Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

Special Introductory Offer!

Beyond Stone & Bone

Were Some Ancestral Puebloan People the Victims of Ethnic Conflict?
by Heather Pringle
September 24, 2010

It was not so very long ago that many archaeologists regarded the Ancestral Puebloan people–or the Anasazi, as researchers once called them–as a rather peaceful, mystical group of astronomers, artists, priests and farmers. They based this idea largely on their observations of modern Puebloan peoples: the Hopi, the Zuni and others who lived in traditional pueblos, such as Taos, and who often lived quiet lives of ritual and spirituality.

But in the early 90s, some Southwestern archaeologists began questioning this received wisdom. David Wilcox, an archaeologist at the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff, hypothesized that the rulers of Chaco Canyon, a massive Ancestral Puebloan site, commanded a small army and demanded tribute from their southern neighbors, slaughtering any who didn’t comply. As evidence, Wilcox pointed to charnel pits excavated in dozens of Ancestral Puebloan sites dating to the late 10th and early 11th century C.E.: these pits looked like mass graves from a war zone.

At first most Southwestern archaeologists just shook their head and smiled at Wilcox’s ideas.  But evidence of very nasty times in the ancient Southwest began to accumulate.  Physical anthropologist Christy Turner, now a professor emeritus at Arizona State University, and others detected traces of extreme violence and cannibalism on human bones unearthed at 40 different Ancestral Puebloan sites.  Such acts of cannibalism, Wilcox suggested, were political messages, deliberate desecration of the dead as a warning to others.

This month, researchers added yet more dark shading to the picture in a paper published in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology. At a site known as Sacred Ridge in Colorado, Jason Chuipka, an archaeologist at Woods Canyon Archaeological Consultants, and his colleagues unearthed 14,882 human skeletal fragments–the remains of deliberately mutilated Ancestral Puebloan inhabitants–as well as two-headed axes smeared with human blood residues.  The dead dated to the late 8th or early 9th century,  a time when the first Ancestral Puebloan villages were forming.

To Chuipka and his co-author James Potter, an archaeologist at SWCA Environmental Consultants in Broomfield, Colorado, the evidence suggested that the inhabitants of Sacred Ridge–men, women and children–were singled out for a particularly terrible form of violence:  ethnic conflict.

So what to make of all this?  Why such a radical shift in our vision of the Ancestral Puebloan people? When I began thinking about this,  I came up with two things.  First of all,  physical anthropologists today know much more about the osteological indicators of warfare and cannibalism than they did thirty years ago.  So they have a much clearer idea of  what to look for.

But the second thing goes to the very heart of archaeology itself. Journalists and other members of the public ask archaeologists all the time to explain what various artifacts and data mean.  We don’t really want to hear about 14,882 bone fragments.  What we want to know is what happened to all those bodies and all those people.  And our insatiable curiosity constantly forces archaeologists to interpret their findings, to make a story of them.

So archaeologists do what anybody else would do–they look for analogies in modern life. In the early 1970s,  for example, when the Vietnam War raged, many researchers hypothesized that the collapse of the Classic Maya civilization was due to extreme warfare. In the 1980s and 1990s, they pointed to environmental causes, such as soil erosion. And today, many researchers ascribe the collapse to climate change,  specifically a series of devastating droughts.

Probably all these factors played a part in the fall of the classic Maya civilization. But I find it interesting to think about the ways in which contemporary history contributes to prevailing archaeological hypotheses and interpretations.  I personally think it’s very possible that some Ancestral Puebloan people were victims of ethnic cleansing. But would the archaeological community have taken this idea so seriously,  had it not been for the intense media coverage of ethnic conflicts and cleansing in places like Bosnia, Rwanda and Sudan in recent years?

Photo of four young Hopi women milling grain by Edward Curtis.

Comments posted here do not represent the views or policies of the Archaeological Institute of America.

51 comments for "Were Some Ancestral Puebloan People the Victims of Ethnic Conflict?"

  • Reply posted by W. (September 25, 2010, 9:20 am):

    I can’t imagine that you have been blind to or sheltered from the simple/complex fact that humans have always had little aversion to killing their own kind wherever and whenever in the whole world they might might benefit thereby — either materially or just so as to get a kick out of doing the killing — and even the eating. If that’s not the case, can you tell us where you have been living?


