University of Calgary
UofC Navigation

Tomb 7 Spatial Analysis

By Michelle Janse-Smekal and Geoffrey McCafferty (2007) 

Tomb 7 at Monte Alban is widely regarded as one of the richest, and most famous, burial contexts of ancient Mesoamerica.  It was discovered in 1931 by the great Mexican archaeologist Alfonso Caso, who found the nearly intact tomb beneath the floor of a Postclassic temple (Martinez Lopez 2001).  The tomb had originally been constructed for a Monte Alban IIIb interment, but later reused for a ritual entombment that included multiple re-entries and redeposits, probably relating to ceremonial practices.  The Late Postclassic tomb contained hundreds of precious objects, made of gold, silver, jade, shell, onyx, and other exotic materials, often produced by highly skilled artisans (see Helms 1993). 

 Caso interpreted Tomb 7 as an elite burial for a nobleman, Individual A, who was then buried with numerous retainers (1969).  The biological sex of the principal individual was determined by Daniel Rubin de la Borbolla (1969) based on the general robusticity of the skeleton, particularly of the cranium.  On the other hand, the cranium showed evidence of Paget’s disease, a pathological condition resulting in gross deformities of the skeletal morphology.  The extraordinary richness of the tomb probably supported the gender identification based on the early 20th century bias for male dominance.

An engendered critique of Caso’s (1969) study was produced by Sharisse McCafferty and Geoffrey McCafferty (1994, 2003) based on the recognition of a variety of spinning and weaving tools in the Tomb 7 material assemblage.  Thirty-four carved bone objects closely resemble weaving battens and embroidery picks, while spindle whorls and spinning bowls are also components of a spinning and weaving kit, such as is described by Sahagun (1950-82, Book 2: 139) for the Postclassic Aztec.  Since spinning and weaving were stereotypically associated with female gender identity (McCafferty and McCafferty 1991) it seemed unlikely that such an assemblage would be associated with an elite male. 

Subsequent re-evaluation of the skeletal remains called into question the biological identification, since no pelvis or other easily sexable bones survived.  Mandible #9 was associated with Individual A in the osteological inventory and was identified as female (Rubin de la Borbolla 1969: 276-277), but curiously it was not included in the discussion of remains from the principle individual.  Furthermore, the small size of the individual’s patella was also consistent with that of a biological female.  The lack of the pelvis and other more diagnostic bones certainly makes the sexing of the skeleton ambiguous, at best.

Elements throughout Tomb 7 suggest that the Tomb may have been associated with the Mixtec Earth-fertility Complex where Individual A served to represent Mixtec mother goddess Lady 9 Grass or Lady 9 Monkey.  Based on this association and the fact that Mesoamerican gender is much more variable than the male/female dichotomy frequently presented in mortuary analysis, McCafferty and McCafferty (1994) re-interpreted the gender of the occupants of Tomb 7 suggesting that Individual A was gender-female.  Their hypothesis was met with some resistance, the primary criticisms based on assertions that the tomb was not in primary context when excavated by Caso and thus the remains are highly scattered (Middleton, Feinman and Villegas 1998; Rodriguez-Shadow and Plunket 1994:285) and that their approach was not ‘scientific’ enough (Flannery and Marcus 1994:441).  However, many of these assertions are little more than conjecture; the distribution of the over 500 grave goods in this Tomb has never been analyzed in detail.

Through spatial and statistical artifact analysis, this study endeavors to determine some possible responses to the criticisms of McCafferty and McCafferty’s (1994) analysis of Tomb 7.Tomb 7 is located just north of the main acropolis of Monte Alban, beneath the patio of what was originally an elite residential complex.  It consists of 2 chambers connected by a passageway, and with a total of five distinct sections separated by low stone rows (McCafferty and McCafferty 1994:144).  When the tomb was re-occupied in the Postclassic the original tomb furniture was removed and/or buried, and the new interments and offerings were placed through the roof. 

The East chamber featured skeletal remains of four individuals that were likely primary deposits.  Although the skeletons were disturbed, the presence of bones within their proper anatomical positions (i.e. vertebral alignments, articulated long bones and clusters of ribs) suggests primary deposition (McCafferty and McCafferty 1994:144).  The west chamber was divided into five sections by low stone rows; there were three individuals in the central section, one in the NE corner and Individual A was in the west end of the chamber.  The arrangement of Individual A is suggestive of a seated mummy bundle facing east, looking through the tomb.  Although most of these skeletons, with the exception of Individual A, were  disturbed, the arrangement of ribs and long bones again suggests primary deposition (McCafferty and McCafferty 1994:144).   Since the major criticism of the McCafferty’s reanalysis is bases on the possible mixing of materials, a spatial analysis is appropriate to determine the degree of patterning of artifact classes and their spatial relationships. MeMethodsThree statistical and spatial tools were employed to analyze the tomb: 1) Chi-square test for goodness of fit, 2) Pure clustering analysis and 3) Surfer density mapping.  Chi-square test for goodness of fit was used as a preliminary tool to determine the degree of randomness in the artifact distribution of Tomb 7.  Chi- square test for goodness of fit is a non-parametric analysis used to test hypotheses about the frequency of categorical or discrete variables (Evans 1998:385).  This statistical test allows comparison of the frequencies obtained in a sample with those expected according to the null hypothesis. In this study, the null hypothesis proposes that all artifacts are distributed randomly throughout the tomb and, therefore specific artifact classes are not preferentially distributed in any specific region or with any specific individual. In general, small chi-square values indicate suggest random distribution, while large values indicate non-random patterning (Evans 1998:385).  In all cases, Chi-square analysis reveals that the artifact distribution of Tomb 7 is indeed highly patterned (Table 1) and not ‘highly scattered’ as argued by  Middleton, Feinman, and Villega (1998) and Rodriguez-Shadow and Plunket (1994).

Pure clustering analysis, also known as k-means non-hierarchical cluster analysis, was used to determine the relative clustering of artifact classes where clusters are calculated in relation to the sum-squared error.  The sum-squared error is the sum of the squared distances from each individual point to the center of the cluster to which it is mathematically assigned (Kintigh 1990:184-185).  One of the most significant challenges facing spatial patterning studies is the demarcation of boundaries; however, this is not problematic in the tomb 7 study because the borders of the tomb, as well as a number of low stone walls within the tomb, clearly denote space.

Surfer was used to generate three dimensional density maps of artifact classes.  This tool was primarily used to visually represent the significance revealed in k-means cluster analysis.  Since Surfer interprets three-dimensional provenience and the data for the tomb is two-dimensional, a 2cm by 2cm grid was utilized to represent density. The grid was transposed onto a shrunken version of Tomb 7 that was approximately 70 cm from east to west and 20 cm from north to south.  That is, each 2cm by 2cm square was assigned one two dimensional provenience (x and y) and all the artifacts in a square were assigned that provenience thereby representing the third dimension, z, which corresponds to the density of the two dimensional region.  Therefore, artifacts that are closely associated with each other will be represented as high-density areas. 

Site Admin