Film “Secrets of the Dead": Episode "Cannibals of the Canyon”



Critical Review Essay Introduction

The following paper presents a critical review of the film “Secrets of the Dead – Cannibals of the Canyon”. It is positioned in the scope of innovative science, namely, bioarchaeology. The film deals with the investigation and analysis of the issue of cannibalism among the alleged peaceful and adequate Anasazi Indians tribes. Cannibalism is a strongly rejected and opposed issue even in the present time. Therefore, the investigator collects much evidence based on numerous explorations to resist the overall bioarcheological community’s pressure. The course of investigation focuses on the search for evidence and its interpretation that relies on the bioarcheological analysis of human remnants. The investigation is based on both theoretical and empirical research, namely, the knowledge basis provided by the preliminary study of the field of concern, as well as on the analysis of human remains and other artifacts, which are related to the phenomenon of cannibalism.

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Archaeological Theme

The key archaeological theme of the film under review is connected with the potential cannibal traditions of the Anasazi Indians. According to Sutton, the phenomenon of cannibalism means eating other people’s flesh. This ancient practice has two kinds, endocannibalism, and exocannibalism. Endocannibalism is explained by Sutton as “eating people from within one social group” (191). The author underlines that such practice was primarily prohibited among ancient tribes, whereas the experience of exocannibalism that is “eating people from other social units, such as strangers and enemies” was more commonly practiced and even expected from tribe members under particular circumstances (Sutton, 191).

The scope of the study of the issue in question lacks an evidential basis. Moreover, it has primarily been rejected and opposed for the last hundred years. One of the key obstacles, which interfered with the consistent course of cannibalism investigation, was an ethical aspect of the study of human remains. The evident lack of empirical and factual data in the given field of research is predetermined by constant rejections of the theme, as well as the notorious nature of the issue in question. Debates about cannibalism are conducted even nowadays (Rautman and Fenton 330). Only a few investigators dared start such an extreme research course. The author of the film discussed is one of them. This investigation puts at stake the reputation of the outlined tribes as well as the veracity of particular pages of American history.

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Overview of the Film

The film starts with the introduction of the major issue of concern, namely, cannibalism in the ancient Indian tribes of the South-West of America. The author highlights its topicality and the lack of evidence at the current stage of the research course. Turner released a controversial paper on the issue in question in 1969, but it was rejected. He received an excellent opportunity to continue the study of human remains of Anasazi tribes and their relation to cannibalism only recently. The research is conducted within Chaco Canyon.

Turner presents several examples of human remains, which extrinsically presuppose the existence of the cannibalism practice, for instance, bones are crushed and mingled, and skulls bare the mask of fear and screaming. There is also an abundance of bones fragments with fractures and other unnatural signs. Moreover, the investigator reminds the research expedition of Richard Wetherell, the first key figure in the outlined scope of concern. It is significant that Turner does not only provide the audience with crucial theoretical data and aligns the current research with the preliminary studies in the given field, but also conducts personal research and even presents several experiments to understand the logic and “to get inside the minds of the Anasazi” (“Secrets of the Dead”).

Experiments and their ramifications support and confirm statements of the investigator made initially in the film. One of these experiments proves that the Anasazi were especially interested in the marrow. Actually, this statement is also confirmed by the state of many bones found within the territory of Canyon. They are primarily fractured, crushed, and what is crucial in the given context is that they are cracked open. Such technology indicates only the determination to access the marrow, but not only meat or brain as the previous experiments have demonstrated.

This aspect certainly contradicts the version of Kuwanwisiwma, a representative of the Hopi tribe from the Cultural Preservation Office, who has presented obvious traces of cannibalism as ramifications of violence. Moreover, it opposes the arguments presented in the work by Sutton, meaning “execution of witches…or violent competition between rival priesthoods” (191). Therefore, the cult of eating people appears to the modern world even in a scarier version, with tribes consuming the marrow and brains of the dead.

Rutman and Fenton argue that the Anasazi case should also be regarded from “other anthropological perspectives, particularly those concerning the human body as a vehicle for the expression of cultural ideas and values” (321). Turner presents evidence that supports the appropriateness of Anasazi cooking pots in cannibalism practices. The investigator also tries to make an in-depth insight into the culture and lifestyle of the Anasazi Indians to explore the traditions connected with the phenomenon of cannibalism. Moreover, he persuades the audience that cannibalism was not a direct result of starvation, but had other, more profound, and crucial roots.

Methodologies, Theories, and other Archaeological Concepts Highlighted in the Film

The methodology that is used in the film “Secrets of the Dead – Cannibals of the Canyon” includes the preliminary experiences and practices analysis aligned with direct observation, experimentation, and subsequent analysis based on the theoretical background available in the field of concern. The film lacks theories as a result of a poor basis and continuous rejection of the issue in question. Nonetheless, the key theoretical aspects are provided, namely, a) the definition of the term of cannibalism, b) historical knowledge about the Anasazi Indians, and c) the results of few expeditions and research courses primarily rejected but taken into consideration nowadays. Such concepts are highlighted in the film as cannibalism, bioarchaeology and the study of human remains, taphonomy, and the study of bones manipulated with a particular purpose.

Discussion of the Accuracy and Usefulness of the Film

The film “Secrets of the Dead – Cannibals of the Canyon” is informative and challenging. It presents an innovative approach to the issue of cannibalism investigation. The analyzed phenomenon is studied thoroughly, insightfully, and profoundly. The researcher observes, studies, experiments, and analyzes. Such a multidimensional approach contributes significantly to the reliability and credibility of the presented research outcomes. Moreover, the course of the investigation is consistent and constructive due to logical connections between the parts of exploration and the gradual development of the core argument.

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Critical Review Essay Summary

Thus, the film reviewed above is very useful for the scholars who work within the area of cannibalism study, especially cannibal practices among the tribes of Anasazi Indians. The significance of the analyzed film is that it presents a challenge to the classic approach of the cannibalism vision. Moreover, it obviously contradicts it based on direct observation, experimentation, and convincing results. Furthermore, “Secrets of the Dead – Cannibals of the Canyon” provides vast space and significant perspectives for further research on the issue in question.

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