  • Reply posted by TM (September 25, 2010, 6:33 pm):

    WHAT? History only teaches that white people did such things. (Sarcasm)


  • Reply posted by Milo Dagda (September 27, 2010, 5:42 am):

    I’m always amazed at how people want to insist that there were all sorts of peaceful societies throughout history. There is never peace in a region where space and resources are limited. The American Southwest, though I’ve never been there, seems like a place where farmable land is limited, as well as resources, such as water. Fourteen thousand victems is quite a nuumber. How many people could a region like the southwest really handle? Those people weren’t pumping water out of the earth and weren’t trucking produce and finished goods into the local Wal Mart via interstate highways. It also seems like there is always a drive to exploit others. If you get enough people around, hunter-gatherers and horticulturalists, they may decide to put their resources in a pot for the common good. By doing so, they build a society and, eventually, the hierarchies become rigid and the power distance more extreme. Before you know it, the elite, or a faction of the elite, want way more than the people are willing to give. That’s when things get hairy.


  • Reply posted by Tim Eisenhoffer (September 27, 2010, 9:00 am):

    Well one group simply does not kill a group of 14 Thousand plus people, at least not all at once, unless they have a good majority or advanced weapons. If their was a good majority this would have shown up sooner than latter, If it was better weaponry this would also have shown up….so something is missing or out of place here, it doesn’t add up at this time. At least not to me


  • Reply posted by Malcolm Sender (September 27, 2010, 10:04 am):

    In this particular case I disagree that current archaeological interpretation is based on recent media news coverage. Since the 1970′s archaeological interpretation of data recovered from prehistoric sites in the American Southwest has helped to produce a picture of cultural development similar to that of Mesoamerican and Old World civilizations where warfare and ethnic cleansing had previously been well documented. Stephen Lekson (A History of the Ancient Southwest, 2008) presents a cogent argument that the movement of ideas and/or people out of Mesoamerica and into the Southwest had a significant role in the cultural development of pre-Puebloan and later Puebloan groups. Lekson details how mass slaughter of inhabitants of entire settlements was used as a means to maitain political control over a larger region by an established power base in Chaco Canyon late in its history. At about the same time, similar warfare has been documented in Mesoamerica by the Maya in the early Post-Classic period. In the Southwest, arcaeological evidence of mass-murder and cannibalism first started showing up, and being interpreted as such, in the 1970′s and this data has been sparse. Since then it has been a natural progression to slowly build and refine theories concering Puebloan warfare and cannibalism, without the influence of the media reporting on modern day atrocities.


  • Reply posted by Moneyrunner (September 27, 2010, 4:19 pm):

    Yours is a spirited defense of the profession of archeology. I believe most other comments focus on the mainstream references to the Puebloan culture. I admit to having modest interest in the depiction of these people, but all, and I mean all, of the references I have read or seen of them is of a pacific, agrarian, people living in harmony with their environment and their neighbors. If you tell me that the scientists who have studied them has found evidence of ethnic conflict, what do you attribute the discrepancy between reality and the way they have been characterized by those who popularized the current view?


  • Reply posted by Dwight E. Howell (September 27, 2010, 4:59 pm):

    While fashions come and go in archeology it’s a fact that with the Maya and Pueblo we started out with a rather strong lack of evidence for violence and a peaceful primitives/garden of Eden ideal that got crushed under ever mounting evidence of violence.

    The modern Pueblo in fact embrace non violence. There was evidence, if people had bothered to look, that when push came to shove they would fight to protect themselves.

    At least a fair amount of what happened in Pueblo lands looks like it very well could have been done by outsiders to the Pueblo or triggered as a response to violent outsiders moving in on them.

    If you dig through the bull about the Sand Creek Massacre committed by that horrible Methodist minister at the camp of Black Kettle, a peaceful Cheyenne, you will learn that they threw a party as was their custom for a group of returning raiders and the village was attacked and the people slaughtered by volunteers many of whom were Pueblo Indians who where most upset with the raiders, most or all of whom had already decamped.

    While Black Kettle preached and practiced peace it seems that a few of his young men seeking to earn a name for themselves and following the customs of their people may have taken part in the raid that brought destruction on their village. Black Kettle wanted to avoid fighting the whites because he said they could not win but he was trapped by the customs of his people nor is clear he would have discouraged raiding the Pueblo who weren’t whites.

    To repeat, there has always been evidence that the Pueblo were willing to respond to force/violence with force/violence. Maybe this is just me but when people who abhor violence are forced to resort to it they tend to go for permanent solutions and may lack all restraint in their response. They fought the Apache, the Spanish, and they fought at Sand Creek and in none of those cases were they using halfway measures.


