Dental and developmental criteria were used whenever possible, but because of the poor condition of most of the skeletal elements, many age classifications were based on bone size. Tentative sex assessments could be made for only two of the 19 individuals old enough for gender evaluation (Table 5). Both a middle-aged individual from Structure 1214, represented by an isolated pubis fragment, and an older adolescent (HRO 1) might have been female.

Demographic analyses provide information on conditions faced by living and past populations, as well as on the ability of a group to cope with various stressors. For example, high infant mortality (25 to 75 percent) is expected in societies without antibiotics and is also expected during periods of environmental stress. Mortality patterns in past populations are considered representative when they approximate the mortality curves seen in comparable living populations (Brothwell 1981*1). For example, the pattern documented at Grasshopper Pueblo, a village occupied from about A.D. 1275 to 1400, is similar to the trends observed in existing nonantibiotic societies (Hinkes 1983*1). The mortality pattern for Grasshopper reveals a high infant death rate, a declining mortality rate throughout childhood and adolescence (with the rate reaching its lowest point in the midteen years), and a slowly rising rate during adulthood (Table 6). Mortality rates for the remains from Sites 5MT1 and 5MT3, located just across the draw from Yellow Jacket Pueblo (Site 5MT5), also follow this expected pattern. However, only 9 percent of the Yellow Jacket Pueblo individuals were classified as infants, well below the expected frequency. When Wilson's (1990*1) skeletal data are included, the frequency of infants is even lower; however, the absence of infants in Wilson's assemblage could reflect the inability of nonprofessionals to recognize infant skeletal elements or a lack of interest in collecting these tiny, fragile bones. The very low infant death rate represented in the remains found during Crow Canyon's excavations suggests that it is unlikely that those remains are representative of the total population of people who died during the occupation of the village. Therefore, the additional types of demographic analyses performed for Sites 5MT1 and 5MT3 (Karhu 2000*1:Table 3.1, Table 3.2) and frequency analyses of subadult mortality patterns (Bradley 1998*1, 2002*1) were not performed for Yellow Jacket Pueblo.

Mortuary Information

The burial of relatives, friends, acquaintances, and even strangers, according to cultural norms is a hallmark of human culture. Many societies, including the historic Pueblo peoples, perform very specific mortuary rituals to guarantee the continuance of the natural order or to control otherwise dangerous forces. Mortuary analysis can provide unique insights into the behaviors and world views of groups of human beings (O'Shea 1984*1) and has played a significant role in archaeological interpretations of the lives of ancestral Pueblo people (Bradley 2002*1, 2002*2; Bullock 1998*1; Schlanger 1992*1; Stodder 1987*1; Turner and Turner 1999*1).

In undisturbed, formal ancestral Pueblo burials, individuals are fully articulated, situated in protected locations, arranged in composed positions, and commonly accompanied by mortuary offerings (Cattanach 1980*1:Table 6; Karhu 2000*1; Turner and Turner 1999*1:40–43). During the Pueblo II and Pueblo III periods, bodies in the Mesa Verde region were usually placed in composed semiflexed or flexed positions. Middens were a common burial location (Schlanger 1992*1). The use of ash-laden middens for formal burial locations in ancient times could be related to the perceived relationship by historic Pueblo peoples between the deceased and ash, rising smoke, rising souls as clouds, and rain (Parsons 1939*1; Schlanger 1992*1:12).

Formal burials have also been found under floors or in fill deposits of abandoned, ground-level rooms and in cliff crevices (Turner and Turner 1999*1). In both ancient and historic times, the bodies of some Pueblo children were placed on floors in rooms that were then abandoned; others were placed in burial pits beneath floors in rooms that continued to be used after an interment (Hinkes 1983*1). Sepulcher burials, in which individuals were placed on the floors of intact rooms that were then sealed by plugging the doorway, hatchway, or both, have also been discovered (Bradley 1988*1; Morris 1924*1; Nordenskiöld 1979*1). Archaeologists have also found formal burials within the fills of kivas (Cattanach 1980*1:143, Table 6; Martin et al. 2001*1). Formal burials are seldom found on kiva floors, and their presence in those locations may indicate an unusual or catastrophic event, as apparently occurred at Woods Canyon Pueblo, another site tested by Crow Canyon, not far from Yellow Jacket Pueblo (Bradley 2002*2).

At Yellow Jacket Pueblo, Crow Canyon excavators found human skeletal remains in 26 percent (29 of 112) of the test pits. Of these 29 units, over half were midden deposits; HROs 1, 3, 4, 5, and 6 and many of the isolated bones were found in midden deposits. Skeletal remains were also associated with six masonry structures, four extramural surfaces, and the wall of a possible dam.

Unfortunately, it was impossible to ascertain the original mortuary positioning of any individual, primarily because of prior disturbance. Also, no mortuary items were found with any HRO or skeletal element. This is not surprising, because finding and retrieving such items seems to have been at least one of the motives that led to the previous disturbance of many Yellow Jacket Pueblo burials (Wilson 1990*1). In contrast, 75 percent of the burials found at Sites 5MT1 and 5MT3 were accompanied by grave goods. Karhu (2000*1:81) states that this is a high frequency of grave goods compared with what has been documented elsewhere in the region and suggests that this unusually high rate may have something to do with the proximity of these small hamlets to the large village (Yellow Jacket Pueblo [Site 5MT5]). If this were the case, the Yellow Jacket Pueblo burials would presumably have been accompanied by similar, if not more abundant, grave goods; this could help explain the intensive and prolonged targeting of Yellow Jacket Pueblo burials by nonprofessional diggers.

