Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for September, 2010

Duck Pots at Chaco Museum

Effigy vessels are very rare in the prehistoric Southwest, and human effigy vessels even more so.  Most known examples, especially in the Anasazi area, are of animals, and by far the most common of these are the so-called “duck pots,” a distinctive type of vessel shape that is often considered to be a representation of a duck or similar bird, although there has been some dispute over whether this is actually a single type of vessel, rather than a number of different types with different functions that happen to look similar, and to what extent the resemblance to a duck is really an inherent characteristic of the type(s).  Certainly some examples do seem to have been molded and/or decorated in a way that makes them clearly resemble ducks, but others do not, and the fact that the shape of the pot generally leaves an opening at the top (the duck’s neck) means that there is rarely a head, making even the most duck-like of these vessels considerably more abstract than is typical of other types of more obvious effigy vessels.   That is, some of these do seem to have been intended to represent ducks, but that does not imply that the others, more abstract in both form and decoration, were also so intended.

Be that as it may, quite a few duck pots were found at Chaco, and under the assumption that they were in fact effigy vessels they make up the majority of known Chacoan effigy vessels.  One noteworthy example, which most definitely does not look like a duck, was described by Marjorie Lambert of the Museum of New Mexico in 1967.  This is an unusually large specimen, almost a foot in length, that was found in “a burned room in a stone masonry site” to the southeast of Chaco, near the line between Sandoval and McKinley Counties.  (The abstract mistakenly identifies this as southwest of Chaco, but from the description in the text it is clearly southeast.)  The exact location of this site and the circumstances of its excavation are left suspiciously vague, presumably because it was excavated illegally.  When Lambert examined it the vessel was in the private collection of William Littrell, the superintendent of the Philmont Scout Ranch in northeastern New Mexico.  It is unclear from Lambert’s article if Littrell excavated the site in question himself, although from the details included it seems likely that he did.

The vessel, while having the general “duck pot” shape, has the remarkable characteristic of two modeled clay arms reaching out from the sides to the hollow tube connecting the top to the rear of the vessel.  This tube is a common feature of duck pots, but the arms are unique.  From their position Lambert interprets the vessel as a representation of a flute player, specifically the alleged “humpbacked flute player” of Hopi tradition known as Kokopelli.  My understanding is that this interpretation of the Hopi traditions in question is now thought to be mistaken, and that while they do include humpbacked divinities and flute players, there is not in fact a single divinity known as “Kokopelli” who is both humpbacked and a flute player.  I haven’t really looked into the details of this issue, but I’ve been meaning to.

In any event, Lambert definitely took the standard approach to the Kokopelli idea and interpreted this vessel accordingly.  She even interpreted it as a representation of Kokopelli lying down, with the curved underside of the vessel standing for his hump, when it seems clear to me that both the position of the vessel and the curved underside were due mostly if not entirely to the fact that this is a duck pot and that is how duck pots are shaped.  It’s certainly possible that the potter intended to exploit those characteristics of the type of pot to represent attributes of the being portrayed, but it’s not at all obvious just from looking at the pot, and I think Lambert’s conclusions here were heavily influenced by her assumptions about Kokopelli.

Despite Lambert’s Kokopelli focus in interpretation, her article contains some interesting information about the vessel.  For one thing, it showed extensive evidence of use, which she interpreted as ceremonial due to the unusual shape.  The actual uses of duck pots are not known, however, and it is possible that this was just a particularly elaborate example of a mundane item.  Another interesting aspect of the decoration, which is mostly Gallup Black-on-white in mineral paint, a common Chacoan style, is the presence of a pair of human figures, one male and one female, on the shoulders of the figure.  Since painted human figures, like effigy forms, are rare in Anasazi ceramics, this pair makes this vessel even more interesting.

