In comments to the previous post ben asked about the use of dogs as draft animals. I replied that they were so used in conjunction with the travois, especially on the Plains, but that the dogs in the Southwest and in Mesoamerica were smaller than Plains dogs and not able to pull any substantial loads. This reminded me that I’ve never done a post on dogs, and that I probably should.
The only domesticated animals the Chacoans and other prehistoric Southwestern peoples had were dogs and turkeys. The first detailed study of Southwestern dogs, and the only one I am aware of, was done by Harold Colton of the Museum of Northern Arizona and published in 1970. This paper is one of the earliest examples of the use of statistics in Southwestern archaeology. Colton used statistical techniques to compare various measurements of dog remains from various parts of the Southwest and various time periods. It isn’t clear if any of his 110 specimens came from Chaco, but it appears that none did. This is unsurprising given that he mostly used specimens in the MNA collections, which contain little Chacoan material. Nevertheless, his sample includes most parts of the Southwest and most periods, so it is reasonable to presume that any generalizations about Southwestern dogs resulting from it can be applied to Chaco as well.
The specific statistical techniques Colton used are rather different from those commonly used in archaeological publications today, and as a result I have a hard time evaluating them. Nevertheless, some of the patterns he found seem clear. Briefly, the early specimens, dating before AD 800, were all small, and some lacked the first premolar on the lower jaw. After 800, however, a second type of dog, larger and never missing the first premolar, appeared, first in the Rio Grande Valley and later further west. It is not clear from the presented data when the large dog would have reached the Chaco area, but I suspect it would not have been until after the main florescence of Chaco between AD 1030 and AD 1130. This distribution in time and space suggests that the larger dog was introduced from the Plains, where large dogs are known from early on. These large dogs apparently interbred with the small dogs, as the average size of the small dogs increased over time beginning at the time of the introduction of the large dogs.
Colton’s sample size was small and his conclusions tentative, but some interesting patterns emerge nevertheless. I think the most interesting is the rather early introduction of small dogs to the Rio Grande Valley, which suggests substantial contact with the Plains as early as AD 800. Considerable Plains-Pueblo contact is known for the later period, starting around AD 1325, when massive immigration into the Rio Grande area from other parts of the Pueblo world substantially shifted the geographic distribution of Pueblo peoples, but before that the Rio Grande Valley was sparsely populated and relatively little is known about it. The introduction of the large dogs, however, suggests that Plains contacts were of longstanding importance in the region, and that the intensified contacts after 1325 may have been the result of the increased population rather than a change in the basic structure of regional relationships. Other evidence for the early importance of contact between the eastern Pueblos and the Plains comes from the discovery that domesticated turkeys in the Southwest were genetically closer to subspecies of wild turkey found further east than to the local subspecies.
In light of this evidence, I’ll modify my response to ben to say that the dogs available to the Chacoans probably would not have been suitable for pulling loads, but that it is possible that the large Plains dog was already available in Chacoan times. There’s no evidence that I know of, however, that dogs were used as beasts of burden in the Southwest at any point in prehistory. I’ll look for more recent studies on the issue of Southwestern dogs to see if I can get more information. I don’t know of any such studies, but there may well be some.
Colton, H. (1970). The Aboriginal Southwestern Indian Dog American Antiquity, 35 (2) DOI: 10.2307/278144