  • Reply posted by e c smith (September 27, 2010, 6:30 pm):

    re posting by T Eisenhoffer, it isn’t 14K people, but 14k bits of people.

    I have to agree that media and news affect interpretation of archeological findings. How could they not? Archeologists do not live in a vacuum. Their ideas are totally based on modern experience, their ideas of the pre-written-history past are mere speculation. Take for example the famous Venus figurines (venus of villendorf et al.) Fertility goddesses the archeologists tell us. Ha. Porn, I say.

    The author is correct that archeologists make up stories. Damn silly ones. If only they knew the truth of it, no doubt they would be very embarrassed.


  • Reply posted by D. Ueled (September 28, 2010, 1:06 am):

    To Tim E. – It’s fourteen-thousand-some bone fragments, not that number of individuals. It could be as few as several dozen individuals (in many small pieces) or in the thousands. Hannibal’s army was able to finish off tens of thousands of trained and armed Roman soldiers in a matter of hours, so don’t underestimate the murderous capabilities of an organized and motivated group of humans.


  • Reply posted by Simon O'Brien (September 28, 2010, 7:52 am):

    Seems to building a lot on a little. Is it known these people were killed or dismembered when dead. Is it known the “cannabalism” was desecratory or religious?

    And archaeology has fashion like any other study but it is foolish to presume modern incidents with modern weapons and means of communication and organisation were paralled in the distant past.


  • Reply posted by M Carrara (September 28, 2010, 8:40 am):

    Doesn’t pueblo tradition talk about leaving Chaco because of the evil that the people had become? Violent acts could turn a group into peaceful people. Could the excesses of the 11th century CE made the historical pueblo we now know?


  • Reply posted by ZZZ (September 28, 2010, 9:31 am):

    How about all of the above? At the risk of invoking Godwin’s law, it should be pointed out that the terrible economic hardship caused by the inflationary collapse of German currency after WWI led directly to the birth of a murderous ideology (Nazism), followed by war and what could be regarded as mass human sacrifice (WWII and the Holocaust). This basic sequence — economic pain followed by fighting and human sacrifice — would let us assign the collapse of both the Ancient Mayan and the Anasazi cultures to this same pattern, especially if we decide that these ancient cultures’ economic pain was caused by some sort of climate change. Come to think of it, European countries after WWII lost their colonial empires and the native European population is now rapidly being replaced by Muslim immigrants. So the endpoint of this pattern may turn out be the same today as it was in the past: the disappearance of the previous culture.


  • Reply posted by Daniel (September 28, 2010, 9:33 am):

    every civilization or tribal group that lasted long enough to be knowable to historians and archeologists necessarily were able to survive for a considerable period of time. All of them developed ways of life that were sustainable for some period of time. However climate changes, attacks from others who had experienced their own woes, and crop failures or other local disasters often required their own migration or response to the inroads of others. The people had to develop skills at fighting to survive. Those without these skills were soon wiped out.
    The notion that people like the Anasazi or any people survived for centuries as pacifists is therefore absurd, so this evidence does not come as any surprise.


  • Reply posted by SGT Ted (September 28, 2010, 9:38 am):

    Actually, it has been pretty clear that Archeologists have engaged in the “noble savage” projections of the Victorian era in their portrayals of allegedly “peaceful” Indian tribes of the North Americas.

    It fits with the racist fad of “whiteskins bad, brownskins pure and good” popularized by race based neo-Marxism “Victim studies” departments of Universities that denigrate Western civilization and celebrates “otherness” no matter how barbaric.


  • Reply posted by Doug Collins (September 28, 2010, 9:39 am):

    Through most of Eurasian history, ‘civilized’ warfare depended on military formations – the Phalanx, the Roman square, the British square etc – for effectiveness. The primary objective was to break the enemy’s formation, before he broke yours. An individual, away from his legion or regiment was cold meat. Perhaps the mytical warriors – Achilles, Lancelot (but not Roland)- could prevail on their own, but real soldiers tended to be killed quickly and in large numbers once the protection of their formation was gone.

    This happened over and over. In fact, if a battle was not a draw or near draw, this was the normal outcome.

    And it wasn’t alway superior weaponry that won. If I remember my Kipling correctly:
    So ‘eres to you, Fuzzy Wuzzy, with your ‘arrik ‘ead of ‘air.
    You’re a big black bounding begger, but you broke a British Square.