Unfortunately, given the lack of precise geographic or chronological provenience information, not much more can be said about this fascinating vessel.  From the decoration it is clearly Chacoan and probably dates to the eleventh or twelfth century, and from the general geographical information it may have come from one of the late or even post-Chacoan sites on Chacra Mesa to the southeast of the canyon.  This area was sparsely populated during the height of the Chacoan era, so while it is possible that this vessel came from one of the few known sites from that period (perhaps associated with a road between Pueblo Pintado and Guadalupe?), it is more likely that it came from a slightly later time.  Beyond that, however, it is difficult to interpret.
ResearchBlogging.org
Lambert, M. (1967). A Kokopelli Effigy Pitcher from Northwestern New Mexico American Antiquity, 32 (3) DOI: 10.2307/2694672

Read Full Post »

Room 55, Pueblo Bonito

The excavations of Pueblo Bonito by the Hyde Exploring Expedition in the 1890s are most commonly associated with Richard Wetherill, but they were officially led by George Pepper, a student and protégé of Frederic Ward Putnam, the pioneering anthropologist at Harvard whom the Hyde brothers initially tried to get to supervise the excavations personally.  Since Putnam was too busy with his other responsibilities he sent Pepper instead, and it was Pepper who ultimately published several articles on the various findings of the expedition (two of which I have republished on this site) and, eventually, a fairly complete site report taken directly from his field notes.  Pepper was twenty-three years old when he first came to Chaco, which is the same age I was when I started working there myself, and I’ve long felt a connection to him.  As an archaeologist, of course, his activities and attitudes were quite different from mine, but I do think his interpretations of the expedition’s findings were interesting and generally underrated.  He also gave a lot of public talks on the Southwest, which is another role I can strongly identify with.  Since his death, however, Pepper has been a rather obscure figure, and he hasn’t gotten nearly the attention I think he deserves.

Pepper was from Tottenville on Staten Island, which was not yet part of New York City when he was growing up, and I see a Staten Island local news item (via Southwestern Archaeology Today) reporting on a new exhibition at the New Orleans Museum of Art on Pepper’s anthropological work in the Southwest, which went well beyond the excavations at Chaco.  After Pepper’s death his widow donated his papers to the Middle American Research Institute at Tulane University, which is why this exhibition is in New Orleans even though Pepper spent pretty much all of his life in the New York area.  The exhibition only runs through October 24, so I don’t think I’ll be able to get down there to see it, but it sounds like an interesting and long-overdue appreciation of this important figure from the early days of Southwestern archaeology, and I’d say it’s definitely worth a look for anyone who will be in the area.

Read Full Post »

Wupatki Pueblo

One of the many similarities between Chaco and Casas Grandes in Chihuahua, in addition to the similar types of effigy vessels, is the presence of significant numbers of scarlet macaw skeletons at both sites.  As with most of these parallels, the evidence at Casas Grandes is more impressive in scale, with hundreds of macaws found as compared to dozens at Chaco.  It has long been argued that Casas Grandes may have been breeding the macaws, rather than importing them all directly from areas to the south, and that it may have even been the source of most of the macaws found elsewhere in the Southwest.  When it was thought that Casas Grandes was contemporaneous with Chaco, it seemed like an obvious source of the macaws found there and in the Mimbres area in between, but it is now known that the rise of Casas Grandes came well after the decline of Chaco, so wherever the macaws at Chaco came from, it wasn’t Casas Grandes.

So, leaving the question of Chaco and other early sites with macaws aside, what was going on with the macaws at Casas Grandes.  Were they indeed being bred and traded to other Southwestern sites, such as Wupatki in northern Arizona?  Or were they being imported directly from somewhere in Mesoamerica, either for trade or for local use?  A recent paper sets out to look at this question using stable isotope ratios, a type of analysis we have been seeing a lot of lately in Southwestern archaeology.  Specifically, the paper looks at the ratio of carbon-13 to carbon-12, widely used to determine the diet of an animal and specifically whether it was dependent on maize, and the ratio of oxygen-18 to oxygen-16, which reflects the chemical makeup of the water the animal drank and can be used as a rough proxy for the environment in which it was raised.  We’ve seen carbon isotope analysis recently used to show that Anasazi turkeys subsisted mainly on maize.  Oxygen isotope analysis is used less in the Southwest, but it is particularly useful here because the ratio varies with elevation, humidity, and proximity to the ocean, all of which are major differences between the high, dry Casas Grandes area and the humid coastal lowlands to the south where the scarlet macaw has its natural range.  The ratio thus gives a good sense of whether the birds were brought up from the south or raised right at Casas Grandes.  Strontium isotope ratios can pinpoint places of origin with more precision, but to be useful they have to be accompanied by a major sampling effort to determine the ratios in the various possible source areas.  The conclusion of this paper suggests that strontium analysis may be in the works, but as a first pass oxygen isotope analysis is a good way to go.

