Evolutionary theory, in consort with Marxism and processualism, provides new insights into the interpretation of grave-good variation. Processual interpretations of burial sites in the American Southwest cite age, sex, or social rank as the main determinants of burial-good variation. Marxist theorists suggest that mortuary ritual mediates social tension between an egalitarian mindset and an existing social inequality. Evolutionary theory provides a supplementary explanatory framework. Recent studies guided by kin-selection theory suggest that humans grieve more for individuals of high reproductive value and genetic relatedness. Ethnographic examples also show that individuals mourn more intensively and, thus, place more social emphasis on burials of individuals of highest reproductive value (young adults). Analysis of grave goods from La Ciudad, a Hohokam site in the American Southwest, supports the hypothesis that labor value, reproductive value, and grief contributed to grave-good differentiation. At La Ciudad, individuals between the ages of 10 and 20 possessed more and higher-quality grave goods on average than any other age group. Grief at the loss of a young adult of high reproductive and labor value may facilitate explanation of mortuary variation at La Ciudad, as well as other sites in the greater Southwest and beyond.
Copyright 2001 by the Society for American Archaeology