    Are the bones mostly those of mature males? That might indicate the aftermath of a disasterous battle. Not all would necessarily be killed on the battlefield. Execution of captives was pretty common. Gruesome, but not necessarily ethnic cleans…

    No. Strike that last. Genocide is the word I want. I detest the euphemism ‘cleansing’.


  • Reply posted by loyola (September 28, 2010, 9:44 am):

    Please replace the picture of the Hopi women with a picture of Chaco Canyon or one of the other sites you mentioned. Putting a picture of Hopi women in an article about ancient cannibalism is TERRIBLE!


  • Reply posted by John (September 28, 2010, 9:45 am):

    Huh. I thought it was only the evil white man that made war and visited violence upon his neighbor. American Indians are purely peace loving worshipers of gaia that didn’t believe in possessions and only took from the earth what they needed. lol

    People are people. Same everywhere, at every time.


  • Reply posted by comatus (September 28, 2010, 10:17 am):

    Archeologists should never hang around with sociologists or anthropologists. It’s catching.

    I think the influence of Castaneda is finally wearing off. Here’s a basic rule: every people who appear to be pacifists usually got that way for a reason.

    Our theories of the past reflect little except our prejudices about ourselves. When you go into the past, you go into yourself. Go armed to the teeth.


  • Reply posted by Richard Aubrey (September 28, 2010, 10:26 am):

    I recall the gentle Tasaday, a hoax. But it fit the prevailing–wished for–zeitgeist.
    As a practical matter, a group of men trained, disciplined, and used to fighting together, an actual military force, can defeat many times their own number of locals in, especially, hand-to-hand combat, even if their weapons are not significantly better (but they would probably be somewhat better).


  • Reply posted by Jim (September 28, 2010, 10:40 am):

    >>Hannibal’s army was able to finish off tens of thousands of trained and armed Roman soldiers in a matter of hours, so don’t underestimate the murderous capabilities of an organized and motivated group of humans.

    I haven’t taken a Roman history class since college 25 years ago, but… in which case is the above story true? Is it from the Punic War that Carthage lost? Or the *other two* Punic Wars that Carthage lost? :-)

    But point well taken about murderous capabilities of organized and motivated groups. See also: Rape of Nanking.


  • Reply posted by JR (September 28, 2010, 10:40 am):

    @e c smith
    “The author is correct that archeologists make up stories. Damn silly ones. If only they knew the truth of it, no doubt they would be very embarrassed.”

    Embarrassed perhaps, but at least well-fed. Grant money comes from schools and from the government. Providing accounts that are pleasing to the political orthodoxy means never having to go hungry.


  • Reply posted by Ed H (September 28, 2010, 10:51 am):

    Numbers and weaponry are not all that matter in warfare. Organization matters. If the 14k people lived in smaller, clan-sized villages that failed to self-organize and cooperate in their mutual defense, a smaller group of well organized attackers could easily defeat them in detail.


  • Reply posted by Hankmeister (September 28, 2010, 10:51 am):

    Yet more evidence that theory heavily influences intepretation. When the so-called mainstream media and popular culture developed the romantic meme that North Ameri-Indians were peace-loving, back-to-nature types who lived an almost idyllic life in green harmony with nature, this merely reinforced anthropological bias.

    For the last fifty years Americans were inculcated with the false idea it was only when the white man came along and screwed up the peaceful North American Eden. And as an act of unconscious expiation the “scientific community” tried to atone for the sin of the white man by painting “native Americans” as the noble savage unfairly preyed upon by evil white eyes.

    As someone who is one-quarter Cherokee, I am also forced to acknowledge that there were red man killing red man in inter-tribal warfare long before white eyes showed up on these shores and North and Central American Indian “civilizations” – like the Aztec and the Mayan and their brethren Incas further to the south in Peru – engaged in human and child sacrifices which, oddly enough, today’s “progressives” tend to romanticize. Of course we have our own equivalent abhorrent behavior today in the unborn baby sacrifice we cleverly euphemize as “abortion”. What better way for a women to improve her fate in modern society than to sacrifice her unborn child to the god of Choice, right? Maybe that’s how our society rationalizes the horror of infant and child sacrifices in ancient cultures.

    Analysis have revealed the average age of North Ameri-Indians ran from 28 years among southern tribes up to the age of 42 in northern tribes. Of course one can pack a lot of life in 42 years, but it’s pretty clear Indian living was oftentimes neither idyllic nor peaceful nor noble.

    And with the discovery of the Kennewick Man remains in the Northwest and the increasingly knowledge base we have of the North American Clovis civilization, one has to wonder if the people we called “Native Americans” today didn’t “steal” this land from others before them.