The carbon isotope analysis found that the macaws subsisted almost entirely on maize, although the very youngest nestlings seem to have been fed a more varied diet.  Clearly, then, these were not wild macaws captured in their natural habitat and brought north.  In addition, the oxygen isotope analysis found that all but one of the macaws had spent its life in the Casas Grandes area.  The exceptional macaw had an oxygen isotope ratio suggesting a more humid, low-lying environment, so it was likely traded up from somewhere in Mesoamerica.  This suggests that the macaws were indeed being bred at Casas Grandes, although trade relationships with Mesoamerican communities did involve the acquisition at least occasionally of additional birds.

This is all very interesting for understanding Casas Grandes, but what I find most intriguing about the paper is the possibility of using the same techniques on macaw bones from other parts of the Southwest, especially Chaco and other sites pre-dating Casas Grandes.  This paper seems to show pretty conclusively that macaw breeding was going on at Casas Grandes, but it’s still a very open question whether that was an innovation or the continuation of an earlier Southwestern tradition.  I think the Mimbres area is the best place to look for earlier macaw breeding, although obviously Chaco is a possibility as well.  The exact techniques used in this paper would really only be useful for determining if macaws were bred in captivity and if they came from Mesoamerica or somewhere in the Southwest, but the addition of strontium analysis would allow more precise identification of breeding areas within the Southwest, if indeed there were any earlier than Casas Grandes.
ResearchBlogging.org
Somerville, A., Nelson, B., & Knudson, K. (2010). Isotopic investigation of pre-Hispanic macaw breeding in Northwest Mexico Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, 29 (1), 125-135 DOI: 10.1016/j.jaa.2009.09.003

Read Full Post »

Macaw Feathers and Copper Bell on Display at Chaco Visitor Center Museum

Given the rarity of human effigy vessels in the ancient Southwest, it seems clear that understanding them requires looking elsewhere.  Specifically, it requires looking south, to Mesoamerica, where effigy vessels were quite common starting from an early date.  Since most evidence of Mesoamerican influence in the Southwest seems to point to West Mexico as the proximate source, and since that is an area particularly known for human effigy vessels in particular, a look at the current state of knowledge on the archaeology of West Mexico seems advisable to try to understand the Chaco effigy vessels and many other aspects of the Chaco system.

A recent review article by Christopher Beekman provides a good start.  He points out that understanding of many aspects of West Mexican prehistory has advanced considerably recently with more controlled excavations and radiocarbon dates, which are finally beginning to establish a firm framework within which to interpret earlier evidence.  This is particularly important since until recently much of what was known about West Mexico came from artifacts in private collections, virtually all of them looted and without firm provience information.  Beekman also points out that “West Mexico” is a very large and poorly defined area, and he divides it into four subareas with quite different cultural histories: the coastal plain, the western and eastern volcanic highlands (the distinction between the two is cultural rather than physical but quite important, with the dividing line roughly along the border between Jalisco and Michoacán), and the Sierra Madre Occidental.  Another area that Beekman includes in West Mexico, although it is rather far east and I don’t think everyone else includes it, is the Bajío of southern Guanajuato and Querétaro, which patterns with the eastern highlands culturally.  Beekman’s own research is mostly on the highlands of Jalisco, so he devotes more attention to the western highlands than to some other subareas, especially the coast.

West Mexico is particularly well known for the human effigy vessels, also sometimes rather confusingly called “figurines,” associated with the shaft tombs present especially in the western highlands but also in some parts of the coastal plain.  Since most of the known effigy vessels have been looted from shaft tombs, neither the vessels nor the tombs are very useful for understanding the chronology or context of these very impressive artifacts.  Recent controlled excavations, however, have shown that the shaft tombs date to a relatively short period of time in the Late Formative and Early Classic periods, roughly 300 BC to AD 600, and that they are contemporaneous with a distinctive tradition of surface ceremonial architecture focused on circular pyramids with surrounding structures.  This was previously thought to postdate the shaft tombs, but newer evidence shows that the two phenomena were part of the same cultural tradition, which peaked quite early and was followed by many changes during the Epiclassic period.

