The Ancient Inhabitants of El Rosario

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By Physic Archaeologist Israel David Lara, Archaeologist Enah Montserrat Fonseca, and Archaeologist Fiorella Fenoglio

In August 2015, the discovery of a group of bones inside a hollow caused by soil erosion was reported in a zone near the community of El Rosario, Baja California.

Specialists from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) Center in Baja California collected human and animal bones, as well as botanical remains that were probably part of the grave goods. Thanks to the collaboration with the INAH Center in Queretaro, nowadays we can tell their story.

Archaeological discovery. Photo by Enah Fonseca / INAH.

The bones belonged to three individuals that lived in the region one thousand years ago. They were between 35 and 45 years old when they died, so they were probably considered old because those human groups lived less than we do now. There are two male individuals and one female. The first individual, we will call him Ibó,  was 5’6” in height, which made him the tallest and sturdiest of the three; the other individual, Jerónimo, was 5’1” in height; and the woman, we will call her Rosario, she was the smallest, with 4’9” in height. According to the metric analysis conducted, the three individuals belonged to the indigenous groups that inhabited the peninsula before the Europeans’ arrival.

Jéronimo (individual number 2) and Rosario (individual number 3) skulls.

Health status

Although their health status can be evaluated as good, they had some nutritional deficiencies as a result of their diet habits or some infectious processes. The historic sources mention that these human groups were hunters, fishers and gatherers, nomads and semi nomads, that benefited from the natural resources in the area to survive throughout the year, changing from place of establishment in search of food. 

Femur and scapula muscular insert, and Schmorll limp in lumbar vertebra. Photo by Israel lara / INAH.

They fed on clams, snails, fish, occasionally from oysters, and sometimes they benefited from some marine mammals that were stranded on the beach. Their diet was seasonal, in the coldest seasons of the year, they went down the shore to exploit the marine resources; and in the warmest seasons, they moved to higher grounds and fed from pine nuts, acorns, rabbits and other hunting animals. Feeding on hard food was common; therefore, the use of stone tools was required for their preparation, which released some particles that caused the severe abrasion observed on their teeth.

Some of the pathologic diseases and teeth abrasion. Photo by Israel Lara and Gloria islas / INAH.

Ibó suffered from a sickness very similar to rheumatoid arthritis that made his joints and tendons ossify. His condition undoubtedly deteriorated his quality of life. Because of the environment’s hostility, the individuals had accidents that caused them some bone fractures.  Depressed fractures and marks were observed in the skulls caused by blows of different intensity that may correspond to a ritual described in some historic sources. During this ritual,  they would hit their skulls with rocks indicating duel intentions; these impacts were so powerful that blood would be seen dripping down their ears.

Although this practice was related directly to Baja California Sur  groups, the presence of these marks in the skulls, also indicates the possibility that these rituals were conducted in this region.

Some pathologic alterations from Ibó (individual number 1) in superior limbs and cervical vertebrae. Photo by Israel Lara / INAH.

Daily life

Ibó was a man that started his daily activities at a very young age: he performed an extreme physical effort to carry heavy loads on his back and walked long distances –maybe using baskets regularly for the transportation of diverse objects or products, derived from fishing and gathering activities. This makes us think that this individual was a very active component within the group.

 There were some alterations found in the auditory canals of Jerónimo and Rosario, signs of possible aquatic activities, related maybe to diving in the sea floor for food collection. Although, it was probably not a frequent activity practiced by these individuals.

Some pathologic alterations from Ibó (individual number 1) in inferior limbs. The ossification of a tendon is observed. Photo by Israel Lara / INAH.

By the findings features, there is a possibility that this space was intended for the disposal of the dead, which was reused over time depending of factors such as: the necessity of a space for the disposal of the dead, the importance of deceased, the social role they played, or the existence of a family lineage.

Regardless of the case and based on the state of conservation of the skeletal remains, and on the quantity of the bone elements in each skeleton, we can believe that this wasn’t a simultaneous disposal, which would indicate an ancestors worship, because they preserved the skeletal remains of  past burials maybe to involve them in the ritual or because they considered them active members of the community.

Jerónimo’s skull traumatism (individual number 2). Photo by Israel Lara / INAH.

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