Archive for February, 2011

Petroglyphs of Quadrupeds at Atlatl Rock, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

In 1978 H. Martin Wobst of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst published a short article in American Antiquity entitled “The Archaeo-Ethnology of Hunter-Gatherers or the Tyranny of the Ethnographic Record in Archaeology.”  Despite the evocative title, the article itself is a highly theoretical argument about the proper relationship between archaeology and ethnography that is unlikely to be of much interest outside those fields.  Basically, Wobst argues that the archaeology of hunter-gatherer societies is overly dependent on concepts drawn from ethnographic study of modern hunter-gatherer societies, even though that ethnographic research has inherent limitations in what it can observe about those societies and is further limited by the specific priorities of the scholars who conduct it.  He therefore says that archaeologists should play a larger role in developing theoretical approaches to these societies based on archaeological data, which has its own limitations but is nevertheless better suited to studying certain topics, such as large-scale regional interaction, than is ethnography.  From the perspective of archaeology, Wobst’s article is clearly situated in the processualist tradition, with its emphasis on using archaeological evidence to reconstruct social behavior and contribute to general anthropological theory.

The most interesting part of Wobst’s article, however, is the acknowledgments at the end, which begin with this remarkable dedication:

I would like to dedicate this paper to Provost Dr. Paul Puryear, without whose failing support of Social Sciences at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, I would have been done much earlier.

It seems that Paul Puryear was indeed in some sort of administrative position at UMass at the time, but beyond that I have no idea what Wobst is talking about here.  Still, it’s a welcome change from the anodyne expressions of gratitude that usually dominate these parts of papers.
Wobst, H. (1978). The Archaeo-Ethnology of Hunter-Gatherers or the Tyranny of the Ethnographic Record in Archaeology American Antiquity, 43 (2) DOI: 10.2307/279256

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Recent Housing Development, Kayenta, Arizona

I’ve written quite a bit here about warfare in the prehistoric Southwest, but I’ve only said a little about one of the areas where it has been most carefully documented and studied: the Kayenta area of northeastern Arizona.  This is partly because this area seems to have had very little contact with or influence from Chaco Canyon (although obviously that criterion hasn’t stopped me from talking about all kinds of other places with no connection at all to Chaco), but mostly because I just haven’t read much of the voluminous literature on Kayenta archaeology.  Dan Bailey has an interesting guest post at Scientific American on the research of Jonathan Haas of the Field Museum on settlement dynamics in Long House Valley, west of modern Kayenta, pointing to the same processes that have been documented elsewhere in the Southwest by Steven LeBlanc and others.

In the eleventh century AD, contemporaneous with the rise of Chaco, Long House Valley was occupied by scattered communities of small houses.  At this time environmental conditions were good, agriculture was productive, and there is no evidence of warfare.  Starting around AD 1150, however, things took a turn for the worse (sound familiar?).  The droughts that ravaged the Southwest during this time began to impact agricultural productivity in Long House Valley, and at the same time the small-house residents began to band together into five aggregated villages in defensible locations and connected to each other by line-of-sight, which in one case required digging a notch out of a hill.  This transition was complete by AD 1260.  It appears that the most likely adversaries of the Long House Valley people were the people of the Klethla Valley to the south, due to a “no man’s land” between the two clusters of settlements and the fact that the southern portion of Long House Valley was abandoned in the early thirteenth century, with its inhabitants presumably joining the people who were aggregating into large villages in the northern part of the valley.  Again, this is all in line with LeBlanc’s arguments about clustering of settlements and development of buffer zones in response to warfare.  By 1300, the whole Kayenta area was abandoned, along with most of the Colorado Plateau.

Black Mesa from Kayenta, Arizona

Bailey mentions there being “some dispute” over who the descendants of the Kayenta people are, and it’s likely that they ended up joining a variety of other Pueblo groups, but I don’t think there’s much reason to question the obvious conclusion that most of them probably ended up joining the Hopis, who lived on the mesas on the other side of Black Mesa from the Kayenta area and live there still.  Their route may have been rather circuitous, however, even if most did end up at Hopi; there is abundant evidence of at least some Kayenta groups migrating to southeastern Arizona, as far south as the Tucson area, at this time, and there may have been substantial Kayenta populations moving into the mountains of east-central Arizona in the late thirteenth century.  These immigrant settlements didn’t persist, however, and in one famous case a roomblock with Kayenta-style architecture at Point of Pines was occupied alongside other roomblocks of local style from about AD 1265 until it was suddenly destroyed around 1300 and not rebuilt, even though the rest of the site in question continued to be occupied for another 150 years.  It appears that the Kayenta immigrants were initially tolerated without having to assimilate, perhaps because the process of aggregation in the local area was leading to widespread changes in social relations as reflected in community organization.  Later on, however, the locals apparently turned on them, or at least didn’t interfere when someone else in the area did, and the survivors either moved on (Kayenta sites further south dating to a slightly later period are known) or went back north to try their luck with the Hopis.  This seems to be a very probable case of ethnic violence, which is starting to get some attention as an explanation for certain events in the ancient Southwest but which is in most cases going to be extraordinarily difficult to see in the archaeological record.  In this case, however, apparently because of the very recent immigration and lack of assimilation, a difference in ethnicity is visible in an unusually clear-cut way.

Anyway, Bailey’s discussion of Haas’s research is interesting, although I’m not really convinced by his conclusion that the lesson of Long House Valley is that people got along peacefully for centuries before special circumstances forced them to fight, and that this “challenges the conventional wisdom that warfare has been a constant throughout human history.”  LeBlanc’s argument is that it is instead the period of peace and abundance during the eleventh century that was anomalous, and that there is plenty of evidence for warfare before this, though admittedly much less than for the period afterward.  LeBlanc concludes from this that warfare has indeed been a “constant throughout human history” and that it is peace, rather than war, that needs explaining when it occurs.  Of course, the early evidence is pretty limited, due in part just to the fact that less information has survived for early periods in general, so the extent to which LeBlanc’s conclusion is better supported than Bailey’s (which also appears to be Haas’s) is highly debatable.  Also, Bailey very kindly linked to me in his post at his own blog pointing to the guest post (apparently in response to a tongue-lashing from Bill Lipe in the comments about giving Haas’s research more context), for which I thank him.
Stone, T. (2000). Prehistoric Community Integration in the Point of Pines Region of Arizona Journal of Field Archaeology, 27 (2) DOI: 10.2307/530593

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