The relevance of this for the Chaco effigy vessels is that the best-known West Mexican examples are earlier by a thousand years or so, and are thus not likely to be very useful in understanding the Chaco ones.  This is not too surprising since, while there is clearly a general resemblance between the two types, there are a lot of differences in the details, and there is no particular type of shaft-tomb vessel that clearly looks like a model for the Chaco ones.

The most important period in West Mexico for understanding Chaco is, of course, the period that was contemporary with it, which is the Early Postclassic (ca. AD 800 to 1200).  The changes during the Epiclassic had led to a substantial reorganization of the political structure of the region, and by the Postclassic many interior areas had been largely abandoned.  At the same time, populations on the coast grew dramatically and a new set of cultural phenomena known as the Aztatlán complex arose in a series of towns, mostly on rivers a bit upstream from the coast.  These towns were united by a common ceramic tradition, and they seem to have been intensely involved in agriculture, craft production, and especially trade.  It appears that trade with the Southwest, in particular, became dominated by these coastal towns at this time, after having long been conducted mainly along the eastern slopes of the Sierra Madre Occidental.  This would certainly explain the distinctively West Mexican qualities of Mesoamerican influence at Chaco, and it helps to pinpoint where to look for sources for that influence.  Beekman doesn’t mention effigy vessels in talking about Aztatlán, but whether they were present at these sites and what they looked like if they were are things that I’ll be looking into.  Unfortunately, the way he defines the region geographically for this review also excludes probably the most important Aztatlán site for Southwestern purposes: Guasave, in far northern Sinaloa, the northernmost of the Aztatlán sites and thus the closest to the Southwest.  Interestingly, he mentions claims that some of these towns grew cacao along with some other specialty crops, although he doesn’t assess the plausibility of cacao specifically.  These towns, like many other parts of West Mexico at this time, also practiced copper smelting, which had been introduced from South America around AD 650.  The Aztatlán sites appear to have had some links to interior sites, especially those remaining in the highlands, but contacts with areas further east seem to have been weak, especially compared to some sites further south on the coast in Colima, which show much more evidence of connections to central Mexican sites such as Tula.

There’s plenty more in the review, of course, but those are the parts that seem most relevant to Chaco.  Understanding the background and connections of the Chaco effigy vessels in particular looks to be quite a challenge, but I’ll see what I can do.
ResearchBlogging.org
Beekman, C. (2009). Recent Research in Western Mexican Archaeology Journal of Archaeological Research, 18 (1), 41-109 DOI: 10.1007/s10814-009-9034-x

Read Full Post »

Room 38, Pueblo Bonito

One noteworthy thing about George Pepper’s interpretations of the effigy vessels found at Pueblo Bonito is his attempt to link them to specific Hopi kachinas.  He does find a general similarity in facial and body decoration between one of the partial vessels, found in Room 38, and one kachina and notes at the end of his article that this type of iconographic analysis could be useful in tracing clan migrations and connections between ancient and modern Pueblo peoples.  I think he’s righter about that last part than most archaeologists these days are prepared to accept, but that he’s probably wrong about the kachina identification.

The main reason is just that the timing is wrong.  Pepper had no way of knowing this, of course, since there were no absolute dating techniques available to archaeologists in his day and even relative dating was in its infancy.  More recent study, however, has shown pretty conclusively that the kachina cult arose somewhere in the southern Southwest in the late thirteenth or early fourteenth century, which is to say, over a hundred years after the decline of Chaco as a regional center and possibly after the total abandonment of the San Juan Basin.  Indeed, there is essentially no evidence of kachina ceremonialism at Chaco or anywhere else in the northern Southwest during the eleventh and twelfth centuries, which is most likely when the effigy vessels found at Pueblo Bonito were made.  Some have argued that the roots of the kachina cult lie in the Mimbres region of southwestern New Mexico during this period, based largely on some alleged similarities between imagery on the famous Mimbres pottery and later kachina imagery, but there’s basically no evidence for a strong connection between Chaco and the Mimbres region either, so even if some early aspects of the cult were developing there at the time, which I doubt, it’s unlikely that they would have had much impact on Chaco.

