Print

Semi nomadic groups from Baja California Sur practiced more than 2300 years ago a unique entombment method, consisting in double inhumation, as studies practiced on osseous rests found in more than 100 burials reveal.


Research has allowed new interpretations of California indigenous people cosmogony, determining they had a culture of unique characteristics.

Physical anthropologist Alfonso Rosales-Lopez from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) informed that physic and biological tests indicate skeletons were inhumed twice: “first, the corps was placed inside a pit, and once decomposition was advanced, it was exhumed and sectioned to be buried again”.

This burial system was practiced since Prehispanic times, and had the aim of ending the pain of the departed, since “concept of death did not exist, as we understand it through biology; physical changes were supposed to cause pain to deceased, and they believed that by sectioning the remains, individuals were freed from suffering”.

This information results from archaeological and anthropological studies conducted by INAH since 1991 at different sites of Baja California Sur coast, especially El Conchalito, where 56 of the 157 burials discovered to present were found, dating from 300 BC to the period of contact with Spaniards.

Places where most burials have been found are called Concheros, due to the great concentration of shells; signs of ceremonial acts carried out by ancient dwellers have been detected, “which prove they had a complex culture, on the contrary of the salvage tribe concept that has prevailed until now”.

In this sense, he considered that practice of rites as double inhumation had the objective of favoring abundance of resources. Anthropologic studies refer to a conception of the world different to the one pertaining to a sedentary culture, where there is no valuing of death”.

“When an individual entered in “immobility” state, preparation of their burial began; they placed her/him in fetal position and was strongly shrouded. At the same time, a bed of shell was set to lay the funerary bundle. A mixture of charcoal, soil and shell was added, and then it was covered with sand.

“For them, it was not a moment of death, just a change of state. Pain was constant, as the person developed bruises, changed its color and discharged fluids”.

According to their beliefs, to ease the pain of the departed, it was exhumed months later and sectioned: knowing articulations were fragile by decomposition of the flesh, “they separated the hip from the torso, the members and, in some cases, the skull. Fragmented, it was buried again”.

Anthropologist Rosales-Lopez mentioned that this practice not only freed the individual from pain; automatically this and every ancestor buried at the site became guardians.

Among material found in the offerings outstands a big seashell placed in a vertical position; big shells displayed in a crown form, as well as shells dispersed in a 1 by 1.5 meters area, placed in a way similar to that used in California indigenous prediction.

Nomadic hunter-gatherers created ways of thinking different to those of sedentary cultures. “One of the great questions among us who study these cultures is: why they didn’t stay in a single place? The most accepted answer is that they had to move through the desert looking for food”.

Rosales Lopez added: “Californio people didn’t stay in one place because their culture did not have that sedentary concept”. They inhabited different sites where they had buried ancestors, who could not be abandoned. Besides, these places were protected by them.

In some of the studied burials, researchers found signs of looting, carried out during Prehispanic times. When a new group arrived to a site, they exhumed ancestors so they could seize the place.

Stone tools used in daily chores such as projectile heads, knives, and fishing harpoons, as well as rests of seed, edible plants and shells of mollusks that served as food have also been found, concluded Rosales-Lopez.