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Archive for the ‘Aftermath’ Category

Pueblo del Arroyo and South Gap

Pueblo del Arroyo and South Gap

As I mentioned briefly in discussing Linda Cordell’s chapter of The Prehistoric Pueblo World, Cordell was not the only discussant involved in the conference that resulted in the volume, though her discussion was the more “traditional” of the two concluding chapters. The other, chapter 17, is by David Wilcox of the Museum of Northern Arizona, one of the most creative, dynamic, and controversial thinkers in contemporary southwestern archaeology. Wilcox’s theories about the Chacoan system, especially, occupy the far reaches of one end of the spectrum of current models, with Gwinn Vivian’s theories perhaps occupying the other end.

Wilcox basically sees Chaco as a highly centralized, hierarchical, militaristic state that attempted to impose hegemony on the surrounding area through shows of force. He differs from many other advocates of a more centralized Chaco, however, in seeing the scale of successful Chacoan hegemony as being rather limited, with the rest of the Chacoan “regional system” occupied by competing polities organized along similar lines and attempting to impose their own hegemony. This is in contrast to both the highly centralized but unitary proto-state envisioned by Steve Lekson and the diffuse network of competitive but autonomous local elites proposed by Lynne Sebastian, among others.  The evidence Wilcox presents for his model is rather weak and dubious in several respects, and his theories are not widely accepted.  He plays an important role, however, in challenging and provoking other archaeologists and pointing out new avenues for possible research that have received less attention than they deserve.

Tower Kiva at Kin Ya'a

Tower Kiva at Kin Ya'a

That gadfly role is more or less what he sets out to play in this chapter, which is only nominally about the conference and resulting book.  Or, perhaps more accurately, Wilcox takes the remarkable achievement of data-collection represented by the conference and uses it as a starting point to exhort his colleagues to adopt new ways of thinking about their data, particularly methods of analysis based on graph theory.  He uses his interpretation of the Chaco regional system, which is heavily based on spatial relationships, as an example of how this can be done.

Wupatki Pueblo

Wupatki Pueblo

Beyond the specific methodological proposals Wilcox offers, however, he also suggests that southwestern archaeologists need to look beyond their own regional specialties and look at processes and developments on a much larger scale.  He has some suggestions about how this might be done for the Pueblo III period that is the topic of this book; these involve a macroregional interaction sphere on a scale well beyond anything proposed by any of the other contributors to the volume.  Key aspects of this system involve trade routes for shell from different coastal areas into the interior of the continent, connections between a Chaco system argued on very thin grounds to survive into the thirteenth century and other regional systems such as the Hohokam, Fremont and Chumash, and the mysterious site of Wupatki playing a key role as a point of contact connecting several of these systems.  With masonry and settlement patterns oddly reminiscent of Chaco and a Hohokam-style ballcourt, Wupatki is certainly worthy of close study in a macroregional context, especially since it seems to postdate both the decline of Chaco and the end of Hohokam ballcourt construction.  Overall, however, this scenario is based on very shaky interpretations of a lot of the evidence, and many of its details are highly improbable.

Ballcourt at Wupatki National Monument

Ballcourt at Wupatki National Monument

The importance of Wilcox’s point, whatever the status of his specific theories, is considerable.  As I have recently noted with regard to contact with Mesoamerica, evidence is mounting for extensive contact and influence on a scale that would have been laughable only a few years ago, and it’s becoming more and more clear that to fully understand developments at Chaco and elsewhere we need to look at things in a much broader context.  If Wilcox succeeds in convincing his peers of nothing else (and he may not), hopefully his entertaininly over-the-top theories can at least draw attention to the scale at which they operate.  With careful and detailed data collection such as that represented in this book, the possibility of archaeologists looking at things on this scale becomes more likely.  As such, this chapter is a fitting end to an important book.

Huerfano Mesa from New Alto

Huerfano Mesa from New Alto

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Huerfano Mesa from Tsin Kletzin

Huerfano Mesa from Tsin Kletzin

The last two chapters of The Prehistoric Pueblo World, by the two discussants from the conference that resulted in the book, seek to summarize the conclusions of the other chapters and discuss their implications.  Chapter 16, by Linda Cordell, is the more straightforward of the two.  Cordell, a well-regarded and distinguished southwestern archaeologist, discusses the main common threads of developments in the various areas covered by the volume, and takes up some of the main themes of the book in more detail.  Among these are the everpresent Pueblo III processes of aggregation and abandonment, about which Cordell points out some interesting implications of the data presented in various chapters but refrains from making any sweeping conclusions.  Another theme she addresses, however, is considerably more directly relevant to the purpose of this blog, and that is the impact of Chaco and its collapse on regions both near and far.

As Cordell points out, the start date for the book, AD 1150, is by no means arbitrary.  It coincides roughly but clearly with the end of the Chaco system, whatever it was, and thus marks the period under discussion as the time when the regions heavily involved in the system had to readjust to its absence.  In other words, this book is (partly) about the aftermath of Chaco.

Different regions handled that aftermath differently, and Cordell proposes a useful classification of levels of involvement in the Chaco system that can be used to evaluate and compare post-Chaco developments.  At the lowest level are those regions that show little or no interaction with the system: the far west, the Kayenta region, Hopi, the Sinagua area, east-central Arizona, southeastern Arizona/southwestern New Mexico, the Rio Abajo, and the northern Rio Grande.  While there was a certain amount of contact between Chaco and some of these areas, as indicated by the presence at Chaco of trade goods like turquoise and obsidian, it was clearly minor, and these areas do not show outlying great houses, roads, or other quintessentially Chacoan traits.  When Chaco declined around 1150, little or nothing changed in these areas.  While they did all undergo various changes over the course of the period covered by this book, the most important of those changes came later and had no particular temporal connection to events at Chaco.