    In any case, ALL national borders and national identities have always been established by the right of conquest and the right of discovery despite how sanctimonious or moralistic we would like our worldview to be in these matters. Possession is indeed 9/10ths the law and, for example, for Mexicans today to whine about how the American southwest was “stolen” from them by the Euro-white man is rather disengenuous since it’s pretty clear the Mexicans themselves stole it from the indigenuous North American Indian population in the region who in turned probably “stole it” from someone else in acts of conquest and subjugation that are lost to history because “Native Americans” didn’t keep a written record of their multiple atrocities like the white man did.

    So, I wish the so-called “progressives” would get over their white guilt self-flagellation, and if they can’t then I suggest they donate their homes and properties to those local surviving Indian tribes from whom they believe their land was originally stolen. There really is no such thing as noblisse sauvage once the mists of time are dispersed and the physical evidence comes to light. The white man is no more or no less guilty of creating newer civilizations upon the ashes of old, often more barbaric civilizations all things being equal.


  • Reply posted by George Ditter (September 28, 2010, 10:54 am):

    When we were at Mesa Verde last summer, the Ranger in the middle of his presentation combining Global Warming as the cause of the forest fire that had torched a lot of the Park and the blissful one with Nature existence of the Cliff Palace dwellers did note that it looked like the watch towers covering the various access points were there because of a threat from someone who had caused the abandonment of mesa top scattered dwellings.


  • Reply posted by Travis McGee (September 28, 2010, 11:30 am):

    I specifically recall seeing a documentary about cannibalism among the Pueblo Indians. In one instance, they tested a coprolite found in a Pueblo hearth and concluded that it contained DNA from human proteins.


  • Reply posted by Pete Terranova (September 28, 2010, 11:34 am):

    So it wasn’t ancient astronauts?


  • Reply posted by Diggs (September 28, 2010, 11:36 am):

    Tim, 14,000+ bone fragments equals 14,000+ people in your mind? Man, that would be some kinda efficient cannibalism where only one bone fragment was left after eating each person. Can I guess what the bone fragment was? Surely it was the coccyx.


  • Reply posted by craig (September 28, 2010, 11:47 am):

    It’s testimony to Rousseau’s enduring myth of the noble savage that white Westerners keep desperately hoping to “prove” the existence of a nonviolent, non-Western Eden sometime in the past. The same old politically-correct fantasy gets played out every time, and eventually gets proven to be fantasy every time. Guess human nature actually applies to all humans.

    We saw this whitewash with the Mayans, Incas, and Aztecs earlier, with the Pacific Islanders thanks to Margaret Mead, and with the Amazon tribes even now. In Europe’s past, we find researchers trying to prove that long-gone groups not associated with Western Civilization ™ — the Albigensians, for instance — were all somehow nonviolent matriarchal collectives who practiced recycling and veganism.


  • Reply posted by M. Sauer (September 28, 2010, 11:51 am):

    I am old enough to remember when “the gentle Tasadai” of the Philipines were in the news and considered authentic (and a reproach to us crude moderns), and when I was in school the Maya were gentle pacifists of the rain forest, hiding from the savage Aztecs. Then we finally translated Mayan hieroglyphics and discovered they made the Aztecs look like Quakers. The myth of the noble savage is just that; an ideologically motivated myth. The Anasazi were people, with all our potential nastiness. Accept it.


  • Reply posted by Mike T. (September 28, 2010, 11:57 am):

    Used to live there, and had lots of talks with the Archaeologists who were making these discoveries in the ’90s and working on Castle Rock (originally called Battle Rock due to the dismembered bodies that were still in evidence when the Anglos came in the 1880s, but the names got confused with another large formation early on.) One story Hopi informants related was about a Hopi village (Awatovi?) that was enslaved by the Spanish in the early 1600s to build a church on one of the Hopi mesas. After the second or third time that lightning struck the church and burned it down to be again reconstructed by the slaves (and after the puebloan revolt), the rest of the Hopis got together and wiped out the inhabitants, dismembering them and splitting their bones open to release the demons who had possessed them. A seemingly identical fate to the that which met the inhabitants of Castle Rock around 1280.

    There is also some reason to believe that the Chacoan overlay on the AP sites may represent an Aztec or Toltec (or some other Mexican/CA group) military occupation imposed on the locals, who then ruled through terror, ritual cannibalism, etc.