Now, it’s important to note one major exception to these generalizations about what archaeologists believe about the kachina cult and the lack of a relationship between Chaco and the Mimbres: Steve Lekson, who has argued that the Mimbres area was incorporated into the Chaco system and that early forms of kachina ceremonialism were part of the distinctive Chacoan religious system.  I think Lekson has a lot of interesting ideas, but that he’s just dead wrong about this one.  I haven’t read any of the recent books that contain more developed versions of his theories, so my understanding of them is based on an article he wrote in 1995 with Catherine Cameron, but my understanding is that most of them major features of the argument there have survived into later versions.

Aligned Vents, Pueblo Bonito

What Lekson and Cameron basically argue is that the Chaco system extended over a much larger area than most theories posit, that it included the Mimbres area, and that kachina ceremonialism, which began to develop among the Mimbres to deal with the stresses of aggregation (which began much earlier there than elsewhere in the Southwest) was adopted at Chaco, but apparently not in other parts of the northern Southwest.  Then, when things began to change in the twelfth century, people began to move into the previously non-residential Chacoan great houses and turn them into residential Pueblos, which required the development of new social integrative systems to deal with the stresses of aggregation.  Among these was the kachina cult, which was adopted in the southern part of the old Chaco system, which continued to be occupied, but not further north in the Mesa Verde area, which was subsequently abandoned.  They’re playing a bit fast and loose with the chronology here (typical for Lekson), but the basic idea seems to be that “protokachina” ceremonialism arrived at Chaco in the twelfth century, as people were aggregating into the great houses, but for some reason didn’t continue north, possibly because of the increasing isolation of the Mesa Verde area from the rest of the Southwest.

There are some interesting insights here, including the connection between early aggregation in the Mimbres area and a possible Mimbres origin for the kachina cult, which had not occurred to me before.  The general thrust of the message, too, is pretty compelling to me, namely that Chaco didn’t really “collapse” in a catastrophic way but rather declined in importance within a regional context containing much continuity.  There are also a lot of holes, however.  To take one obvious example, if protokachina ceremonialism, with its community-integrating functions, was adopted at Chaco as people began to aggregate into the great houses, why was Chaco also abandoned at the end of the thirteenth century along with Mesa Verde?  Indeed, they suggest at one point that more “traditional” Chacoan religion may have dominated at Aztec and made that area too inflexible to handle increasing aggregation, resulting in abandonment along with Mesa Verde, but don’t explain why this wouldn’t have also been the case at Chaco itself.  (I think Lekson has modified his view of the relationship between Chaco and Aztec somewhat since this article, so it may not be totally fair to criticize it too strongly here.)

Cameron and Lekson don’t mention the effigy vessels in this article, but they are obviously relevant to an argument for an early arrival of the kachina cult or something like it during late Chacoan times, and Lekson may well discuss them in his subsequent books.  In any case, he would presumably be receptive to Pepper’s argument that at least one of them represents a known kachina, since it would bolster his own very thin case for kachina imagery at Chaco (based mostly on the presence of macaws).  Still, though, I don’t find Pepper’s argument very convincing.  One interesting thing about the kachina cult, however, which may have been important in its success, is that it’s a very flexible system that can easily incorporate other religious traditions.  New kachinas can easily be added to the system, and there is plenty of evidence of this having happened in recent times as new kachinas were introduced from one Pueblo to another.  It’s possible, then, that whatever deities were represented by the Chaco effigy vessels (if indeed they did represent deities) were later incorporated into the kachina cult when it arrived, complete with their characteristic dress and decoration.  It’s also possible that some of the same Mesoamerican influences that later resulted in the development of the kachina cult had earlier reached Chaco in a different form and resulted in the effigy vessels.  I think it’s more likely, however, that whatever was going on at Chaco was totally different from the later kachina cult and the resemblances Pepper noted were just coincidental.
ResearchBlogging.org
Lekson, S., & Cameron, C. (1995). The abandonment of Chaco Canyon, the Mesa Verde migrations, and the reorganization of the Pueblo world Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, 14, 184-202 DOI: 10.1006/jaar.1995.1010

