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RBKay
How do we Love?

The Dark Side Of The Sun God


Dubbed “the first individual in human history,” Akhenaton is well-known as the pharaoh who briefly abandoned Egypt’s traditional polytheism, elevating the Sun god Aten above all other gods and making him the focus of all state religion. Together with his powerful wife, Nefertiti, Akhenaton oversaw sweeping changes in Egyptian art and architecture, climaxing in the building of a new capital at Amarna, dedicated to the worship of Aten. 


To make sure it would be free of the old gods, Akhenaton ordered it built in the middle of the desert. But enough about the pharaoh; what about the ordinary people who actually built Amarna?


If you believe Akhenaton’s propaganda, their lives must have been great. 


The tombs of Amarna are covered with carvings of abundant food offerings to Aten. However, studies of human remains by archaeologist Gretchen Dabbs tell a different story. The ordinary people of Amarna were noticeably malnourished and had a high mortality rate for the time. Scurvy was shockingly common. A third of adults had spinal trauma (most commonly compression fractures), and almost half had degenerative joint disease, indicating the brutal toll of building a desert city from scratch in a short period.


Protesting the conditions probably wasn’t a great idea, given the brutal punishments that the government liked to dole out. At least five skeletons in Amarna’s cemetery for commoners exhibit multiple stab wounds to their shoulder blades. This gels with a wall inscription announcing a punishment of “100 lashes and five wounds” for stealing hides. A stab to the shoulder blades would be extremely painful but not debilitating, allowing punished workers to get back to their jobs in no time. Such was the unspoken reality of Akhenaton’s new religion.


RBKay
The Cowboy Wash Massacre


In the 1150s, a small community of 65–120 people lived in a scattered settlement around Cowboy Wash, near the Ute Mountain in what is now Colorado. The settlement was only about 15–20 years old, and the style of pottery found there suggests that the inhabitants were immigrants from the Chuska Mountains. Since the settlement’s pit houses were all built at roughly the same time, the Chuskans probably arrived as a group, perhaps seeking relief from drought and crop failure in their homeland.


Less than a generation later, something terrible happened at Cowboy Wash. Archaeologists excavating the site found bones everywhere, all bearing the marks of cutting tools and careful butchering. Many bones had been broken at the ends, as if to get at the marrow. Others had been carefully broken into pieces small enough to fit into cooking pots. Discoloration suggests that they were stewed.


Other bones bore scorch marks consistent with body parts being roasted. Cracks and scorch marks on two skulls suggest that they were cooked on hot coals and then cracked open to get at the brains.

 

Fossilized human feces found nearby tested positive for myoglobin, indicating cannibalism. Tests also detected an acidic protein found only in human brains. They did not detect any plant matter. A cooking vessel found at the site also tested positive for myoglobin. Human blood was detected on stone cutting tools left in the houses.


Since the deaths coincided with one of the most devastating droughts in the history of the Southwestern US, it was initially speculated that hunger had driven the Canyon Wash people to eat the dead. But hunger-induced cannibalism doesn’t fit with the terrifying intensity of the Cowboy Wash cannibalism. All of the bodies were apparently cooked and eaten in only a day or two, requiring the hearths to be cleared of ash several times. The eaters of the dead even crudely expanded one hearth so that more meat could be packed in. The skulls were mutilated far more than would be required for consumption.


Was the settlement attacked by unknown raiders? Valuables were left lying around, suggesting that profit couldn’t have been the motive. 


The settlement was abandoned immediately after the murders, suggesting that the Cowboy Wash people either all died or felt unable to retrieve their belongings before fleeing.


Archaeologist Brian Billman, who excavated the site, has observed that the Cowboy Wash tragedy wasn’t an isolated incident. Instead, it was part of a wave of “terroristic violence” that swept across the region between 1150 and 1175. The attacks wiped out entire settlements, leaving only mutilated remains. Yet before 1150, the Pueblo peoples of the Southwest lived a remarkably peaceful existence, with violence almost unknown. 


There are a number of theories to explain the attacks, including an unsubstantiated suggestion that a group of Toltec cultists had brought their violent religion north from Mesoamerica.


For his part, Billman notes that tree cores show that the great drought of the 1100s was beyond anything the Pueblo people had experienced. 


Life in the region had always been hard, but the many Pueblo groups had survived thanks to a strong tradition of generosity, which encouraged communities to help each other out. But as the great drought wore on and on, prompting waves of migration like the one that brought the Chuska to Cowboy Wash, these bonds were stretched to the breaking point. As Billman put it: “What happened when things fell apart?”


RBKay