The presence of human remains in atypical mortuary locations may indicate that, in response to some unusual circumstance, people either could not or chose not to employ traditional mortuary practices. For example, the location of human remains on a courtyard surface or a kiva floor suggests some unusual situation, especially if the remains exhibit evidence of perimortem trauma indicative of intentional violence (Bradley 1998*1; Karhu 2000*1; Kuckelman et al. 2002*2; Lightfoot and Kuckelman 2001*1; Turner and Turner 1999*1). Thus, further evaluation is necessary when human bones are encountered in unexpected locations.

Skeletal elements representing at least 14 people (HRO 2 and 43 isolated skeletal elements) were found in eight atypical mortuary locations at Yellow Jacket Pueblo. However, none of these bones show direct evidence of unusual activities or cultural practices. Three isolated skeletal elements from extramural surfaces Nonstructure 506 and Nonstructure 2606 could have been displaced during structure remodeling.

Twenty-one bones and 19 loose teeth were found in seven excavation units associated with six structures. These test pits were within one surface room (Structure 204), one subterranean structure (Structure 704), one bi-wall room (Structure 1214), and three kivas (Structures 1201, 1209, and 1211). Stratigraphic evidence indicates that the human remains from Structures 204 and 704 were in situ and had not been disturbed in historic times. It is possible that the one bone and nine teeth found in the fill of Structure 204 were deposited during remodeling of other structures. The dispersed bones from the fill of Structure 704 were in a traditional burial location; this subterranean structure was last used as a midden. These bones (three mature phalanges and one adult clavicle fragment) could have been displaced by rodents.

Seven human bones, representing at least three people, were found in undisturbed deposits in and above the fill of a bi-wall room (Structure 1222/1214 and Arbitrary Unit 1200, Segment 5) within the great tower complex. At Sand Canyon Pueblo, both formal and informal burials were found in a great kiva bi-wall room and in a kiva corner room (Bradley 1998*1), so a great tower bi-wall room at Yellow Jacket Pueblo could have been an intentional mortuary location. However, the original interment location of the aforementioned seven bones is unknown, because all but one of these skeletal elements were in collapsed wall material in the upper fill of the room. It is unknown how the very fragmentary, poorly preserved, and sparse remains of at least three people (an adult, an adolescent, and a child) came to rest in wall debris that was deposited postoccupationally. These skeletal elements were not associated with roof fall that would suggest either intramural burial within Structure 1222 or nonburial on the roof of Structure 1222. Our test trench exposed only a small part of the great tower, so perhaps these human remains were originally located in an adjoining bi-wall room or on a nearby roof. Examination of the analysis data from the artifacts and faunal remains from the upper strata of this excavation unit might lead to additional insights. An adult pubis fragment was found in the lower fill of the same bi-wall room, but because there is a substantial amount of intervening wall and roof debris, it is unlikely that this bone is from any of the individuals represented in the upper strata.

Two adults and three children are represented by the 14 bones and teeth found in three previously excavated kivas in the great tower complex. These incomplete remains were found in backdirt deposited during the excavations in 1931 by the Western State College field school. The excavation and backfill methods used during the field school suggest that the remains originated in a structure adjacent to the structure in which they were found (see paragraph 32 in "Architecture"). However, it is not known if the remains were originally located on active use surfaces or in structure fill, nor is it known if the remains were formally interred. Thus, the original disposition of the remains might have indicated an unusual circumstance, perhaps violence, or the remains might have been interred in typical burial locations.

The bones of one adult (HRO 2) were vertically dispersed in postoccupational fill next to a masonry wall that might have been a dam. The bones consist of four small, long-bone shaft fragments and approximately 20 to 30 unidentifiable fragments. If the wall was a dam, the remains of this individual would have been just within or at the edge of a reservoir. The condition of these very poorly preserved remains indicates that they had lain on the ground, where they were exposed to the elements. The bones were examined in the lab, and no evidence of perimortem trauma was detected. However, such evidence could have been obliterated by the extensive postmortem damage. The taphonomy of these bones is unknown. Evidence indicates that the stratigraphy of the excavation unit in which the bones were found had not been disturbed by human activity in historic times. The upslope environment consists of exposed sandstone bedrock, which would not have been a potential burial location. Burial near an active reservoir also seems unlikely. So, these bones could be the remains of a person who died near the dam and was left unburied. Alternatively, perhaps this individual was interred in a midden area upslope from the bedrock but within the area that drained into the reservoir. If so, the human remains in this excavation unit might have been moved downstream by natural forces. However, the bones are very fragmentary and represent several regions of the body (cranium, torso, arms, and legs); it is unlikely that this variety of skeletal elements would be present in one cluster if the bones had been displaced more than a few meters.

