Parting (with) the dead: Body partibility as evidence of commoner ancestor veneration

Pamela L. Geller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


As a complement to life histories authored by many researchers of Maya bones, this study narrates death histories. The latter entails detection of perimortem and postmortem changes to decedents' bodies, followed by translation of these changes' encoded meanings. Biographical analysis of body parts and the buildings in which they are situated facilitates such an endeavor. Past investigations of partibility have focused on protracted processing of noble and royal bodies as a means to reconstitute decedents' identities. Commoners' burials, however, have received far less attention. Consequently, it is difficult to determine if partible practices differ according to or transcend social class. To address this lacuna, a multiscalar frame is applied to a burial sample comprised of decedents from varied social settings in the Three Rivers region, northwestern Belize. Identification of widely shared practices related to the becoming and venerating of ancestors offers a springboard for examining particulars within patterns. Scaling down, commoner burials unearthed at the minor center RB-11 are summarized and special attention is paid to the death history of Individual 71. This decedent's intentionally fragmented body reflects general thinking about ancestors as partible and dividual persons. Yet, certain attributes of Individual 71's burial are unique to the sample as a whole, which demonstrates how social class, circumstance, and individual life history are also instrumental in the reformation of ancestorhood.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)115-130
Number of pages16
JournalAncient Mesoamerica
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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