Petroglyph Panel Showing Three Quadrupeds

Petroglyph Panel Showing Three Quadrupeds

In contrast, the areas with outlying great houses, roads, and other clear signs of substantial connection to Chaco show evidence of major changes around 1150.  In some regions that seem to have been particularly closely integrated into the system, there is evidence that some aspects of it continued even after the end of the role of Chaco Canyon as a regional center.  Particularly in the Mesa Verde and Cibola areas, there is evidence for continued construction of great houses and other projects that may indicate a continued role for Chacoan ideology in local societies.  The most notable example of this, of course, is the extremely Chacoesque center at Aztec, which continued to function for quite some time after the end of activity at Chaco itself (though it likely never reached the scale of influence Chaco had had at its height).  Aztec is included in the San Juan Basin chapter of this book, and there is evidence for continued Chacoan influence in other parts of the basin and its peripheries as well, particularly in the Chuska Mountains.  In other parts of the Chacoan sphere of influence, on the other hand, such as in parts of the Acoma area, Chacoan traditions such as great-house architecture seem to have been abandoned more rapidly.

Overall, like so many other chapters in this book, this one is unable to come to any satisfyingly firm conclusions, and Cordell ends up focusing much of her discussion of the Chaco aftermath, like her discussions of aggregation and abandonment, on the need for more and better data on all of the topics under discussion.  Since one of the main purposes of the book was to gather together the available data and spur efforts to collect more, this is only fitting in a chapter devoted to summary and discussion of its contents.

Fence Lizard on Wall

Fence Lizard on Wall

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Mesa Verde from Escalante Pueblo

Mesa Verde from Escalante Pueblo

The southwest has always been something of a marginal environment for agriculture, and many theories that seek to explain the complicated history of human settlement in the prehistoric southwest appeal to environmental changes and fluctuations of various sorts as causal factors in many of the large-scale processes seen in the archaeological record.  The concept of carrying capacity looms large in many of these theories; while a slippery concept to define rigorously, it basically refers to the number of people that could be supported by a given environment at a given technological level.  Under this interpretation, major changes are often the result of population density reaching or exceeding the carrying capacity for a given area, which forces the people in question to make some hard choices.  The options available are typically to adopt new subsistence technology, move into a less populous or more fertile area, or stay and fight other groups over the diminishing resources in the area.

This is a pretty attractive framework for explaining many aspects of southwestern prehistory, and it is no surprise that many archaeologists have adopted it as part of their theories.  Among these is Steven LeBlanc in his book on warfare, in which he presents a theory of the origins of prehistoric warfare based on carrying-capacity constraints.  Warfare is particularly well-suited to arguments based on carrying capacity, since the connection between diminishing resources and violence is intuitive and straightforward.  Also amenable to this sort of explanation is abandonment, particularly the remarkably rapid and complete regional abandonments that swept the Colorado Plateau and other areas around AD 1300.

As Carla Van West points out in chapter 15 of The Prehistoric Pueblo World, however, it’s important to look carefully at the available evidence before applying these theories too broadly.  She presents the results of an elaborate computer simulation of carrying capacity in the Mesa Verde region from AD 900 to 1300.  While it is always possible to quibble with the choices made in constructing these simulations, Van West seems to have done an impressive job of at least trying to account for all the variables that are likely to have affected the carrying capacity of this region.  The Mesa Verde region is both one of the most fertile areas of the southwest and one of the most complicated in its prehistoric population patterns, culminating in its apparently total depopulation at the end of the Pueblo III period.  Van West’s simulation is intended in part to evaluate the relationship between environmental conditions and demographic trends, and it offers an excellent opportunity to evaluate the role of carrying capacity in processes such as regional abandonment.

Mesa Verde from Durango, Colorado

Perins Peak from Durango, Colorado

The results are somewhat surprising.  While the actual population figures the simulation produces vary depending on a number of factors both natural and social, in all cases the figures are quite high, indicating that the prehistoric population of the Mesa Verde region never came close to maxing out the carrying capacity of the land.  The abandonment of the area, therefore, must be due to other factors, although the possibility of more localized constraints on carrying capacity affecting individual communities remains open.

This result sounds a cautionary note for theories that veer too far in the direction of environmental determinism, but in some respects it’s not very surprising.  This region is one of the few areas of the southwest that is today primarily used for intensive (and quite productive) agriculture, so its high capacity for supporting agricultural communities might be both expected and idiosyncratic.  That is, if any part of the southwest could support large populations, surely it’s this part.  This, in turn, implies that the results of this simulation may not be that relevant to other, more marginal areas such as the southern San Juan Basin.

On the other hand, the mere fact that one of the most productive agricultural regions was also one of the most affected by regional abandonment is meaningful in and of itself, especially since some areas that weren’t abandoned, and even gained population during this time, were and are much more marginal for farming.  The Hopi area, for example, is much less reliable and productive than Mesa Verde, and it surely had a much lower carrying capacity, and yet it gained population when other regions were being totally depopulated.

The main lesson here, perhaps, is that we need more research like this.  Careful analysis of the data available can be very valuable, and innovative techniques such as simulation can be particularly so, but to truly be capable of answering the most important questions we need to have more of these models covering more areas.  A detailed simulation like this is useful but limited in its relevance to a rather small area, and there would certainly be no way to apply it directly to other regions.  With the increasing availability of advanced computing technologies, it should become easier to do this on a wider scale, and that can only improve our understanding of the past.