Read Full Post »

Effigy Vessels and Figurines at Chaco Museum

Okay, I said I would say more about George Pepper’s description of the effigy vessels from Chaco, so here goes.  One interesting thing that he notes is that these are the northernmost examples of human effigy vessels found in the Southwest.  I believe this is still the case over a hundred years later; in general, effigy vessels are very rare among the Anasazi, and human effigy vessels are vanishingly rare.  It’s important to distinguish here between effigy vessels, which is to say pots in the form of humans or animals, and figurines, a very different type of artifact.  At least in the Southwest, figurines are generally small and they portray humans or animals in a somewhat abstracted manner.  They are usually made of clay, but often unfired, and they generally bear little resemblance to “ordinary” pottery.  The Fremont culture in Utah and environs is particularly known for its elaborate anthropomorphic figurines which often resemble rock art figures, but the figurine tradition is very widespread throughout the Southwest, and is known in Mesoamerica as well.  The functions of figurines are very poorly understood, but it seems pretty clear that they had quite different functions from standard pottery regardless of its form.

Effigy vessels such as the ones at Chaco, however, were made the same way regular pots were, were always fired, and generally differ from other pots only in form.  They are much more common in the southern Southwest than in the north, although they are not very common anywhere in the Southwest compared to West Mexico, the core area for human effigy vessels in particular, where they were very widespread and had a wide range of local variants.  Unfortunately, very little specific provenience information on West Mexican effigy vessels is available, although there are many in museum collections, because almost all of the known examples were looted.   From the few known examples from controlled excavations, however, it seems that they were often used as burial goods.  In West Mexico there are both solid and hollow types of effigy vessels; I believe all the Southwestern examples are hollow.  The terms “figurine” and “effigy vessel” seem to sometimes be used interchangeably in Mesoamerican archaeology, which makes understanding the exact nature of the artifacts a bit challenging at times.  The effigy vessel tradition does seem to have been present in at least some other parts of Mesoamerica, such as Central Mexico and the northeast, but in general the center of it seems to have been along the west coast.  This makes the appearance of similar vessels in the Southwest unsurprising, given that West Mexico is the part of Mesoamerica generally thought to have had the closest ties to the Southwest.

The main part of the Southwest known for human effigy vessels is the Casas Grandes region in northwestern Chihuahua and the surrounding area.  The Casas Grandes culture, centered on the great center at Paquimé, flourished from about AD 1200 to AD 1450, and it is noteworthy for its very obvious Mesoamerican traits, including ballcourts and macaws in addition to the effigy vessels.  The cultural background for Casas Grandes has been disputed.  Charles Di Peso, who excavated about half of Paquimé for the Amerind Foundation, thought it was a Mesoamerican outpost founded by pochteca traders to acquire turquoise and other Southwestern trade goods for the Mesoamerican market.  He also interpreted the chronology of the site differently from more recent researchers, and thought that it was at least partially contemporary with Chaco and the Classic Mimbres and a possible source of the Mesoamerican influences found in those areas.  The fact that it actually postdates those cultural florescences has led some others more recently to argue that Casas Grandes is more of an effect of them than a cause, and Stephen Lekson has argued that it was actually the third great center founded by the people who had earlier built Chaco and Aztec.  Few others have followed Lekson’s lead on that, and the main dispute today seems to be whether Casas Grandes was a totally indigenous development or tied to the disruptions of the 1100s elsewhere in the Southwest.

