Indigenous Peoples Under Colonial Rule: The Persistence of Native Ideologies

by Kay McKenna & Helen Pearson

Bioarchaeology is in a unique place to show the truths that are not visible in historical records. It is not a new concept that history is written by the victors and monumental archaeology focuses only on the big and important, however, bioarchaeology provides a glimpse of humanity in the past in terms of what and where people ate, what diseases they suffered from and many other significant details of their lives. Details that in this day of culture rifts and contentions, might influence this era for the good. Bioarchaeology, through its three approaches, natural science, social science, and humanities, can assist in the study of the ways in which different ideologies and norms have persisted throughout periods of intensive cultural contact like colonization (Stojanowski and Duncan, 2015).

Historically, colonization has been a process during which the intersection of cultures brings about noticeable shifts in the ideologies of both groups. Ideologies can be defined as a collection of fundamental tenets that structure a culture, economy or political system. Amidst the collision of cultures is the complex exchange of ideologies in which both cultures adopt distinct practices and values of the other. Although many traditional ideas of colonization demonstrate an irreconcilable assimilation of cultures, through this paper we will demonstrate a more persistent presence of ideologies distinct to both the native culture and the culture of the colonizers through a capacity of hybridization (Rowe, 1957; Stojanowski, 2005). When examining bioarchaeological remains during periods of colonization, we can see the persistence of the ideologies of those who were colonized as well as the impacts of the colonizing culture. Whether it is the adoption of Catholicism with indigenous religious practices, cranial modifications, or the broadening or shrinking of diet diversity, the articulation of colonization on the populations’ ideologies are explicitly apparent. The persistence of ideologies is more clearly articulated by the transition and changes in overall health of populations, prevalence of diseases, and changes in diet.

Amidst the collision of cultures is the complex exchange of ideologies in which both cultures adopt distinct practices and values of the other.

It can be understood that bioarchaeology uses the human remains to draw conclusions about the life of the individual and their communities. Studies of skeletons reveal everything from health to occupation to social class. Additionally, Stojanowski and Duncan, bioarchaeology consists of three approaches: natural sciences, social sciences, and humanistic (Stojanowski and Duncan, 2015).

The social sciences approach of bioarchaeology includes viewpoints that spotlight issues such as gender, identity, poverty, social status and other constructs that affect the human experience. Very few clues to human identity are manifest in the skeleton; cranial modification is one of those few. The concept of identity through cranial modification amidst colonization will be addressed through the lens of social sciences, revealing that sometimes the persistence of ideologies about identity comes down to a choice.

The humanistic approach to bioarchaeology tells the stories of the lived experiences of individuals and groups such as indigenous peoples under colonial rule (Stojanowski and Duncan, 2015). The humanistic approach takes into account every bit of evidence that bioarchaeologists can glean from an individual’s remains, mortuary context, and cultural context, and attempts to formulate a snapshot into that person’s experience in life and death, often employing a narrative perspective. A life history model is often taken within the humanistic approach, and this can be useful in understanding which ideologies and norms persisted throughout periods of colonization and which were assimilated or absorbed into the colonial culture, even within the lifespan of one or a few individuals. Case studies from colonial Belize, the Atecameno oases, and the highlands of Peru will illustrate the humanistic approach.

The natural science approach to bioarchaeology takes a closer look into the articulation of biological life factors that are present in the remains of humans. In this paper, Spanish diets will be examine bioarchaeologically. In particular, diet demonstrates much about the lifestyles of peoples culture in terms of both agriculture and cultural values on particular food items and cuisine. Much about diet directly impacts overall nutrition and lifestyle of a population. With the invasive and dominance of colonization, diet dramatically changes upon introduction of foreign populations. Within natural sciences, understanding diet can be used to demonstrate the changes wrought by colonizers and the articulation with in the biological aspects of the natives osteological remains.


Rowe, J. H. (1957). The Incas under Spanish colonial institutions. The Hispanic American Historical Review, 37, 155-199.

Stojanowski, C. M. (2005). The bioarchaeology of identity in Spanish colonial Florida: social and evolutionary transformation before, during, and after demographic collapse. American Anthropologist, 107, 417-431.

Stojanowski, C. M., & Duncan, W. N. (2015) Engaging bodies in the public imagination: Bioarchaeology as social science, science, and humanities. American Journal of Human Biology, 27, 51-60.

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The Persistence of Local Culture in the Face of Colonialism: A Humanistic Perspective, by Helen Pearson

Persistence of Ideologies and Norms during Colonization as shown in the Practice of Cranial Modification: Three Examples, by Kay McKenna

Conclusion, by Kay McKenna & Helen Pearson

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