McPhee Reservoir, Dolores, Colorado

McPhee Reservoir, Dolores, Colorado

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Wukoki Pueblo at Wupatki National Monument

Wukoki Pueblo at Wupatki National Monument

In his important book on warfare in the ancient southwest, Steven LeBlanc presents himself as arguing against an orthodox, consensus position in southwestern archaeology that consistently downplays the importance or even presence of warfare as a factor in the prehistory of the region.  He makes some good points about the lack of emphasis on warfare as a possible causal variable in many discussions of regional processes, but in some ways he has to temper his rhetoric and acknowledge the fact that many archaeologists have at least noted the possibility of warfare, and some have even anticipated many of his own arguments about its centrality.  This results in a more nuanced and subtle argument about the importance of warfare, which LeBlanc presents, sometimes a bit misleadingly, as a brave contrarian attack on long-held orthodoxies.

Nonetheless, this more nuanced position strikes me as quite clearly correct, and various chapters in The Prehistoric Pueblo World certainly give ample evidence of the general tendency of southwestern archaeologists to downplay the importance of warfare even when they do acknowledge it as a possible factor.  Chapter 14, however, by Jonathan Haas and Winifred Creamer, is a major exception.  Haas and Creamer make an argument in this chapter about the importance of warfare to the major developments of the Pueblo III period, such as widespread aggregation and regional abandonment, that anticipates in many ways the argument that LeBlanc would later make at greater length (which LeBlanc, to his credit, does acknowledge).

Eroded Boulder House at Hovenweep National Monument

Eroded Boulder House at Hovenweep National Monument

The main thrust of Haas and Creamer’s argument here is that while, as many others have proposed, environmental deterioration was a major causal factor in processes of aggregation and abandonment, the means by which environmental changes had these effects was increasing competition and conflict caused by more limited resource availability.  With a less productive environment, in other words, the resource base available to many groups was reduced significantly, and one way to rectify the situation for those groups was through warfare with more prosperous groups.  Given enough of this, and on a wide enough scale, aggregation for defense is an obvious next step, and if warfare continues like this for a considerable period of time abandonment and movement to more promising areas looks increasingly attractive as well.  Haas and Creamer’s specific work has focused mostly on the Kayenta area, but here they broaden their focus to include the entire area covered by this book, an area which seems to show remarkable uniformity in processes of aggregation (and, to a lesser degree, abandonment).  LeBlanc would later extend this argument to an even greater scale both geographically and temporally.

I don’t have a whole lot else to say about this chapter that I haven’t already said about LeBlanc’s work, so I’ll just note my agreement with this general perspective on aggregation.  There have been many other models proposed to explain aggregation, but many of them make rather dubious claims about the benefits of aggregation for various purposes and most of them tend to overlook the very real costs.  I think defense is a much more reasonable explanation.

The Citadel at Wupatki National Monument

The Citadel at Wupatki National Monument

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Foothills of Sangre de Cristo Mountains

Foothills of Sangre de Cristo Mountains

When the Spanish first entered what is now the southwestern United States in the sixteenth century, they found a very different pattern of population density and distribution from that prevailing during Chacoan times five hundred years earlier.  While the heartland of the pueblo world during the Chacoan era had been the southern Colorado Plateau, which had a large population loosely grouped into low-density communities with smaller populations on its fringes shading into the surrounding culture areas, at Contact only a handful of highly aggregated pueblos were left on the plateau and the majority of the population was concentrated in huge sites in one of the former fringe areas, the Rio Grande valley.

So what happened?  In some ways that is the key question confronting southwestern archaeology, and so far it has proven remarkably intractable.  Five hundred years is a long time.  A lot can change in a period like that, and in this case a lot did.  In addition to the obvious changes of population aggregation and migration, there were a lot of more subtle but no less important changes in other aspects of culture such as architecture, pottery, and (apparently) ritual practices which make it surprisingly difficult to trace any given group of people through this complicated series of events.  While it’s clear from the overall continuities in culture that the ancient Puebloan people as a whole were the ancestors of the modern Pueblos as a whole, it’s been practically impossible to connect any particular ancient group to any particular modern one.  The combination of large-scale movement and massive societal change has significantly obscured the details of the story.

Kiva Road in Santa Fe, New Mexico

Kiva Road in Santa Fe, New Mexico

This series of changes is the main overall topic of The Prehistoric Pueblo World, and the various geographic areas covered by its chapters include both those that ended up being abandoned by their inhabitants and those that ended up being where those people went when they left.  So far in this series of posts we’ve discussed most of the “destination” regions, including Hopi, Zuni, Acoma, and the Rio Abajo.  In this one we tackle what is probably the most important, and in some respects the most difficult to understand: the northern Rio Grande (or “Rio Arriba”).

This region is the subject of chapter 13 of the book, written by Patricia Crown, Janet Orcutt, and Timothy Kohler.  Crown is a prominent archaeologist at UNM who has published on a wide variety of southwestern topics; most recently she is known for her discovery of chocolate on ceramics at Chaco Canyon, a breakthrough that is likely to significantly alter understandings of the Chaco Phenomenon.  Orcutt and Kohler are more known for their work in the Mesa Verde region.  All, however, have done significant amounts of work on the northern Rio Grande, and they do an excellent job here of summarizing the information available on the various subregions.  In a pattern that is becoming very familiar, the quantity and quality of available information on those subregions varies widely, but to the extent that information is available the trends in each are strikingly similar.

Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Chimayo, New Mexico

Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Chimayo, New Mexico

What’s most remarkable about this region, especially given its fertile nature and high population at Contact, is that it was extremely sparsely populated until the thirteenth century.  All of the regions show a continual increase in aggregation through time, and all except the rather unusual Gallina area (which patterns more with areas to the west) show huge increases in population between 1250 and 1350.  Given the very low populations before this time, it seems overwhelmingly likely that most of this population increase is due to immigration, sometimes of entire communities which seem to appear fully formed in some areas.  Since many other regions were being abandoned at this same time, it seems pretty clear where the people were coming from in a general sense, but as always specific connections are elusive.

Sign for Santa Fe County Road 46

Sign for Santa Fe County Road 46

In addition to the issue of migration, which the authors present as primary in understanding developments in this area, the accompanying trend toward ever-increasing aggregation cries out for explanation.  This is always a difficult process to explain, but the authors offer some tentative suggestions, noting the apparent uniformity of the trend throughout the region and suggesting that environmental change is likely a factor.  Another factor, and not necessarily an unrelated one, is increasing competition and conflict, which could be expected to increase along with population density, which in turn is linked to environmental conditions and available resources.  In some subregions there is considerable evidence for warfare and defensive concerns, which some have proposed as the main impetus for aggregation.  The fact that aggregated communities seem to grow in place in some areas and be imported whole in others certainly suggests that the reasons, whatever they were, for concentrating communities were regional rather than local, and the related factors of environmental change and increasing conflict do potentially meet that criterion.

In the end, the spotty nature of the data makes firm conclusions elusive, and the purpose of this book is in part to present the data now available and spur efforts to gather more.  This chapter fulfills those roles nicely.

Jemez Electric Pole in Chimayo, New Mexico

Jemez Electric Pole in Chimayo, New Mexico

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Rio Abajo Family Practice, Los Lunas, New Mexico

Rio Abajo Family Practice, Los Lunas, New Mexico

Chapter 12 of The Prehistoric Pueblo World, by Katherine Spielmann, addresses a very large area including the section of the Rio Grande valley known as the Rio Abajo (roughly the Albuquerque area and further south) and the area of pueblo settlement further east toward the Great Plains.  There has been very little research on the Pueblo III period in this area, which reached its heyday somewhat later, and Spielmann notes that she herself is actually a specialist in the later periods but is writing this chapter anyway because there are so few archaeologists with knowledge of the area available.

One result of the lack of attention to this area during this period is that dating of sites is very rough and based mostly on pottery types.  This is the case in many other regions, of course, but it is particularly troublesome here because of the limited nature of the data in general.  Given that developments in better-dated areas seem to have often occurred very quickly and in very small areas, it is difficult to make many conclusions about overall patterns in a large area without many precise dates.

Spielmann notes these difficulties but does her best to make sense of the data that is available.  The main trends here, as elsewhere, during the Pueblo III period involve aggregation and abandonment.  While there is a general temporal sequence to these events, with pithouse sites being supplemented as aggregation increases by sites of jacal, adobe, and sometimes masonry, with the end state being either total aggregation or total abandonment, without better chronological control it is difficult to see what exactly is going on in each local area and how the developments in different areas relate to each other.  In most areas there seems to be a period of architectural diversity preceding the period of most notable aggregation, but it is impossible to tell how many of these different types of sites (pithouse, jacal, adobe, masonry) are actually contemporaneous and how many are replacing each other as populations aggregate.

Bridge over the Rio Grande at Los Lunas, New Mexico

Bridge over the Rio Grande at Los Lunas, New Mexico

Spielmann condenses the trends discernible from the data into a few hypotheses about overall trends:

  • There are a lot of similar changes between AD 1200 and 1300, particularly in the eastern border areas.  These include a period of diverse architecture from 1200 to 1250 and increasing aggregation resulting in the whole population being concentrated in large pueblos by 1300.  These pueblos are often composed of rectangular roomblocks surrounding a central plaze, a form that persists in these areas throughout the fourteenth century.  This type of community layout is typical of other parts of the southwest during this same period as well, and its prevalence seems to increase over time.
  • While the time period covered by this book is really supposed to end around AD 1350, there is a second period of aggregation in the eastern border areas during the 1400s that bears mentioning.  The furthest-east areas, those closest to the Great Plains, are abandoned completely by 1400, and there are some tantalizing hints that the inhabitants may have shifted to a lifestyle based on mobility and buffalo hunting.  In the remaining areas, the aggregated pueblos of the Pueblo III era further consolidate into a few larger pueblos.
  • Aggregation began considerably earlier in the Rio Abajo area proper, with the period of diverse architecture taking place during Pueblo II rather than Pueblo III.  However, it is possible that extensive aggregation here was actually simultaneous with that in the eastern border areas; the lack of precision in dating makes it difficult to tell how rapidly aggregation took place.  The resulting pueblos certainly look similar architecturally in the two regions.

These developments, to the extent that they can be identified at all, are puzzling, and Spielmann admits that she doesn’t have any solid answers.  She reviews several models that have been proposed to explain aggregation in general, including warfare, proximity to resources, competitive emulation, and adaptation to environmental change.  She finds most of these unpersuasive or inapplicable to this region, but has the most sympathy to a combination of adaptation to a changing environment and the effects of traditional patterns of land-use and ownership rights (a model most closely associated with the work of Michael Adler).  She identifies some tentative correlations between periods of ow rainfall and periods of aggregation, and also notes that at least in some areas the locations of aggregated sites are more favorable for agriculture than the locations of many earlier dispersed sites.  The data is, as always, fuzzy, but many of the correlations she notes are indeed suggestive.  Her proposals for the role of land-use rights are less convincing, but certainly plausible.  They involve patterns of settlement within the better agricultural areas noted above and mostly involve the locations of aggregated communities atop earlier sites and the movement into some areas of groups who may have previously used those areas seasonally.