Thus, the evidence indicates that most of the Yellow Jacket Pueblo individuals represented probably received traditional ancestral Pueblo burial treatment. It is possible, however, that some individuals, especially in the great tower complex, were not formally buried. It could be that either natural depositional forces or human actions in the historic period created the observed contexts, but ancient human behaviors, including violence, cannot be ruled out. Unfortunately, the condition of the bones is so poor that the skeletal data contribute no additional insights.

Skeletal Indicators of Health

Skeletal indicators of health represent the reaction of the skeleton to nutrition, infection, and developmental disorders. For the most part, only chronic or serious episodes affect the skeleton. Throughout much of human history, many people have died from acute (quick-acting and severe) disease processes, such as respiratory or gastrointestinal infections, before a skeletal response can occur (Ortner and Putschar 1981*1:104). The Yellow Jacket Pueblo human remains were evaluated for dental enamel hypoplasia (DEH), infectious caries and abscesses, periostitis, porotic hyperostosis, other lesions, stunting, and concurrent indicators of stress. Cumulatively, such data can provide insights into the health status of an individual or a community. However, few such assessments were possible for the Yellow Jacket Pueblo human remains because of the poor preservation of the bones. The few skeletal responses identified are detailed in Table 7. The information on dental enamel hypoplasia, although limited, provides the most reliable skeletal indicator of the health of the villagers.

Dental Enamel Hypoplasia

Dental enamel hypoplasia (DEH) is a developmental defect created by the disruption of tooth crown, or dental enamel, formation (Goodman and Rose 1991*1). Most commonly, DEH results from the body's systemic response to infection, malnutrition, or both. Systemic reactions involve more than one tooth simultaneously in more than one quadrant of the mouth. Trauma, such as a blow to the mouth, can also create DEH, in which case the defect affects only one or a very few adjacent teeth.

What the occurrence of DEH can tell researchers about the health of individuals varies depending on whether the condition is observed in deciduous or permanent teeth. Because deciduous teeth develop in utero, deciduous-tooth DEH is viewed primarily as an indirect indicator of maternal infection and malnutrition; it rarely occurs when the mother is healthy and well-fed. In contrast, permanent teeth develop between birth and about seven years of age, so DEH in permanent teeth is considered to be a direct reflection of the health of the child. Anterior teeth (incisors and canines) provide the most reliable DEH data (Hillson 1986*1; Malville 1997*1). Because enamel formation occurs in a predictable, or chronometric, sequence, DEH provides the only reliable determination of chronological age-at-stress. To assess age-at-stress in the permanent teeth, I used the chart developed by Goodman and Rose (1991*1:288). Since chronometric standards for deciduous dentition have yet to be developed, deciduous DEH is recorded only as present or absent. Deciduous- and permanent-tooth DEH are discussed in separate sections that follow.

Crow Canyon researchers found no complete sets of teeth at Yellow Jacket Pueblo. Twelve deciduous teeth, 74 permanent teeth, and four indeterminate tooth fragments were identified. Because of worn enamel or postmortem damage, only 50 percent of these 90 teeth were assessable for DEH (Table 8).

None of the six assessable deciduous teeth exhibits DEH. The very small number of teeth, however, thwarts appraisals of systemic stress and maternal stress, as well as comparisons with regional populations. Nonetheless, the absence of deciduous DEH in the Yellow Jacket Pueblo assemblage is perhaps surprising when one considers the combined (deciduous and permanent) 46 percent rate of affected individuals reported for nearby Sites 5MT1 and 5MT3 (Karhu 2000*1). Thirty-nine permanent teeth (53 percent) were observable for dental enamel hypoplasia. DEH affected 46 percent of all permanent teeth and 80 percent of permanent anterior teeth. Only five individuals with more than one tooth have incisors or canines, the most commonly affected tooth types, so it is likely that the rate of affected individuals is underestimated.

Because assessment of systemic stress DEH requires more than one tooth, and requires teeth from different quadrants of the mouth, only four sets of anterior teeth could be evaluated for this condition (Table 9). Of these four, only HRO 1 and the Link 1 teeth (teeth that probably belong to a single individual) in HRO 6 have more than one tooth affected by a single stress episode. However, the dearth of multiple, assessable anterior teeth from other individuals hinders the evaluation of systemic stress reactions.

Age-at-stress was calculated for every assessable anterior tooth. This analysis shows that dental defects from DEH developed most frequently and almost uniformly from 2.0 through 3.5 years of age at Yellow Jacket Pueblo, which is about six months earlier than in both neighboring and regional populations (Malville 1997*1). The Yellow Jacket Pueblo teeth also have more defects per tooth. The combination of an extended period of stress and more episodes per tooth could indicate that the individuals represented by these teeth were unusually physiologically stressed; however, given the small sample size, these individuals might not be representative of the village population as a whole.