Among the most prominent scholars working on Casas Grandes today are the husband and wife team of Todd and Christine VanPool at the University of Missouri.  His specialty is stone tools, while hers is ceramics, and they have done some interesting work on trying to reconstruct the social structure of the society based on these remains.  Christine VanPool published an interesting article in 2003 on shamanism at Casas Grandes in which she argued from the way male figures are presented in effigy vessels and painted on other pots that the leadership at Paquimé was likely led by shaman-priests who derived their political and economic power from their ability to interact with the supernatural world.  Some of the male effigy vessels are shown smoking, which VanPool argues is a sign of the use of tobacco to induce a trance state (apparently tobacco can cause a hallucinatory and even a catatonic state if used in sufficiently massive amounts) in which the shaman would travel to the other world and interact with various deities there.  Both VanPools published a later article on gender imagery as seen in the effigy vessels, which tend to have highly exaggerated primary and secondary sexual characteristics.  They argue that the images associated with gender imply a “complementary” gender structure in the society, in which men and women have different roles that interact to support the society as a whole.  Both articles lend support to the idea of a more  Mesoamerican than Southwestern social structure at Paquimé, with a highly hierarchical society led by male shaman-priests and a set of complementary gender roles supporting that hierarchy.  This is in contrast to the (allegedly) more egalitarian Pueblo societies, where rituals were conducted by corporate groups and gender roles were often organized in parallel hierarchies involving less interaction between male and female domains.

This is all very interesting, and it at least implies that something similar could have been going on at Chaco, but there’s not much more that can be said than that in terms of the implications of this research for other areas.  One reason the VanPools can come to such strong conclusions about gender roles and other aspects of Casas Grandes society from the effigy vessels is that there are so many of them.  Their second article lists 50 male and 40 female vessels.  At Chaco, however, the two or three vessels described by Pepper are pretty much the whole corpus that is complete enough to draw any conclusions about, and that just isn’t enough data for any major conclusions at all.  One thing that is noteworthy, however, is that while there are some obvious similarities in form between the Casas Grandes and Chaco vessels, there are also some noteworthy differences.  For one thing, none of the Chaco vessels are smoking.  This could just be due to sampling issues, but the absence of this important shamanic characteristic (in the VanPool interpretation, at least) does undermine any argument that leadership at Chaco may have been based on shamanic power, at least in the absence of other evidence.  Also, the female vessel with the lovingly sculpted genitals, although incomplete, seems to be sitting with legs raised, like the complete male vessel, which at Casas Grandes is a very strongly male-identified posture.  Females there almost all have their legs stretched out in front of them.  The decorations on the Chaco vessels are also pretty different from the Casas Grandes ones, although this is probably just a reflection of the rather different decorative traditions for pottery from both places in general.

Overall, then, I think the VanPools’ research on Casas Grandes effigy vessels is of limited utility in understanding the Chaco ones.  If, as Lekson thinks, Casas Grandes is the ultimate heir to the Chaco tradition, it seems there had been quite a bit of change in the intervening period.  On the other hand, and perhaps more likely, it may be that both Chaco and Casas Grandes were influenced separately by the cultures of West Mexico, where the wide variety of effigy vessels used in different local areas may have resulted in somewhat different types being adopted in the two parts of the Southwest.  It would be good to be able to look at all the different types of West Mexican human effigy vessels to see which ones correspond most closely to both the Chaco and Casas Grandes examples, but the literature on the vessels seems to be rather scattered, and the lack of provenience information for so many, combined with the somewhat insecure dating of the archaeological sequences in many parts of the region, makes this a difficult task.  I’ll continue to wade through the literature I can find, however, and see if I can come up with anything more specific to say.

The general lack of Anasazi examples of vessels like these outside of Chaco is another line of evidence pointing toward a greater level of Mesoamerican influence at Chaco, also seen in the presence of macaws, copper bells, and chocolate, and the association of effigy vessels with West Mexico specifically is another sign that that is the place to look.  The same applies almost verbatim to Casas Grandes with the exception of the chocolate, which has not been found there (yet?).  The Casas Grandes effigy vessels have gotten a lot of attention, however, while the Chaco ones have mostly languished in obscurity, used mainly as illustrations in general-interest books and the like.  They definitely deserve more attention, however, since despite (or because of) their rarity they are enormously important in understanding the nature and context of the Chaco system.
ResearchBlogging.org
VanPool, C. (2003). The Shaman-Priests of the Casas Grandes Region, Chihuahua, Mexico American Antiquity, 68 (4), 696-717 DOI: 10.2307/3557068

VanPool, C., & VanPool, T. (2006). Gender in Middle Range Societies: A Case Study in Casas Grandes Iconography American Antiquity, 71 (1), 53-75 DOI: 10.2307/40035321

Read Full Post »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 84 other followers