How to Get to Isleta Pueblo

How to Get to Isleta Pueblo

Overall, the patterns identified here are tentative but intriguing.  The eastern border areas in particular seem to show aggregation remarkably late compared to other regions, and while the beginnings of aggregation seem to have been earlier in the Rio Abajo itself, it’s possible that the really substantial movement of population into aggregated pueblos was rather late there too.  There is also evidence for considerable immigration into many of these areas toward the end of the Pueblo III period, after a notable lack of such evidence earlier, which suggests some connections to developments elsewhere.  The nature of those connections, however, as well as the meaning of developments during this period for the better-known events of later periods, will have to await further, and hopefully more detailed, study.

Warning Sign at Rio Grande Bridge, Los Lunas, New Mexico

Warning Sign at Rio Grande Bridge, Los Lunas, New Mexico

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Highway Sign Showing Mileages from Pie Town, New Mexico

Highway Sign Showing Mileages from Pie Town, New Mexico

Steve Lekson of the University of Colorado Museum is primarily known for his controversial ideas, irreverent attitude, and close association with Chaco dating back to his work on the Chaco Project. However, he has also done a considerable amount of research on the Mimbres region in southwestern New Mexico, and his work in that area is quite well-respected despite his occasional use of it to support his wacky theories. It’s not really surprising, then, that his contribution to The Prehistoric Pueblo World, chapter 11, focuses on the Mimbres Valley and the surrounding valleys and uplands, which constitute a considerable portion of what is known as the Mogollon culture area.

Also unsurprising is his approach in the chapter.  Unlike some other contributors to this volume, who eschew the Pecos Classification as being  inappropriate or misleading for their regions, Lekson insists on using it even though doing so is decidedly not standard in Mogollon archaeology.  The reason for this, of course, is that Lekson has long maintained that there are considerably more parallels between at least this part of the Mogollon region and the Anasazi regions to the north (including Chaco) than have typically been acknowledged by Mogollon specialists eager to guard their turf.

The main parallel Lekson sees, which does indeed seem quite reminiscent of contemporary developments in various Anasazi areas, is a process of aggregation of dispersed communities into large, compact pueblos coinciding with the transition from Pueblo II to Pueblo III.  This transition occurs in different parts of the region, seeming to diffuse from east to west and possibly from south to north.  The first area to aggregate was the Mimbres Valley as early as AD 1000 (during the so-called “Classic Mimbres” period), and aggregation spread over the following few centuries into the uplands and valleys further west.

This is similar to the widespread aggregation seen among the Pueblo III Anasazi, but there are some important differences.  The most important, perhaps, is the timing.  AD 1000 is long before there was substantial Anasazi aggregation, and indeed it coincides with the rise of Chaco rather than its fall.  This suggests, perhaps, either that conditions were significantly different in the Mimbres Valley than further north in this period or that the causes of aggregation in a Mogollon context were different from those in an Anasazi context.  (Or both.)  Lekson acknowledges the difficulty in explaining the processes he sees unfolding, but tentatively proposes that at least in his area aggregation may have been spurred by population growth due to favorable climatic conditions reaching a point where agricultural intensification in the form of canal irrigation was necessary.  The proximity of the Mimbres to the highly successful model of irrigation agriculture practiced by the Hohokam to the west may explain their use of this adaptation, which would have involved increasing residential aggregation as a way to pool the necessary labor, rather than the various strategies seen later among the Anasazi.

This model fits the Mimbres situation fairly well, and most of the other regions that show the same tendencies have insufficient data available to evaluate it.  The one area where it doesn’t seem to fit is on the northern edge of the region in the Quemado area, where the trajectory of development seems to be much more similar to that in the adjacent Cibola region than to anything further south.  Indeed, since both Lekson here and Keith Kintigh in the Cibola chapter note that Quemado seems to belong more properly with Cibola, it’s not at all clear why it was put here instead.

Lekson’s overall point here is that developments among the upland (and valley) Mogollon are sufficiently similar to developments further north to include them in the overall “pueblo” cultural sequence, and, indeed, the inclusion of these areas in this book at all is a tacit recognition of the value of this approach.  He acknowledges that Mogollon scholars fought long and hard to establish that their region constitutes its own cultural tradition separate from those of the Anasazi and Hohokam, and that this shift will be a hard sell.  I would add that if the upland Mogollon are to be grouped together with the Anasazi there is a need to clarify the characteristics that define this grouping and an additional need to specify where the differences are both in culture and in chronology so that their importance to the classification can be properly assessed.  This chapter is a start, but a lot more work needs to be done to convince me of the value of this approach.

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Cabezon Peak

Cabezon Peak

Chapter 10 of The Prehistoric Pueblo World, by John Roney, addresses two areas that, while adjacent to each other, are otherwise not very similar either physically or historically.  This is an issue that crops up elsewhere in this book, and it appears that the division of the Pueblo world into regions was in many cases based more on the interests and specialties of the chapter authors than on archaeological culture areas.  Since one of the main purposes of the book is merely to collect data on sites and their distribution, it doesn’t end up making a whole lot of difference which chapter a given site falls into, but it makes it a bit odd to see the disjunctions in some of the chapters.

