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).
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.