Research at nearby small sites suggests the possibility of differential levels of stress across time periods (Karhu 2000*1; Malville 1994*1). Specifically, Malville (1994*1:352) identifies a decrease in DEH from the Pueblo II to the Pueblo III periods at Sites 5MT1 and 5MT3. Data from our testing at Yellow Jacket Pueblo indicate that the village was inhabited from the late Pueblo II through the Pueblo III periods. Unfortunately, our tooth assemblage is too small for diachronic comparisons. Further, although four of the individuals with multiple teeth were adolescents or young adults who might have experienced stress at roughly the same time in prehistory, it is impossible to know if they were, in fact, contemporaries. To summarize, the available information suggests that the DEH patterns of the Yellow Jacket Pueblo individuals are similar to those of individuals from neighboring and regional populations, although there is some indication of unusually early childhood stress in a few individuals.

Infectious Caries and Abscesses

Caries that invade the pulp cavity offer a significant risk of infection from plaque bacteria such as Streptococcus mutans, Actinomyces israelii, and Gram negative bacteria (Hillson 1986*1:316). No teeth from Yellow Jacket Pueblo show evidence of infectious caries. One permanent tooth has a large, circular pit caries on the occlusal surface, but the caries had not yet invaded the pulp cavity. The few dental calculus deposits that were present were insignificant in size. No abscesses were identified, but few mandibular and maxillary bones were available for examination.


Periostitis is an inflammation of the periosteum, the membrane of connective tissue covering bone shafts (Ortner and Putschar 1981*1:129). It is the most common bone inflammation identified in skeletal remains. Primary periostitis can occur as a skeletal response to a systemic, bacterial infection, such as that caused by Streptococcus or Staphylococcus microorganisms. In such cases, the lesions can be extensive, layered, and circumferential, and they can affect several bones simultaneously. The tibia is the long bone most frequently affected by primary periostitis, and bilateral tibial lesions are particularly indicative of a systemic infection (Martin et al. 1991*1:129). In addition, an inflammation called secondary periostitis can develop as a localized response to a bacterial infection of the overlying tissues from cuts, bruises, or fractures.

No cases of primary periostitis were identified in the human bone assemblage from Yellow Jacket Pueblo, but assessments were substantially hindered by the generally poor condition of the remains. Most of the long-bone fragments are proximal or distal ends, although there are a few highly eroded midshaft sections. The only complete long bones are in HRO 1 (an older adolescent) and HRO 5 (a young adult). No leg bones were associated with HRO 1, but both radii and ulnae are in good condition and show no evidence of disease. The left humerus of HRO 5 was in good condition as well, and it showed no periosteal lesions.

There are, however, two instances of localized reactions in the Yellow Jacket Pueblo remains. Link 1 of HRO 6 (an older adolescent) has mild, active—as well as healed—lesions on the left mandibular ascending ramus; these reactions are possibly an inflammatory response to the eruption of the third molar. The skull of HRO 1 exhibits a small area of reactive woven bone associated with a possible healed cranial depression fracture of the right frontal; this fracture is discussed further in paragraph 54.

Karhu (2000*1) finds that 5 percent of the individuals from nearby Sites 5MT1 and 5MT3 had periostitis and that lower long bones were most commonly affected. It is not possible to make equivalent assessments for the human remains from Yellow Jacket Pueblo.

Porotic Hyperostosis

Porotic hyperostosis is the skeletal reaction to iron-deficiency anemia that affects the eye orbits and cranial vault bones. It occurs when the blood-forming marrow bone between the inner and outer vault surfaces expands as the body responds to the need for increased hemoglobin production. This skeletal response can create surface lesions with a porous, spongy appearance. In New World populations, anemia results from nutritional deficiency, parasitism, or infection. Maize-reliant diets, in particular, produce high rates of anemia. Such diets are unbalanced to begin with, and corn, in addition to being low in iron, contains phytic acid, which greatly inhibits intestinal absorption of iron.

Crow Canyon researchers found only 22 cranial bones at Yellow Jacket Pueblo, of which 14 belong to the partly exposed cranium of HRO 1 (an older adolescent). The vault surfaces of this skull were the only bones from Yellow Jacket Pueblo that could be assessed for porotic hyperostosis. This cranium has mild to moderate healed porotic lesions on the central region of the frontal and healed lesions in both orbits, although the left orbit is more severely affected. In Wilson's assemblage of human remains from Yellow Jacket Pueblo, she identified mild to marked cases of porotic hyperostosis in four or five of eight individuals (50 to 63 percent) (Wilson 1990*1). This is similar to the 66 percent rate Karhu (2000*1) reports for the assemblages from Sites 5MT1 and 5MT3. Wilson's findings are also similar to rates of porotic hyperostosis identified in other ancestral Pueblo populations (Martin et al. 1991*1:158). So, despite the dearth of cranial remains in Crow Canyon's assemblage from Yellow Jacket Pueblo, we can assume that the villagers experienced bouts of anemia similar to those of other ancient Pueblo populations in the region.

Other Lesions

HRO 1 (an older adolescent) has a small button osteoma on her right radius. Button osteomas are benign bone tumors that are frequently found in archaeological populations (Ortner and Putschar 1981*1:378). Such tumors rarely diminish a person's health status.


Stunting, or growth retardation, is manifested as stature that is significantly below average. Stunting in adults and older adolescents is assessed by comparing the maximum length of a long bone, preferably the femur, to the average length of the same bone in same-aged and same-sexed individuals from a genetically similar population. The diaphyseal length of a long bone is used to assess stunting in a subadult whose diaphysis and epiphyses had not yet fused. Final stature is achieved when all limb bone diaphyses and epiphyses are completely fused. The bones of children do not show distinct sexual characteristics; thus, stunting assessments of children's remains do not involve comparisons to same-sexed individuals.

