An Investigation of Identity and Ontology at Salango, Ecuador (BCE 100-300 CE) Combining Paleopathological, Mortuary, and Stable Isotopic Analyses

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Sara L. Juengst
Richard Lunniss
Y. Zindy Cruz
Emilie M. Cobb
Abigail Bythell


Bioarchaeologists have increasingly investigated social identities of past peoples, engaging with theory from a variety of sources, including Indigenous perspectives. In this article, we discuss and compare successive Very Early Guangala (100 BCE–CE 1) and succeeding Early Guangala (CE 1–300) phase burials located near the north perimeter of Salango, a shoreline site and ritual sanctuary serving multiple communities of the central coast of Ecuador. Very Early Guangala burials in low mounds included many infants, accompanied by stone figurines and marine shells, who demonstrated skeletal lesions of pronounced and chronic stress. Early Guangala burials were located in the same area but without funerary architecture. These later burials were predominantly adult at the time of death, endowed with a different set of goods, and displayed distinct frequencies of pathological conditions (possibly related to demographic differences). Isotopic evidence of diet and migration show that throughout both periods, connection to the ocean through foodways was common, despite the possibility of some individuals migrating to or from the area. Drawing on theory about relational identities and community, we interpret these paleopathological, mortuary, and isotopic trends to demonstrate that in particular contexts, humans and objects were seen as interchangeable and that a lifelong connection to the ocean was at the core of community at Salango.

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