Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Anthropology
Chaco Canyon is a key area where clear indications of social differentiation in the Pueblo world first appeared during the 9th-11th centuries. This emergent inequality is materialized in the contrast between contemporaneous great and small houses as well as two elaborate groups of burials in Pueblo Bonito, the largest great house, in the canyon center. Although archaeological research has been conducted at Chaco since the late 19th century, many central questions, such as the distinct nature of Chacoan organization and leadership, have been difficult to solve. Using artifactual data from primary context assemblages that have not previously been compared as analytical units at six canyon small houses and Pueblo Bonito, as well as a comparison between the two elaborate burial cluster assemblages, this dissertation addresses three objectives to elucidate the key organizing principles of social formations and explore the nature of politico-ritual power in Chaco society. In doing so, it shows that attention to both human ritual practices and their interactions with cosmologically charged objects can deepen understanding of the dynamics of esoteric ritual knowledge as the basis for organization and power in past societies. The analyses provide evidence of exclusive ritual sodalities, moieties, and corporate lineages in Chaco Canyon society, suggesting deep cultural links between the Pueblo II period and many modern Western and Eastern Pueblo groups. In addition, the data showed limited evidence for an increase in the numbers of exclusive ritual sodalities after 1040 A.D., providing tentative support for hypotheses that this increase in the diversity of ritual practice drove the cultural florescence and elaborate exchange networks across the greater Southwest during the Classic and Late Bonito Phases. Lastly, recent evidence in combination with the results of the comparative analysis of the burial cluster assemblages suggests that Chacoan moieties may have initially developed in association with or under the control of the two founding groups at Pueblo Bonito. The demonstration of key differences between the two burial clusters which suggest that they were each associated with distinct sources of cosmological power shows that Bonito Phase Chacoan leadership was inextricable from controlling ritual and by extension, the cosmos.