Long-bone growth occurs in a genetically controlled sequence but is significantly affected by the health and nutritional status of the individual. Persistent adolescent anxiety may blunt the activity of human growth hormone, resulting in stunted final stature in females (Pine et al. 1996*1). Acute physiological stress can temporarily halt growth, although children usually experience catch-up growth after such stress is relieved. When stress is chronic or of long duration, this rebound effect is less likely to occur. Therefore, since linear growth takes place from the fetal period until the end of puberty, long-bone length is considered to be an effective, long-term indicator of an individual's health status.

The only complete long bones from Yellow Jacket Pueblo are from an older adolescent (HRO 1) and a young adult (HRO 5). All are arm bones, which are, unfortunately, the least reliable indicators of stature. For this analysis, I use Genovés's formulas for Mesoamerican populations (Genovés [1967*1] as cited in Krogman and Iscan [1986*1:Table 8.16]). Stature estimates based on these formulas indicate that neither HRO 1 nor HRO 5 experienced stunted growth. The length of the arm bones of HRO 1 (whose epiphyses are not completely fused), indicates a height of 149 cm (4 ft 10 in), if female, and 154 cm (5 ft 1 in), if male. Both estimates suggest a short person, but one whose stature was within the normal range for either sex, especially if final stature had not yet been achieved. HRO 5 was an estimated 161 cm (5 ft 3 in) tall, whether male or female. This estimate exceeds the average Mesa Verde–region female stature of 155.6 cm (5 ft 1 in) and approximates the average male stature of 162.1 cm (5 ft 4 in) (Martin et al. 2001*1:Table 4.12).

Karhu (2000*1), using Genovés's formulas, estimates a mean female stature of 153.4 cm (5 ft 0 in) and a mean male stature of 162.9 cm (5 ft 4 in) for individuals represented at nearby Sites 5MT1 and 5MT3. Further, Wilson (1990*1) reports that two males from Yellow Jacket Pueblo were an estimated 165.5 +/- 2.8 cm (5 ft 5 in) and 173.3 +/- 2.8 cm (5 ft 8 in) tall, also based on Genovés's formulas. These comparative data, though based on very few bones, tentatively suggest that neither stunted growth nor the conditions that contribute to growth retardation were prevalent at Yellow Jacket Pueblo.

Concurrent Indicators of Infectious and Nutritional Stress

Bioarchaeologists recommend the use of several, rather than single, skeletal indicators to make more accurate assessments of physiological stress, especially in regard to nutritional status (Armelagos and Goodman 1991*1:51). The multiple-indicator approach is considered to be more revealing of patterns of chronic, acute, or subgroup physiological stress (Martin et al. 2001*1). This technique also addresses the bioarchaeological reality of incomplete remains, in which a single indicator cannot always be assessed in all skeletons found at a site. In addition to providing diverse data on the physiological history of an individual, multiple-indicator analysis allows a more accurate evaluation of the intensity of skeletal stress in a specific stress episode (Cook and Buikstra 1979*1:656). That is, as the severity of a physiological stress incident increases, the number of concurrently affected bones and tissue types increases. Assessments of concurrent indicators are used on more-complete skeletons rather than on isolated elements, primarily because it is not possible to assess systemic reactions from a single bone or tooth.

Assessments of concurrent stress were not possible for HROs 2 through 6 because of their poorly preserved and incomplete condition. However, the remains of HRO 1 (an older adolescent) were assessable for some indicators of stress. It is possible that some of the porotic lesions on this adolescent's cranium (see paragraph 39) developed during an episode of anemia in early childhood. If so, they could be associated with the DEH noted for this same individual (see paragraph 30). The bones in HRO 1 exhibit no concurrent skeletal reactions to illness or nutritional disorders at the time of death.

Skeletal Damage

In this section, burning, various types of fractures and other injuries, and osteoarthritis are discussed. Every skeletal element found at Yellow Jacket Pueblo was evaluated for burning and fracture; only adult remains were evaluated for osteoarthritis because this is an age-related condition. Adult remains were also assessed for occupational markers such as squatting facets. No occupational markers were identified in the Yellow Jacket Pueblo human remains, no doubt due in part to the poor condition of the remains. The types of skeletal damage identified in the Yellow Jacket Pueblo remains are detailed in Table 7.


Bone most commonly becomes burned as the result of human actions, but burning can also occur under natural and depositional circumstances. Specific changes in bone color and surface texture indicate the degree of thermal alteration (White 1992*1). The extent of burning is affected by such factors as the duration and intensity of heat exposure, the thickness of the overlying soft tissues, and the moisture content of the bone (Turner and Turner 1999*1:19).

The only burned element found by Crow Canyon researchers at Yellow Jacket Pueblo is a molar root with black and white coloration. This isolated tooth was found in collapsed wall debris in a bi-wall room, Structure 1214. Although other bones were also found in this deposit, no others showed evidence of burning. It is possible that this molar root was lost during life as part of a natural process and was either intentionally or accidentally deposited in an active firepit. However, the means by which these isolated bones came to rest in this stratum is unknown, which hinders our ability to resolve how this tooth fragment became burned.

