The Pueblo Native Americans are a group that consists of several tribes mostly located in Arizona and New Mexico. They include the Acoma, Hopi, Taos, Zuni, and others. They are best known for the cliff dwellings and adobe complexes. Their economy has always been mostly based on agriculture and trade. They are believed to have come from an older people called the “Basket Makers.” Unlike other tribes the Pueblo people were never forced to leave their land so many of them remain there today.
Although they are closely related not all Pueblo people speak the same language. In most of the Pueblo tribes the men are responsible for farming and warfare while the women are responsible for taking care of the family and home. The Pueblo people are and always have been good farmers. Commonly grown crops include corn, squash, and beans. Their weapons consist of war clubs, spears, and bows with arrows.
Many of the Pueblo tribes are “matrilineal” meaning the children are considered born into the mother’s clan, not the father’s, and it is the matriarchal line that is used to determine such things as inheritance and descent. Matriarchal Pueblo tribes include the Hopi, Towa, Jemez, Zuni, and Keres. The Tanoan Pueblos have a patrilineal system, in contrast, in which clan membership, inheritance and descent are determined through the father’s line. In the matriarchal tribes children must marry outside of the clan while in the patrimonial tribes children must marry within the clan, traditionally.
By around 700-900 AD the Pueblo people began to abandon their traditional pit houses which they dug in cliffs and they began constructing apartment-like dwellings made of adobe. By about 1050 AD they were developing planned communities composed of large adobe structures with many rooms. The largest of these villages is known today as Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. It contained about 700 rooms up to 5 stories high and as many as 1000 people may have lived there. The Chaco site also contains wonderful round Kivas that are amazing! This site was built by the Anasazi which was one of three major cultures in the region prior to the coming of the Spanish. The other two ancestral Pueblo people are the Hohokam and Mogollon.
The newest research concerning Chaco Canyon involves C14 dating and ancient DNA. And it is believed by these researchers that Chaco was ruled by women. In other words it was a matriarchal society which is NOT surprising at all considering most Pueblo people have a matrilineal social order. However, the debate is ongoing because many researchers believe this site had no ruling class while others believe it was a sort of ancient Pueblo kingdom. Still others believe it was a major Pueblo religious and ceremonial site.
Typically, we delineate higher status through the identification of grave goods. Most ancient people in these Pueblo sites were buried with limited grave goods and outside of the housing compounds. However, at Chaco we find something different. Here at the Chaco Canyon site back in the 1890s archaeologists and anthropologists from the American Museum of Natural History found 14 graves in room 33 in Pueblo Bonito. This appears to have been a crypt dating from 800 AD to 1130 AD.
The 14 individuals buried in this crypt inside Pueblo Bonito (Room 33) appear to have had a higher social status than the other inhabitants of the site. The majority of Chacoans (the name for the people who lived in the complex in Chaco Canyon) were buried outside of the community and with few if any grave goods. However, these 14 graves inside the site had high quality grave goods. This indicates these 14 people enjoyed some kind of higher social status that the other people of Chaco Canyon.
The burial chamber or crypt is about 6 1/2 by 6 1/2 feet and researchers belief it was specifically constructed as a crypt. The oldest burial is that of a male perhaps in his 40s who was killed by a lethal blow on the head. Likely he was killed by a blow from a war club. His grave contains more than 11,000 turquoise beads, 3300 shell beads, abalone shells, and a conch shell trumpet that comes from the Pacific Ocean or Gulf of California which is far from north-central New Mexico where Chaco Canyon is located. This burial is the RICHEST BURIAL FOUND THUS FAR IN THE AMERICAN SOUTHWEST incidentally.
Another person was buried above this male and they were covered with a split plank floor. In the above space another 12 burials are found ranging over a span of 300 years! So who was this obviously very important man? And, are these 14 people related?
Researchers George Perry, Assistant Professor of Anthropology & Biology at Penn State and Richard George who is a grad student in Anthropology have now examined the mitochondrial genomes of these 14 individuals. The results have shown that all shared mtDNA which is inherited only from an individuals mother. What this proves is that these 14 individuals were from the same family and inheritance was along the matrilineal (female, mother’s) line!
Using mtDNA results and C14 dating these researchers were able to identify mother-daughter pairs and grandmother-grandchild relationships. This pretty much indicates one kinship group ruled or at least controlled Chaco Canyon for more than 300 years.
As I said this is really NOT surprising because many Pueblo tribes are matriarchal in their social and political organization. These 14 people appear now to have descended from the man who tied of the lethal blow to the head. Further, this new evidence also indicates Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon had some sort of leadership and that it was NOT a loose community of inhabitants.
In an upcoming post I’m going to talk about the Hopi and Pueblo languages and how they are related to Aztec languages. Sometimes linguistics reveals clues that are rather amazing to say the least!
Note Regarding the name “Anasazi” ————
H/T to JR Bentley for providing the link to this information regarding the name “Anasazi.” In the Navajo language this term means “ancient enemy” and that is why the Hopi and some other Pueblo tribes find it offensive. They prefer the name “Hisatsinom” which means “Ancient Ones.” You can read more about this term and the Hopi preferred name at the link below.