This particular chapter suffers from the additional oddity that one of the regions it covers has already been addressed in another chapter.  I don’t know why this choice was made.  It’s true that the overlap isn’t total, and the “Eastern San Juan Basin” addressed here seems to basically be the basin itself and its eastern peripheries, excluding the peripheries in other directions on which Stein and Fowler lavished considerable attention.  I suspect that at least part of the reason, however, is that Stein and Fowler’s idiosyncratic take on the culture history of their region in some ways obscures patterns in the archaeology that a more traditional approach like Roney’s reveals and makes available for clearer comparison to other regions.

Roney’s account of the Basin, therefore, serves as something of a supplement to Stein and Fowler’s, providing the detailed data that, while not absent from the earlier chapter, was not really emphasized either.  In any case, the general outlines of the history here are clear, and parallel the trends noted in other regions, with increasing aggregation in the post-Chaco era culminating in total abandonment by 1300.

Visitor Center and Fajada Butte from Una Vida

Visitor Center and Fajada Butte from Una Vida

Further south, in the other region Roney addresses, the dynamics are not as clear.  As in the neighboring Cibola region, this area suffers from significant discrepancies in the quantity and quality of available data in the various subdistricts.  The best-known part is the El Malpais region at the western edge, which has been fairly extensively surveyed, and trends there seem to parallel those seen in the better-known Cibola districts.  Further east, things get considerably murkier, and the lack of good data makes it very difficult to draw any firm conclusions.

This is unfortunate, because this area is notable for being the third part of the Colorado Plateau where Puebloan occupation continued until Spanish contact (and, indeed, to the present day).  Roney calls it “Acoma-Laguna,” but since Laguna Pueblo was founded long after the period under discussion and is very similar to Acoma in most respects, it’s really Acoma that is important here.  Like Zuni and Hopi, Acoma remained when the rest of the Plateau emptied out between 1300 and 1400.  Also like the other two, it began as a cluster of several sites and dwindled over time, eventually (and unlike Hopi and Zuni) ending up as a single village in an extremely defensive position.  Steven LeBlanc sees this as clear evidence of the importance of warfare in the processes of aggregation and abandonment that marked this period; Roney isn’t so sure.  In any case, as the third example of survival in place, Acoma surely holds some lessons about the events the resulted in the population distribution we see today.

Unfortunately, and to a much greater extent than at Hopi or even Zuni, those lessons remain obscure.  One of the most important reasons for this, which Roney doesn’t mention, is Acoma’s long history of suspicion and hostility toward outsiders, with the result that very little archaeological study at the pueblo itself or on lands it controls has been done.  A lot of this hostility is the result of the violence and brutality that characterized the Spanish conquest and colonial period in this area, but the defensive configuration of the pueblo suggests that there may be deeper roots to it as well.

Thus, it’s pretty unlikely that the secrets of Acoma’s history and survival will be revealed any time soon.  While this is unfortunate for archaeologists and others interested in the ancient history of the southwest and its implications for the present, I find it hard to blame the people at Acoma for not wanting to be involved in outsiders’ studies of them and their history.  They’ve suffered a lot over the course of that history, and their distrust is quite justified.  This is an important factor to keep in mind when studying the history of settlements and cultures.  The people who make up those settlements and cultures are real people with their own opinions, and they aren’t always happy about being studied.

Chacra Mesa at Sunset

Chacra Mesa at Sunset

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Great Kiva at Casa Malpais, Springerville, Arizona

Great Kiva at Casa Malpais, Springerville, Arizona

Chapter 9 of The Prehistoric Pueblo World, by Keith Kintigh, focuses on the Cibola region, defined here as a rather large area of west-central New Mexico extending into Arizona.  This region is of particular interest in the study of Puebloan prehistory because, like Hopi, it was one of the few parts of the Colorado Plateau to still be occupied when the Spanish arrived in New Mexico in the sixteenth century.  What the Spanish found were several small pueblos collectively known as Zuni.  The colonial rumor mill had hyped these villages up into the famed “Seven Cities of Cibola” with their untold riches, so the first Spanish explorers were mightily disappointed to find how poor and isolated they actually were.  Later events, particularly the devastating effects of epidemic disease, resulted in the consolidation of the pueblos into one, originally called Halona but now generally known simply as Zuni Pueblo.

That’s what happened after the Spanish arrived, but what happened before?  How did Zuni end up in the condition it was in when the Spanish found it, and what happened to the substantial and widespread Pueblo population of the Colorado Plateau that is so apparent in the archaeological record from the time of Chaco?

Kiva at Puerco Pueblo, Petrified Forest National Park

Kiva at Puerco Pueblo, Petrified Forest National Park

Kintigh’s answer, ultimately, is that it’s hard to say.  He takes a very cautious and careful approach to the methodological issues involved in the study of this region, and is quick to point out several times the problematic nature of the data.  This is a very large region, one of the largest covered by any of the chapters in the book, and only a few parts of it have been studied in any sort of depth.  As a result, while certain areas (such as Zuni itself) are fairly well-known, there are huge parts of the region that have been surveyed minimally or not at all.  This makes conclusions about regional dynamics extremely problematic, and Kintigh shies away from making any firm ones.

Another problem with the data that Kintigh mentions involves chronology.  While there are some tree-ring dates from the region, most dating of sites comes from ceramic sequences, not all of which are totally secure and most of which are pretty imprecise.  This allows a rough sorting of sites into different periods, but makes detailed examinations of site occupation durations and dynamics nearly impossible in most areas.