Fractures and Other Injuries

Skeletal fracture provides direct evidence of both accidental and intentional human actions, as well as information regarding the depositional circumstances of a skeleton. For example, "parrying" fractures of the forearm midshaft commonly represent defensive reactions (Ubelaker 1989*1). Both lethal and nonlethal cranial fractures are especially associated with intentional violence (Ortner and Putschar 1981*1). Because of the relative plasticity of the cranium, blows to the vault bones must be very vigorous for fracture to occur (Krogman and Iscan 1986*1:393). Facial fractures resulting from the use of a weapon ordinarily indicate homicidal intent, whereas blows from a fist tend to represent nonlethal motives (Walker 1989*3). In contrast, the locations of fractures caused by accidental injuries are more random, although fractures may occur in patterns that relate to environmental conditions—for example, wrist fractures among people living in icy climates.

Fracture evaluations include an assessment of when the damage occurred. Antemortem fractures are those that occur before death. Antemortem fractures are easily distinguished from perimortem and postmortem fractures because they show evidence of healing; the extent of bone remodeling increases with the length of time since injury (Krogman and Iscan 1986*1). Perimortem fractures occur at or around the time of death, when the bone is still moist, elastic, and "green." Green long-bone fractures have sharp edges and are often longitudinal or spiral. Also, small adhering bone flakes can be held in place by periosteal tissue.

Postmortem fracture occurs after death, when the bone has lost its organic collagen component and has become brittle. Bone surfaces and edges can become quite eroded from ground or surface weathering, and bones will eventually disintegrate. Postmortem breaks are characterized by irregular fracture lines and the absence of adhering flakes, because the periosteum is no longer present. Dry bone fractures usually have rough and jagged edges (White and Folkens 1991*1:358), although postmortem fractures of long bones often produce short, straight splinters at transverse angles to the diaphysis (Villa and Mahieu 1991*1:34). A blow that creates a depression fracture in the bone of a living or recently deceased person will shatter the same bone in a long-dead individual. Neither perimortem nor postmortem injuries will show evidence of healing. However, because bone can remain green for several years after death, depending on the depositional environment and the age of the individual, it often is difficult to differentiate between perimortem and ancient postmortem breaks.

Most of the skeletal elements from Yellow Jacket Pueblo showed significant postmortem fracturing and weathering. However, postmortem damage will not be addressed further here because the factors that produced this type of damage are discussed in paragraph 2 and paragraph 8.

Only two bones in the Yellow Jacket assemblage show skeletal evidence of antemortem injury: a radius and a partly exposed anterior cranium. An older adolescent (HRO 1) exhibited a healed antemortem fracture that produced a slightly depressed right nasal bone as well as a roughened line suggestive of remodeled bone on the left nasal bone. The misshapen and asymmetrical appearance of the nasal bone suggests a blow to the left side. This individual also has a small irregularity above the right orbit that could be a healed depression fracture. This possible injury is associated with a localized periosteal reaction. It is conceivable that this possible cranial fracture and the broken nose occurred during one incident; however, it is not possible to determine this for certain, because both injuries exhibit only healed bone. The active periosteal reaction in the area of the possible depression fracture, however, could mean that this fracture occurred after the nose was broken. Because remodeling can take an extended period of time, the completely healed conditions of these two fractures indicate that the probable perimortem damage discussed in the following paragraph would have occurred at least several weeks or months later. (This same adolescent also has a small enthesophyte on the anterior surface of the right radius. Enthesophytes, or bone spurs, are bony projections that develop at ligament or tendon attachments in response to a muscle pull or tear. It is possible that this individual did not even notice this common, minor injury.)

Martin observed evidence of perimortem damage on a single cranium (HRO 1). The frontal region near the right zygomatic of HRO 1 has three to four 10-mm-long possible cut marks and multiple smaller striations. This perimortem damage consists of shallow, parallel striations that are visible to the naked eye. The nearby zygomatic bone has a few microscopic striations that were visible only with the use of a hand lens and were interpreted as possible cut marks or abrasions. Postmortem staining suggests that these are ancient, rather than recent, damage. This cranium was partly exposed in the corner of an excavation unit, and much of the cranial vault was not observable.

Throughout time, accidents have been a common cause of skeletal trauma (Ortner and Putschar 1981*1), and a significant proportion of cranial injuries in modern industrial societies occurs during falls (Walker [1989*3:318], citing Gurdjian [1973*1]). It is conceivable that a slide or tumble down a talus slope produced the possible abrasions or cut marks near HRO 1's right orbit (zygomatic and frontal bones are covered by thin layers of soft tissue and are susceptible to scraping injuries). Alternatively, this perimortem damage could have occurred as a result of intentional violence; it is possible that the marks were produced by grazing of the cranium with a stone weapon or implement during a violent event. In addition, similar cut marks on frontal bones have been reported from numerous sites in the Southwest and have been inferred by other researchers to be evidence of scalping (Allen et al. 1985*1; France 1988*1; Kuckelman et al. 2002*2; Turner and Turner 1999*1; White 1992*1:206). It was not possible to determine whether the perimortem damage on the skull of HRO 1 was associated with lethal injuries, because the remains were disturbed and the cranium was not completely exposed.