    Any and all of the violence, artistry, mendacity, mediocrity, genius, horror and routine that we experience today in human society was present everywhere Man trod. The “peaceful agrarian peoples” trope was a Margaret Meade-esque wish fulfillment fantasy. C.f. Rousseau’s “noble savage.”


  • Reply posted by Halichoeres bivittatus (September 28, 2010, 12:04 pm):

    My undergrad Archeology 101 professor had definitive evidence of cannibalism among southwestern tribes in the early 1970′s from analysis of human bones in pots and in mummified human feces which contained human bits.

    He left the field because his “colleagues” in the “science” of archeology would not allow publication of his findings. They preferred their comfy just-so stories.


  • Reply posted by Walter Sobchak (September 28, 2010, 12:11 pm):

    “Constant Battles: Why We Fight” by Steven Le Blanc & Katherine E. Register (2003)


    “Prehistoric Warfare in the American Southwest” by Steven A LeBlanc (2007)

    “Massacres, raiding parties, ambush, pillage, scalping, captive taking: the things we know and sometimes dread to admit occur during times of war all happened in the prehistoric Southwest-and there is ample archaeological evidence. Not only did it occur, but the history of the ancient Southwest cannot be understood without noting the intensity and impact of this warfare. Most people today, including many archaeologists, view the Pueblo people of the Southwest as historically peaceful, sedentary corn farmers. Our image of the Hopis and Zunis, for example, contrasts sharply with the more nomadic Apaches whose warfare and raiding abilities are legendary. In PREHISTORIC WARFARE IN THE AMERICAN SOUTHWEST Steven LeBlanc demonstrates that this picture of the ancient Puebloans is highly romanticized. Taking a pan-Southwestern view of the entire prehistoric and early historic time range and considering archaeological and ethnohistorical evidence and oral traditions, he presents a different picture. War, not peace, was commonplace and deadly throughout the prehistoric sequence. Many sites were built as fortresses, communities were destroyed, and populations massacred. The well-known abandonments of much of the Southwest were warfare related. During the late prehistoric period fighting was particularly intense, and the structure of the historic pueblo societies was heavily influenced by warfare. Objectively sought, evidence for war and its consequences is abundant. The people of the region fought for their survival and evolved their societies to meet the demands of conflict.”


  • Reply posted by Chas S. Clifton (September 28, 2010, 12:15 pm):

    Nothing new here–a Park Service archaeologist at Chaco Canyon said all these things to me about 1980, describing kivas full of tumbled skeletons that had been excavated in the 1940s.

    Funny thing, though — he would not discuss this topic in his office but only if I came to his house. “The walls have ears.”

    Back then, no one wanted to disturb the idea of the early Puebloans as peaceful, corn-growing ceremonialists. The Park Service still does not.

    It took Turner’s book Man Corn, as you mentioned, to really move the pendulum in the other direction.


  • Reply posted by bartleby (September 28, 2010, 12:30 pm):

    This is kind of old news. David Roberts in “In Search of the Old Ones” (1997) talks about evidence of cannibalism in the four corners regions, and Frank Waters in “The Book of the Hopi” (1977) talks about the denizens of First Mesa wiping out a neighboring settlement. Not sure why anyone cares about this stuff. Life is tough. Get over it.


  • Reply posted by John Gardner (September 28, 2010, 1:36 pm):

    The author’s thesis, that current interests/concerns deeply affect how anthropologists interpret findings (and some historians emphasize or deemphasize certain aspects of history), is a very important insight.

    For example (but there are SO many more), as cultural relativity (that culture “over there” or “back there in time” isn’t good or bad, just different than ours) became PC, I noticed that the emphasis on Aztec human sacrifice began to be de-emphasized.


  • Reply posted by pashley1411 (September 28, 2010, 3:16 pm):

    We do science so that we will no longer navel-gaze and reporting on the content and texture of our lint-hair.

    It may seem impossible, at times, but the only purpose of scientists and their work is to inform us of history, of facts, if verifiable theroms. It would be nice if scientists, and include archiologists, would admit how infrequently their reach their objective.


  • Reply posted by PamK (September 28, 2010, 4:14 pm):

    Why is it unexpected? Texts document that Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest raided neighbors and took slaves. They even had potlatch ceremonies where they would kill slaves with special axes, just to demonstrate that they were so wealthy that they could afford to destroy a measure of their wealth, their slaves.


  • Reply posted by Pierre Legrand (September 28, 2010, 6:30 pm):

    The idea that humans have little aversion to killing their fellow humans has been quite disproven on the battlefield over and over again. Naturally we avoid serious injury to others. We can be trained to kill but that is limited to specialized training and does not affect the entire population.

