Isotopic and Biomolecular Analysis of Spanish Contact

In 2007, I began a combined isotopic and biomolecular study of bone and tooth samples from Postclassic and colonial burial assemblages at the Mixtec site of Teposcolula-Yucundaa, located in Oaxaca, Mexico. 

Historical records for the site indicate that it underwent substantial social, economic, and demographic change associated with the establishment of Spanish colonialism. Questions, however, remained regarding whether the transition to an encomienda economy and the introduction of European agricultural products impacted indigenous dietary practices, and whether population reorganization and the importation of foreign labor were reflected in the site's colonial Grand Plaza cemetery.

Building on the isotopic foodweb data I collected in the Middle American Isotopic Diversity Project, I found no evidence for dietary change up to forty years after the arrival of the Spanish, and oxygen isotopic analysis indicated that the colonial cemetery represented an intact, local population with no evidence of importation of foreign labor or migration. These results were further supported by a paleogenetic mitochondrial haplogroup study of the cemetery, which confirmed that the interred individuals are of indigenous origin with a haplogroup frequency closely resembling modern Mixtecs. 

The Grand Plaza cemetery, a colonial mass grave assemblage, was further analyzed using paleodemographic methods, and shown to be consistent with a catastrophic mortality profile. Historical analysis of sixteenth century records from a diversity of Spanish and native sources provide compelling evidence that this assemblage is associated with the 1545 cocoliztli epidemic. 

The results of this study comprised a major portion of my dissertation, and were presented in part at the 2008 Society of American Archaeology meetings. A research article presenting the final results of the study has been accepted by the journal Latin American Antiquity and will appear in print shortly.