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Zapotec’s human thighbone sceptres

A new excavation of a Zapotec tomb is revealing that the practice of wielding ancestral thighbones as a sceptres may not have been limited to the ruling class.

The burial excavated by Feinman at Mitla was extremely well-preserved, and had never been disturbed — except, that is, by someone who broke open the coffin, removed a thighbone, then carefully resealed it, leaving a bowl as an offering.

According to Feinman’s team, that offering suggests a veneration for the deceased. As the burial was beneath a residence — Zapotec dead were commonly buried in this fashion, with dwellings occupied for generations — it had likely been opened by a descendant.

Meanwhile, the upper portion of the skeleton was in slight disarray, while the lower portion was undisturbed except for the missing femur. The researchers interpret this as evidence that whoever re-opened the coffin knew where it was, but not how it was aligned. They accidentally broke into the top part first, jostled the remains, then realized their mistake and gently removed the thighbone.

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