Despite these rather large problems with the data available, certain broad trends are apparent in the parts of the region that have been studied.  These generally track the changes seen over time in the rest of the Plateau, with the Chacoan era marked by great houses and loosely clustered communities of small houses and the later periods marked by increasing aggregation into large pueblos, culminating in the apparently total abandonment of all areas except Zuni by 1400.

Agate House at Petrified Forest National Park

Agate House at Petrified Forest National Park

There are, however, some aspects of this process in the Cibola region that stand in contrast to what was happening elsewhere.  For one thing, while the region does show some sort of involvement in the Chaco system and there are both Chacoan great houses and dispersed small-house communities, the great houses and communities don’t seem to be associated with each other.  This is in stark contrast to other parts of the Chacoan world, where great houses were either built in the midst of already established communities or founded in unoccupied areas accompanied by newly established communities.  This suggests, perhaps, that the nature of the relationship between the Cibola outliers and Chaco was different from that seen elsewhere, but beyond that it’s hard to say what was going on here.

Petroglyph Panel with Spiral and Foot at Casa Malpais, Springerville, Arizona

Petroglyph Panel with Spiral and Foot at Casa Malpais, Springerville, Arizona

In the post-Chacoan era after AD 1150, the existing communities seem to have become denser, but there is quite a bit of variation in both size and density of roomblocks.  Some of the more clearly defined communities from this period have great houses, but not all do.  In notable contrast to the Chacoan era, there are no isolated great houses during this period.   This is more typical of the pattern seen elsewhere during Chaco’s heyday, and it is again unclear why it only developed after the decline of Chaco in this region.  It may have something to do with the apparent persistence of certain Chacoan ideas in the Cibola area into the post-Chaco era, a characteristic also seen in the Mesa Verde region.

Puerco Pueblo at Petrified Forest National Park

Puerco Pueblo at Petrified Forest National Park

After 1250, the Cibola region witnessed a clear shift of the population into aggregated pueblos, and the small sites seem to disappear entirely by 1300.  This is quite similar to what was happening elsewhere on the Plateau at the same time, particularly in the Mesa Verde region.  Also similar is the apparently short occupation spans of most of these sites, although the crudeness of the chronology makes detailed study of this difficult.  Also obscured by chronological problems is the nature of the aggregation process in the first place.  These sites, again like those to the north, are mostly at higher elevations in areas suited for runoff-based agriculture.

Casa Malpais, Springerville, Arizona

Casa Malpais, Springerville, Arizona

Some of these aggregated sites persisted longer than those in many other parts of the Plateau, but they too were empty by 1400, when there seems to have been a complete abandonment of most of the region and a move of the remaining population to lower-elevation sites along the Zuni River and its tributaries.  The nature of the change suggests a shift to a system of agriculture based on riverine irrigation.  This process resulted in the establishment of the villages that the Spanish would encounter later.

These trends are apparent enough even given the problematic data, and the parallels with other regions are intriguing, but the reasons for the patterns seen in the archaeological record remain difficult to discern.  Kintigh considers various issues possibly involved in the processes of aggregation and abandonment, including environmental change and warfare (for which, unlike Steven LeBlanc, he sees little clear evidence), but in the end declines to make any definitive pronouncements.  This is understandable given the nature of the data, but the importance of this region for understanding the dynamics of change on a larger scale makes it very desirable to see an increase in both the quantity and quality of data available.  As one of the very few surviving communities from the Colorado Plateau’s long and turbulent past, Zuni surely has lessons to teach about that past.  Unfortunately, at this point they remain obscure.

Very Faint Pictograph at Casa Malpais, Springerville, Arizona

Very Faint Pictograph at Casa Malpais, Springerville, Arizona

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Huerfano Mesa from Peñasco Blanco

Huerfano Mesa from Peñasco Blanco

Ever since 1927, when it was established at the first Pecos Conference, the so-called “Pecos Classification” has been the most popular system of chronology used by southwestern archaeologists.  This is actually rather odd in some ways, since the classification was developed before absolute dating based on tree rings was totally secure or well-established, and as a result the “periods” it uses are (or at least originally were) based mostly on material culture and organized into a sequence that implied a steady process of “progress” or evolutionary development, with the pithouses of the Basketmaker Period giving way to the small aboveground pueblos of Pueblo I, then the larger but scattered small house sites of Pueblo II, culminating in the “Great Pueblos” of the Pueblo III period: the major aggregated sites that are the best-known examples of prehistoric pueblo architecture.  (The Classification continues past Pueblo III, but my concern here is with these early periods.)

Once absolute dating became more secure, however, problems with the classification began to emerge.  Most importantly, perhaps, tree-ring dates established conclusively that the great houses at Chaco Canyon, considered among the finest examples of Pueblo III architecture, were actually considerably earlier than the other “Great Pueblos” at places like Mesa Verde and Canyon de Chelly.  Indeed, the Chacoan sites were contemporaneous with the small sites throughout the region that the classification put in the Pueblo II period.

T-Shaped Doorway at Salmon Ruin Sealed with Cobbles

T-Shaped Doorway at Salmon Ruin Sealed with Cobbles

Interestingly, however, while some archaeologists used these and other problems as reasons to stop using the Pecos Classification, most did not, and instead modified the classification in various ways to incorporate new understandings.  Some reinterpreted the developmental categories as applying to sequences that were similar throughout the region but took place at different absolute times in different areas; thus, Chaco becomes a place with an unusually early transition from Pueblo II to Pueblo III.  Others did away with the evolutionary aspects of the system entirely and redefined the periods as purely chronological.  Under this adjustment, Chaco becomes one development during Pueblo II.  One drawback to both of these approaches is that they tend to be applied differently in different regions, since the relationships between absolute time and material culture vary considerably throughout the southwest.

