Archeologists Find Evidence of Torture at 1,200 Year Old Massacre

An archaeological dig in Colorado was the site of a horrific massacre

Foot Bones
Science Picture Company/Science Picture Co./Corbis

Today, the small city of Durango, Colo., is a quiet, picturesque metropolis huddled against a backdrop of mountains and mesas. But 1,200 years ago, a nearby settlement was host to a horrific massacre.  

Back in 2005, 14,882 human bone fragments were unearthed from pits at a site called Sacred Ridge. They dated to roughly 800 A.D. The bones, from about 33 different people, bore tool marks—and the victims had all been unceremoniously dumped in the same pit. 

Now, a new study published in the journal Kiva shows that this wasn’t a quick, sweeping episode of violence. The evidence suggests that the victims were tortured before they died, likely as a means of controlling or intimidating others who were witness to the act.  

The bones that Osterholtz saw showed evidence of broken ankles, used to hobble the victims, beatings of the soles of the feet that were so severe the bone peeled away, and crushing and scraping to the top of the feet. 

“...the feet were really my introduction to this concept of performance,” anthropology graduate student and lead author Anna Osterholtz said in an interview with Western Digs, “because I couldn’t see a reason for the damage I was seeing in the foot bones other than torture.”

The reason for the torture remains unknown; the site was abandoned soon after the massacre took place. 

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