All of the above damage could have resulted from accidental or intentional actions. Broken noses commonly result from intentional, nonlethal violence, such as a blow from a fist, although accidental injury from a fall or during roughhousing cannot be ruled out. The possible minor antemortem depression fracture could have been caused by a blow from a blunt object and, thus, represent intentional, nonlethal violence. However, young children and adolescents commonly acquire minor depression fractures during accidental falls or roughhousing, and these fractures can retain their shape for many years (Martin et al. 2001*1).

The healed broken nose, the possible healed depression fracture, and the perimortem damage to the facial region of the anterior cranium raise the suspicion that this person, probably female, was a target of nonlethal violence more than once, possibly during raids or episodes of domestic violence. Martin et al. (2001*1) make a strong case that there were at least some battered women at La Plata valley sites in New Mexico. Kuckelman (2001*1) reports evidence of battered females at Castle Rock Pueblo as well.


Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease of the joints resulting in inflammation and destruction of both bone and cartilage. This age-related condition is often associated with abrupt repetitive motions or skeletal trauma. Habitual and prolonged activities can place stress on bony muscle attachments and produce lipping, spurring, and elevated tubercles (Kennedy 1989*1:134). Osteoarthritis is commonly identified in prehistoric and historic human remains (Ortner and Putschar 1981*1).

Six isolated bones from Yellow Jacket Pueblo exhibit evidence of mild or moderate osteoarthritis. Four of the bones are complete hand phalanges; their archaeological contexts indicate that they are from four different adults of unknown age. The fifth arthritic bone is a vertebral centrum with mild lipping. Arthritis in the hands and the backbone is not uncommon in groups that perform repetitive physical activities such as corn grinding. The sixth arthritic bone, the fragmentary sacrum of HRO 5 (a young adult), shows moderate porosity and lipping; this is unusual, because other bones in this concentration indicate that this person was a young adult. Although all the vertebrae from this individual are fragmentary, none of the four thoracic and three lumbar vertebral centra exhibits any signs of osteoarthritis. It is possible that the sacral osteoarthritis is secondary to a specific pelvic injury that could not be observed because the affected pelvic bone was either absent or poorly preserved. It is also possible that this element was from a different person. Mild to moderate osteoarthritic lesions such as these are common in the assemblages from Sites 5MT1 and 5MT3 (Karhu 2000*1), and they also occur in the older individuals from Yellow Jacket Pueblo assessed by Wilson (1990*1).

Skeletal Evidence of Relatedness

In this section, I discuss skeletal characteristics that provide insight into cultural and biological relationships. These characteristics include artificial cranial deformation, congenital defects, and nonmetric traits. The few skeletal markers of relatedness that were observed in the Yellow Jacket Pueblo human remains are also discussed.

Artificial Cranial Deformation

Artificial cranial deformation occurs when the pliable cranial bones of an infant are flattened or otherwise shaped by cultural practices. Cranial deformation, often asymmetrical, can be caused by the use of cradleboards. A specific head shape can also be produced by wrapping the head in a deliberate, prescribed pattern. Among ancient Southwestern populations, artificial cranial deformation is indicative of ancestral Pueblo cultural affiliation.

No cranial bones of sufficient size for observation of deformation were found during Crow Canyon's research at Yellow Jacket Pueblo. However, Wilson (1990*1) identified "possible" and "marked" occipital flattening on the Yellow Jacket Pueblo crania that she analyzed. Thus, it is likely that artificial cranial deformation was practiced by the villagers at Yellow Jacket.

Congenital Defects

As noted by Barnes (1994*1:xxx), "every population has its own genetic pattern of developmental tendencies for producing particular defects." Spina bifida is a fairly common developmental condition in ancestral Pueblo populations. Karhu (2000*1) identified this defect in the assemblages from Sites 5MT1 and 5MT3, and I documented one possible case at Woods Canyon Pueblo (Bradley 2002*2:par. 81). No evidence of this condition or any other genetic anomaly is present in the Yellow Jacket Pueblo human remains found by Crow Canyon researchers.

Nonmetric Traits

Nonmetric traits are skeletal features that can be observed but not measured, such as fusion anomalies like septal aperture of the humerus. These traits are considered to show familial inheritance and are used to evaluate biological distance (Buikstra and Ubelaker 1994*1). In the Yellow Jacket Pueblo assemblage, only five traits in two individuals were assessable. HRO 1 (an older adolescent) has a supraorbital foramen, and HRO 5 (a young adult) has a septal aperture and bilateral occurrence of a single mental foramen, but no mandibular torus or mylohyoid bridge. These data are too few to allow meaningful inferences about the population as a whole.