    The US Armed Forces realized this a while ago and developed training to make sure that soldiers were able to defend themselves when in battle. It had been discovered in battle after battle that the majority of soldiers would not pull the trigger and hurt someone, even if it meant that they would be injured or worse.

    If the Pueblo people were violent it was a deliberate action put together by their leaders.


  • Reply posted by Cam (September 29, 2010, 3:59 am):

    D. Ueled suggests a point that also occurred to me: military technology consists of more than just weaponry. It also includes tactics, group cohesion (or discipline), and leadership skills. The experience of the Roman Army at Cannae demonstrates how a large, well-armed force can be defeated by superior tactics and leadership.


  • Reply posted by OsoPardo (September 29, 2010, 1:50 pm):

    Having grown up in the American Southwest this is an amazing read. We all (certainly everyone I knew) understood that some Native American peoples were very violent. When I was a kid we used to go arrowhead hunting in an area of Colorado that played host to a huge war between at least 2 tribes. IMHO, I think the romanticized notion that the early American’s where peaceful is woefully inaccurate.

    One only needs to visit Chichen Itza to see just how violent some of these people could be. Personally, I don’t think many of these people were Peaceniks.


  • Reply posted by Connie Mason-Bennett (September 29, 2010, 4:31 pm):

    Now, do DNA. What a surprise that will be.


  • Reply posted by Don (September 30, 2010, 8:54 am):


    The evidence that people are reluctant to kill mostly derives from data that is known to be fake.

    There is something to it, but it is more like this:

    To effectively use a firearm in combat requires a cool head. The key things you must do is focus on the front sight and then squeeze the trigger. This is hard to do when someone is trying to kill you, and it goes against natural instinct, which is to focus on the threat and lose fine motor control.

    Modern training (or considerable experience with firearms from hunting, etc) can overcome this, and modern advanced sights (which put the target and crosshairs on the same focal plane) and automatic weapons can also help overcome this.

    It isn’t that people are reluctant to kill others, so much as modern weapons are not optimally used by scared humans who are inclined to focus on the threat and lack fine motor skills.


  • Reply posted by Collide-a-scape » Blog Archive » Collide-a-scape >> Whacking Science Journalists (October 1, 2010, 10:00 am):

    [...] a related note, I really wanted to blog in full on this excellent post by Heather Pringle at Archaeology magazine. But I’m running out of time today. Here’s [...]


  • Reply posted by Helen Andrews (October 4, 2010, 2:45 am):

    I do not find it hard to believe that firstly, the ethnic cleansing occurred and secondly, that archaeologists have not been able to accept it. I am Australian and there is proof of possibly the first recorded human genocide on this continent. The original people to walk on this continent are extinct. They are called the Lake Mungo people after the deposit of an estimated 10,000 skeletons in Lake Mungo in the state of New South Wales. They were Asian, not the close-African people who came after them and are commonly called “aboriginal”. But don’t say it out loud, questioning the accepted story is not permitted.
    Definitive DNA analysis is on the Australian National University website


  • Reply posted by Frans Couwenbergh (October 4, 2010, 4:01 pm):

    @ craig (Set.28 11:47 am
    Human nature is the product of two millions of years. All that long time minus some 60.000 thousands years our kind lived in small bands and were a rare kind in the animal world. Bands needed each other for changing knowledge and sex partners en when the met it was feast. Beeing on ‘noble’ terms which each other was an element of fitness, so a product of natural selection.
    ‘Modern’ humans (AMHs, our actual kind) developed more sophisticated armament, could sustain bigger bands, spread all over Eurasia and even the Americas and on several places of the world they began to suffer under overpopulation. In a situation of overpopulation the bands with the most fierce men survive, so the women countenance fierceness in their men and sons. The men got the stupid idea that their gender was superior and this was the start of machism. The more overpopulation wars, the more violent the suppression of the women by the men. This is the mechanism.
    Now the Puebloan People.
    It is comparable with the first Levant hunter/gatherers clans who united to cope with the important cereal habitats on the slopes of the Tauros mountains. In the initial stage the noble population flourished. But through the cutting down of the trees the toil detoriated and so the harvesting. The hunger kindled the wars.


  • Reply posted by walter killian (October 8, 2010, 1:05 pm):

    see Choctaw Indian burial customs for possible explanation.


