Death and Community Identity in the Trincheras Cremation Cemetery, Sonora, Mexico

James T Watson, Jessica I. Cerezo-Román, Silvia I.N. Maldonado, Lic Carlos C. Guzmán, M. Elisa Villalpando

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

9 Scopus citations


An urn-field cremation cemetery located on a small knob at the edge of the massive 'Cerro de Trincheras?, the primate centre of the Trincheras archaeological tradition (ca. 1300-1450 ad), contained the remains of 139 individuals (MNI) from 137 mortuary features within a confined space (approximately 5×6. m). Cremated remains were placed in a variety of mostly plainware ceramic vessels, tightly packed together in an assortment of orientations and stacked on top of and around each other. The sample includes 10 infants, 16 children, 7 adolescents and 103 adult individuals (33 males and 36 females). The few artifacts in vessel fill (40.7% of the sample) included burned fragments of marine shell beads and bracelets, animal bone (fragments and tools), ceramic shards and several unburned copper bells with one individual. Skeletal fragmentation and burn patterns indicate a homogeneous practice of cremation of fleshed individuals and minimal processing. Age, sex and degree of processing did not correlate across mortuary attributes. Limited vessel variety, uniform processing (posthumous body treatment) and limited and largely mundane associated artifacts suggest that mourners downplayed the expression of individual social identities in these mortuary contexts. Conversely, the location, organisation (placement and orientation) and delineation of the cemetery suggests an investment in a dedicated, and likely visible, community space devoted to celebrating the deceased ancestors in a public venue. We suggest that the urn-field cemetery at the Cerro de Trincheras served as a public memorial that emphasised and reinforced a shared community identity and downplayed individual social distinctions within a community that was the centre of an influential regional cultural tradition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Analysis of Burned Human Remains
Subtitle of host publicationSecond Edition
PublisherElsevier Inc.
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9780128005217
ISBN (Print)9780128004517
StatePublished - Nov 2 2015


  • Cremation
  • Mortuary features
  • Northwest Mexico
  • Trincheras archaeological tradition
  • Urn

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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