Murphy’s team assessed skeletons of 258 Inca individuals, age 15 or older, excavated several years ago at the two cemeteries.
In one cemetery, bodies had been hastily deposited in shallow graves. One-quarter of 120 skeletons displayed head and body injuries inflicted at the time of death, as indicated by a lack of healed bone and other clues. That’s a conservative estimate, Murphy notes, since soft-tissue damage doesn’t show up on bones.
“I’m struck by the severity of violence in certain individual cases, where the skull was essentially crushed, repeatedly stabbed or struck, or shot through by gunshot,” comments archaeologist Steven Wernke of Vanderbilt University in Nashville. Whoever killed these individuals wanted to intimidate survivors as well, he asserts.
One man’s skull contained two holes and radiating fractures consistent with damage produced by early guns that shot ammunition at low velocities.
Another male skull sported three small rectangular openings in the back of the head. These injuries resemble those on skulls from a 1461 battlefield cemetery in England, Murphy says. Medieval weapons tipped with steel spikes or sharp beaks probably caused these wounds, she proposes.
Three other skeletons exhibited injuries likely due to Spanish weapons. Other skeletons contained head and body fractures probably inflicted by attackers bearing Inca weapons.