  • Reply posted by M. Windsor (October 13, 2010, 8:06 am):

    Wow, there are a lot of varying opinions spanning from what seems to be the perspective of academia and CRM archaeologists. It is interesting to see how many opinions are formulated over this article. Everyone offers valid points. I am continually amazed to see after all the advancements within archaeology and science in general that we are still as a profession unwilling to simply say there is not enough evidence to determine the actual cause of a civilization’s decline, or why events happened. Sometimes it requires a larger glimpse into a civilization before we can determine every detail about them. Sometimes regulations or budget prevent us from using every resource available. What this article, and all subsequent (albeit fairly eloquent) comments, say to me is that we are still tapping into the full picture of what the Anasazi culture was indeed like. In other words, we still don’t know fully.

    I will say that after years in the field it is evident that many archaeologists have difficulty seperating themselves from their subject. It is rare to find truly objective scientists, so naturally data is subjective to the latest trends including not only mass media…but also trends within the profession. We use the current favorite tests, look at the latest trending statistics, stop digging at what is considered the current sterile layer without (with some exceptions) testing past that point. We are human and we study humans. We all err.

    Oh, and someone mentioned being an projectile point hunter in the past. I hope that has ended.


  • Reply posted by Jason Chuipka (October 23, 2010, 10:09 am):

    Many of the comments posted regarding this issue seem to relate to the Discovery news article on this aspect of the Sacred Ridge Site and the investigations in Ridges Basin. That article presented sound bites and blurbs not completely in context. I would strongly recommend examining the technical publications on the Sacred Ridge Site, the Bioarchaeology volume, and the Final Synthetic Report for the Animas-La Plata Project. These are available through the University of Arizona Press.


  • Reply posted by Collide-a-scape » Blog Archive » Collide-a-scape >> Dueling Climate Narratives (November 4, 2010, 9:45 am):

    [...] that are hard to let go of. For example, it’s only been in the last decade that a dominant anthropological narrative of the prehistoric Southwest has been overturned. So the fact remains that scientists have their [...]


  • Reply posted by wxsby (January 4, 2011, 9:12 am):

    Not such a new idea. This, to the tune of The Wabash Cannonball, has been around since the ’60s…

    Down in Arizona, where scholars’ minds are free,
    The theories are all fool proof, as any fool can see
    This song it is the story of the greatest one of all
    How them Athabaskan Bastards caused the Great Pueblo fall.

    They stand up in their classrooms and there they hem and haw,
    And tell fantastic stories of surveys that they saw,
    When the Apache got there, they do not know at all,
    But them Athabaskan Bastards caused the Great Pueblo Fall.

    Along the Blue Pacific, along the rock bound shore,
    From Columbia to Sonora, we find them evermore.
    They were fierce and they were warlike, its known to one and all.
    That them Athabaskan Bastards caused the Great Pueblo Fall.

    Way down in the southlands lived a sedentary folk,
    Who thought of scurvy nomads as something of a joke.
    They could not know, they could not see, the meaning to it all.
    So them Athabaskan Bastards caused the Great Pueblo Fall.

    Throughout the spring and summer, they grew their corn and beans.
    Then came the blow that shattered all those great Pueblo dreams.
    The burning of the cornfields, it cast a smoky pall,
    As them Athabaskan Bastards caused the Great Pueblo Fall.

    The lookout saw them coming, his eyes were sharp and true,
    They ran back to their pueblos, they pulled up the ladders too.
    They thought that they were safe there, but those Bastards scaled the wall.
    Yes them Athabaskan Bastards caused the Great Pueblo Fall.


  • Reply posted by philip paquet (March 1, 2011, 11:33 pm):

    A small burial site was discovered a year or two ago in the southwest. The grave contained the disarticulated and damaged remains of a dozon or so victims, women, children and older adults. here is what I believed happened: a party of warriors bent on revenge for some transgression attacked the small settlement when their young males were away on a hunting party(a deliberate opportune timing). The invaders killed all the members of the village including mutilization. When the resident hunting party returned they buried the murdered group in the condition they were found. You can imagine the murderous rage that must have consumed the survivors and it is very likely the raiders, when uncovered some time later, suffered the same fate.


About Our Blogger:

Heather Pringle is a freelance science journalist who has been writing about archaeology for more than 20 years. She is the author of Master Plan: Himmler's Scholars and the Holocaust and The Mummy Congress: Science, Obsession, and the Everlasting Dead. For more about Heather, see our interview or visit

Thanks for writing! While we may not be able to respond to every message, we appreciate your comments and suggestions. (Comments are now closed.)

RSS feed
Trowel Tales: The AIA Blog