For the past 27 years, John Verano has spent time in Peru each summer, but it's far from a leisurely, exotic vacation. It's a yearly research expedition for the anthropology professor and his students who excavate and analyze human skeletal remains from various pre-Columbian archaeological sites.
Graduate student Ximena Chávez inventories skeletal remains in the field laboratory. (Photos from John Verano)
The trip is the highlight of the year for Verano, a physical anthropologist whose specialty is South American bioarcheology, or the study of human remains from archaeological contexts.
Verano's work last month took him, two graduate students and one recent graduate to the Pyramids of Moche site, located near the modern city of Trujillo, on the northern coast of Peru.
"I have been collaborating with this Peruvian archaeological project since 1995, assisting with the identification of human skeletal remains recovered from burials at the site," Verano said.
During June, his team excavated the latest discovery of remains of captives who were sacrificed by the Moche between 800 and 850 AD and deposited along the western facade of an adobe platform known as the "New Temple." Sacrifice of captives was an important ritual at the Pyramids of Moche, says Verano.
Professor John Verano applies preservative to bones at the Peruvian excavation.
The Tulane team excavated and studied the remains of multiple victims whose bones were deposited in windblown sand along the base of the temple.
These newly discovered victims are similar to ones found in nearby plazas that date to earlier occupational phases — they are adolescent and young adult males with clear evidence of trauma, he said.
"The identity of the victims and the motivation for capturing and killing them are currently subjects of debate among Moche specialists," Verano says. "We hope that our research will help answer some of these questions."
For this summer's trip, Verano and his graduate students received travel funding from the Stone Center for Latin American Studies. Verano received additional support from the Lurcy Fund, which supports research by faculty in the School of Liberal Arts.