Line of Doorways at Aztec Ruins National Monument

Line of Doorways at Aztec Ruins National Monument

The authors of the different chapters in The Prehistoric Pueblo World, which is devoted to the Pueblo III period but, interestingly, avoids the use of that term in its title, use a variety of means to deal with this issue.  Most retain some version of the Pecos Classification, whether as a series of developmental stages or merely a sequence of arbitrary absolute dates.  Some, however, refrain from using the Pecos terminology and substitute other systems, whether because the version of the Classification generally used in their region conflicts with the time frame used to organize the book or because they have more fundamental problems with the Classification.

The most prominent example of the latter approach comes in Chapter 8, by John Stein and Andrew Fowler.  Stein, of the Navajo Nation Historic Preservation Department, is noted for his contrarianism on a variety of subjects related to southwestern archaeology, but he has also made many important contributions to general understanding of certain parts of the ancient southwest, and both these characteristics are on full display here.  The chapter is on the San Juan Basin and its peripheries, which is the region where Chaco Canyon is located, and it thus deals heavily with the Chaco Phenomenon and its aftermath.  Stein and Fowler acknowledge at the beginning that this book is not about Chaco but they argue that a full understanding of their area in the post-Chaco period requires them to address the Chaco system and its nature.  They also argue equally forcefully that the origins of the Pecos Classification give it a considerable amount of interpretive baggage that makes it more problematic than useful, and they therefore eschew its use even as a series of arbitrary segments of absolute time.  (They are not totally successful at this, actually, and there are a couple of places in the chapter where they slip into using Pecos terminology.  They mostly manage without it, though.)

Light Snowfall on Fajada Butte

Light Snowfall on Fajada Butte

One of the main problems Stein and Fowler point out about the Pecos Classification is its near-total emphasis on residential architecture, and its consequent tendency to interpret all architecture, including that of Chacoan great houses, as primarily residential.  This is particularly problematic given the curiously limited evidence for residential use of great houses, despite their size, and Stein and Fowler are quite adamant that great houses are not residential structures at all.  Rather, they see them as community integrative architecture, and divide the overall Anasazi architectural tradition into three categories:

  1. Residential, or household-level, represented in the earlier periods by small-house sites
  2. Community integrative, represented during the Chacoan era (and in some regions in the immediate post-Chaco era as well) by great houses
  3. Regional integrative, uniting communities throughout a region, represened in the Chacoan era by the Chaco Canyon complex and during the post-Chaco era by the Aztec complex
Line of Interior Doorways at Aztec Ruins National Monument

Line of Interior Doorways at Aztec Ruins National Monument

Importantly, Stein and Fowler see these three types of architecture as originating from the same general cultural background and varying primarily in scale.  They also see them as evolving uniformly over the period of Anasazi occupation of the San Juan Basin, with both residential small houses and integrative great houses being regularly replaced in accordance with a long-term progression of “ritual time.”  Perhaps most controversially, they see the “collapse” of Chaco and the contemporaneous rise of Aztec in the early twelfth century as merely a replacement of this sort, albeit on a much vaster scale than seen elsewhere in the sequence.  Since they don’t see the great houses as reflecting population numbers in any meaningful way, they disagree with the common interpretation of this change as indicating a decline of either population or ideology, instead seeing it as a planned regional reorganization.  They even argue that people continued to live in small sites for quite some time after the last reliably dated small houses at Chaco, proposing that for some reason dwellings in this period were much more ephemeral and thus have not survived in the archaeological record.

I find that last part, in particular, extremely dubious, and I’m not entirely sold on any of this.  I think the most important contribution this chapter makes, however, in addition to the data it presents on post-Chacoan sites in its region, is in making such a strong argument against great houses being residential “pueblos” in the sense envisioned by the original Pecos Classification.  While I’m more open to the idea that at least some people lived in the great houses for at least some part of their history, I definitely think it’s difficult to argue, given the evidence available, that they were ever primarily residential or had high populations comparable to those of later aggregated pueblos.  For that reason alone I find this chapter important and useful.

Reconstructed Great Kiva, Aztec Ruins National Monument

Reconstructed Great Kiva, Aztec Ruins National Monument

Otherwise, I’m skeptical.  In some ways this sort of “ritual time” construction is clearly intended to counteract some of the cruder environmental-determinist models that try to explain all the changes in southwestern prehistory as reactions to changes in the environment, and it’s certainly true that some of those models go too far in that direction, but by the same token it seems just as implausible, if not more so, to totally disregard the possibility of external influences on culture change the way Stein and Fowler do here.  Surely there was a certain amount of planned, regular renewal of ritual facilities and other community integrative structures, and there is actually quite a bit of clear evidence for this at least for great kivas, but just as surely climatic conditions did fluctuate, and in an environment as marginal for agriculture as the southwest in general and the San Juan Basin in particular those fluctuations must have had some effect on the decisions of a primarily agricultural people living in that area.

So I remain interested but skeptical, which is my general attitude toward strikingly contrarian interpretations.  I do think they’re very useful in stimulating discussion and directing research toward important unresolved issues, so I have no intention of trying to stop them from being proposed, but I have a hard time accepting any of them completely.  In the case of Chaco in particular, these theories are both numerous and mutually contradictory, which adds another reason for both interest and skepticism.  Bring them on, I say, but I remain unconvinced.

Chaco Street in Aztec, New Mexico

Chaco Street in Aztec, New Mexico

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