Summary and Conclusions

During limited testing at Yellow Jacket Pueblo, researchers from the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center found the fragmentary, poorly preserved, and disarticulated human remains of at least 34 individuals comprising 16 subadults and 18 adults. No intact burials or even small groups of articulated bones were found, nor were any grave goods associated with the remains. Stratigraphy indicates that most of these human remains had been damaged and disturbed, either by nonprofessional diggers or by Western State College field school participants in 1931. It is also possible that some of these remains were disturbed and reburied in new locations during the occupation of the village. Many bones were vertically and horizontally displaced, and it was not possible to determine the original body positioning or orientation of any of the remains.

Most human remains were found in middens. One reason for this is that, with the exception of the great tower complex, our research focused on middens and areas behind roomblocks. This research focus hinders mortuary-location comparisons between Yellow Jacket Pueblo and nearby Sites 5MT1 and 5MT3, as well as with Sand Canyon, Castle Rock, and Woods Canyon pueblos, which also were tested by Crow Canyon.

Local oral histories indicate that, during much of the twentieth century, nonprofessional diggers deliberately dug in middens at Yellow Jacket Pueblo to find formal burials and obtain grave goods (Wilson 1990*1). Although few of these nonprofessional diggers kept records, it is likely that most of the affected human remains had been formally buried, as at Sites 5MT1 and 5MT3 (Karhu 2000*1). The common use of middens as burial locations by ancestral Pueblo groups throughout the region further suggests that most, if not all, of the individuals found in the Yellow Jacket Pueblo middens were buried according to traditional mortuary practices. It is alternatively possible, however, that some of the individuals found in midden units were originally interred in a haphazard fashion without benefit of formal burial.

On the other hand, the mortuary circumstances of the very incomplete and fragmentary remains of at least nine individuals from the great tower complex are more difficult to discern. These individuals—a minimum of four adults, one adolescent, and four children might or might not have been formally buried. Their original mortuary contexts are unknown, partly because much of this block was excavated by the Western State College field school in 1931. The limited scope of Crow Canyon's test excavations also contribute to the interpretive problems. Ecological and site-formation processes might also have been factors leading to atypical mortuary locations, but human behaviors that could include violence cannot be ruled out. No evidence of perimortem trauma was discernible on the scant skeletal remains from the great tower complex; this might have been a result of the eroded and deteriorated condition of the bones.

The generally poor condition of the bones in the Yellow Jacket Pueblo assemblage prevented the assessment of most pathological conditions and nonmetric traits. Dental enamel hypoplasia data provide the only reliable information on the health of the individuals represented. These DEH data indicate that young children experienced episodes of physiological stress, but the extent of the stress is unclear. The almost complete absence of cranial vault bones precluded assessments of porotic hyperostosis, one of the most commonly identified pathological conditions observed in ancestral Pueblo remains. It is likely, however, that the frequency of porotic hyperostosis at Yellow Jacket Pueblo would have followed regional trends. Overall, the available biological skeletal information does not suggest that the health problems of the Yellow Jacket Pueblo villagers were unusual as compared with the health problems of nearby and regional ancestral Pueblo groups.

The remains of only one person, an older adolescent (HRO 1), show evidence of skeletal trauma. The antemortem wounds on these remains consist of a healed broken nose and a possible small, healed, cranial depression fracture of the forehead. Perimortem injuries consist of parallel possible cut marks on the right frontal, and possible cut marks or abrasions in the region of the right zygomatic. The cause of death of this possible female is unknown, but the marks on the cranium indicate that she could have been scalped. The perimortem injuries observed were probably nonlethal, but they occurred around the time of death and could have been associated with the death. Most of the cranium was not exposed, so the presence of potentially lethal fractures elsewhere on the cranium cannot be ruled out. The mortuary context indicates that the body had been deliberately interred, although whether the individual received a haphazard burial, as occurred with battered females in the La Plata valley (Martin et al. 2001*1), is unknown.

Yellow Jacket Pueblo is believed to have served as the ritual center of a community, as evidenced by the presence of a great kiva. The large size of the village and the extended length of occupation might also suggest a specific, perhaps regional, status. Ancestral Pueblo human remains from nearby small Site 5MT1 show evidence of unusual violence dating from the Pueblo II period, and human remains from Site 5MT3 dating from the Pueblo II and Pueblo III periods show skeletal evidence of violence as well (Karhu 2000*1; Malville 1989*1). It is not known if the affected skeletal remains represent inhabitants of these two hamlets or victims who were brought from other communities. Sand Canyon Pueblo, another ritual, perhaps regional, center that was contemporary with the great tower complex at Yellow Jacket Pueblo, was about 15 km to the southwest. The skeletal remains of its villagers indicate that some of these individuals suffered violent deaths in an episode that probably occurred in the A.D. 1280s (Bradley 1998*1, 2002*1; Kuckelman et al. 2002*2); similar deaths appear to have occurred at Castle Rock Pueblo (Kuckelman et al. 2002*2; Lightfoot and Kuckelman 2001*1). The potentially atypical mortuary circumstances of the individuals in the Yellow Jacket Pueblo great tower complex and the evidence of skeletal trauma observed on HRO 1 (an older adolescent) raise the possibility that these individuals were affected by the same regional stressors that led to violence in other ancestral Pueblo communities; however, the data from Yellow Jacket Pueblo are not robust enough to conclude this with certainty. In general, few firm conclusions can be drawn from these few and fragmentary remains.

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