In a recent post, I noted the limited distribution of macaw remains within Pueblo Bonito. While this site has a much higher number of macaws than any other Chacoan site, and more than almost every other site in the prehistoric Southwest, within the site macaw remains were highly concentrated. All macaws were found in the eastern half of the site, and most were in the eastern part of “Old Bonito” at the northern end of the overall site, particularly in Room 38, which had twelve. This suggests to me that macaws were closely associated with whatever social group lived in or used that part of Pueblo Bonito.
It’s hard to say what that social group was, but it’s possible that the burials in a complex of four rooms in the northern part of Old Bonito were associated with it. Associating these burials with the eastern rooms in Old Bonito is perhaps a bit of a stretch, since the burial rooms are actually in the western half of the Old Bonito arc, but they’re just barely on the west side, and there is a separate set of burial rooms at the far western end of Old Bonito that could be plausibly associated with whatever social group lived in or used those rooms. There is no equivalent set of burial rooms in the eastern part of the arc, although there are a few isolated burials of infants and fetuses. (Two of the infant burials, in Rooms 306 and 309, were associated with macaws.) The eastern end of Old Bonito was covered over by later construction and is poorly known, but there is no evidence that it ever held a mortuary complex comparable to the one at the western end. Given the circumstances, I think it’s plausible that the northern burial complex was associated with the group (or one of the groups) associated with the eastern part of Pueblo Bonito, perhaps in addition to the group associated with the immediately adjacent room suite at the west end of the northern part of Old Bonito, if this was indeed a different group.
Analysis of the Pueblo Bonito burials by Nancy Akins for the Chaco Project found that, judging from cranial attributes, the northern and western burial groups were distinct from each other but internally homogeneous. This suggests that they probably represented kin-based social units, and that the site consisted of at least two of these units, perhaps occupying or using different areas. Akins couldn’t find a very large sample of burials from other sites in the canyon for comparison, but she was able to compare burials from three small sites in the canyon. One of these, Bc 59, is across from Bonito on the south side of the canyon near Casa Rinconada, while the other two, 29SJ299 and 29SJ1360, are in Fajada Gap, a few miles east and the location of a substantial community of small houses and two great houses (Una Vida and Kin Nahasbas) in close proximity to Fajada Butte.
While the two burial populations in Pueblo Bonito weren’t particularly similar to each other, they more closely resembled the small site samples. Specifically, the western burial population was similar to the one from Bc 59, while the northern burial group was more similar to the Fajada Gap group. Importantly, the two Bonito groups were both more similar to these small-house populations than they were to each other. This suggests that kinship connections among different sites in the canyon were complicated and didn’t break down on straightforward great house v. small house lines.
What does all this have to do with macaws? Well, there is only one small house site at Chaco (as far as I know) that has produced macaw remains, and that site is… 29SJ1360, one of the sites with burials that patterned with the northern burial group at Bonito! As reported by Peter McKenna in his report on this site, which was excavated by the Chaco Project, a few macaw bones were found in the fill from one of the pit structures. While there were only a few bones found, they were all unique, suggesting the presence of only one macaw, and from various parts of the body, suggesting that the whole macaw was present. This fill was only casually screened for artifacts and was later used to backfill the pit structure, so the rest of the macaw is probably still there. This site also had an unusual architectural feature, a small bin attached to the outside of one of the roomblocks, that according to McKenna looked “remarkably like a parrot bin.” One important feature that appears to have led to this conclusion was the presence of an adobe “plug” in the north wall, presumably reminiscent of the stone plugs used with “cage stones” at macaw pens at Casas Grandes, where there is substantial evidence for the keeping and breeding of macaws a few hundred years later.
This is all pretty tentative, of course. Very few sites at Chaco have been excavated, so we have very little sense of the overall distribution of rare finds such as macaw remains. Still, two separate lines of evidence (biological relationship and association with macaws) seem to point to a strong connection between the northern/eastern part of Pueblo Bonito and at least some sites in the Fajada Gap community, which is not particularly close to Bonito. Given the rarity of macaws, especially, this seems significant.