Forensic study of Mixtec woman reveals life of pain and hard work

A study of the skeleton of a young Mixtec woman that lived in the Late Postclassic period, has revealed all the illnesses she had and how they affected her daily life; results of this analysis were known through the exhibition Itandikaa Ndiko’o Flor de la eternidad (Itandikaa Ndiko’o Flower of eternity), displayed in the Regional History Museum of Ensenada in Baja California.

Forensic study of Mixtec woman reveals life of pain and hard work
The physical anthropologist Martha Alfaro Castro and a team of medics of the Civil Hospital of Oaxaca, with specialties such as genetics, traumatology, radiology and odontology made a interdisciplinary study of the skeleton, found in the High Mixtec of Oaxaca in the year 2007 [Credit: INAH]
The physical anthropologist Martha Alfaro Castro and a team of medics of the Civil Hospital of Oaxaca, with specialties such as genetics, traumatology, radiology and odontology made a interdisciplinary study of the skeleton, found in the High Mixtec of Oaxaca in the year 2007. The different phases of the analysis, as well as some of the main pathologies and alterations in the osseous remains were presented in the exposition composed of 37 photographs and seven watercolors created by the Oaxacan artist Ernesto Arrona Santiago, as well as an acrylic on amate (a type of paper fabricated in Mexico since Pre Historic times) elaborated by Juan Francisco Lopez Ruiz.

The pieces reflect the daily activities that the young woman participated in and which accentuated the bone injuries produced by her disease. The burial was discovered during the excavations of a salvage made in the Tlaxiaco-Itundujia section by archaeologists Emmanuel Posselt Santoyo and Liliana Ivette Jimenez Osorio, in the archaeological site La Laguna, High Mixtec region of Oaxaca.

Forensic study of Mixtec woman reveals life of pain and hard work
Two from a series of seven watercolors showing the young Mixtec woman,
created by Oaxacan artist Ernesto Arrona [Credit: INAH]
Afterwards the archaeological materials were transferred to the laboratory of osteology of the INAH Center in Oaxaca, where the anthropologist Alfaro Castro made the analysis of the skeleton. “The young woman had a genetic skeleton syndrome known as Klippel Feil which provokes facial asymmetry and the fusion of some cervical vertebraes, subsequently shortening of the neck and limiting the moviliy of said anatomic region”, the archaeologist explained. “She also presented an alteration of the scapula, known as the Spengel deformity, responsible for the asymmetry in the shoulders that gave the woman the appearance of having a shoulder more elevated that the other”, explained the researcher from the INAH Center in Baja California.

The osteological evidence, the archaeological context and the etnohistoric sources point to the woman having belonged to a low social stratum and that, although she had health problems related to her genetic syndromes and some metabolic alterations she had a very active life and worked hard from an early age. “Evidence suggest she carried heavy objects on her back with the help of a leather strap. She also spent a lot of time kneeling and crouching carrying out activities such as threshing maize and grinding or kneading clay to make ceramic, which caused modifications of the bones in her kneecaps and feet”, explained the specialist.

Source: INAH via Art Daily [November 12, 2013]

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