This article is a couple years old now, but its ideas remain fresh. [Image via Westerndigs.org]
A recent archaeological excavation in Tempe, Arizona, uncovered a 13th-Century Hohokam settlement at the headgates of one of the Hohokam's main irrigation canals - one of their extensive network of canals that ran throughout what is now the Phoenix metropolitan area and sustained an estimated population of 80,000.
Among the well over one hundred burials that were recovered at this site, Burial 167 stood out. It was the grave of a woman in her early 20s. Her remains showed that she had suffered from a number of disabling medical conditions during her life, including severe spinal scoliosis, rickets, and tuberculosis. However, unlike most of her contemporaries her teeth were in perfect condition - that is, not worn down by the typical 13-Century Hohokam diet of maize mixed with grit from metates. She was also buried with an atypical number of fine grave goods.
While anyone is free to speculate about the significance of the grave goods and the woman's position in Hohokam society, what is clear is that the people of her settlement valued her despite her inability to contribute to the group in the usual ways. They tended to her many medical problems for two decades, and buried her with great respect. As the directing archaeologist, Eric Cox, opined, her burial shows that "...she was well taken care of by her community and celebrated in her death, which says a lot more about the people that lived there at the time than about her." Certainly, pre-contact Native societies cared for their sick and disabled members and valued them as they would any other person. Life in the Southwest was not always "nasty, brutish, and short."