Monday, August 21, 2017

We Know Where The Anasazi Went

The Anazasi, a.ka. Ancestral Puebloans, were an advanced irrigation agriculture society that suddenly vanished from the Four Corners region of the American Southwest in the 13th century of the current era during a severe drought. For many decades, one of the great unsolved archaeological questions of the American Southwest was where they went. Until now there were serious uncertainties that made it difficult to connect specific ancient and modern Puebloan sites. Human ancient mtDNA from the American Southwest was not sufficient to be definitive. Now, with ancient Turkey DNA, we can answer that question. 

The Anasazi migrated to the Northern Rio Grande and became ancestors of the contemporary Pueblo people of that region in New Mexico. This also provides reliable information about the linguistic and religious views of the Anasazi people, now that we know which Puebloans were in continuity with them. (The Anasazi may have been the seed for some other smaller Puebloan communities as well, but this was the main migration.)

Trade ties and origins of Anasazi civilization to the South has also been established. For context, the Aztec civilization was starting to emerge in Southern Mexico in the late 13th century.
The 13th century Puebloan depopulation of the Four Corners region of the US Southwest is an iconic episode in world prehistory. Studies of its causes, as well as its consequences, have a bearing not only on archaeological method and theory, but also social responses to climate change, the sociology of social movements, and contemporary patterns of cultural diversity. 
Previous research has debated the demographic scale, destinations, and impacts of Four Corners migrants. Much of this uncertainty stems from the substantial differences in material culture between the Four Corners vs. hypothesized destination areas. Comparable biological evidence has been difficult to obtain due to the complete departure of farmers from the Four Corners in the 13th century CE and restrictions on sampling human remains. 
As an alternative, patterns of genetic variation among domesticated species were used to address the role of migration in this collapse. We collected mitochondrial haplotypic data from dog (Canis lupus familiaris) and turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) remains from archaeological sites in the most densely-populated portion of the Four Corners region, and the most commonly proposed destination area for that population under migration scenarios. 
Results are consistent with a large-scale migration of humans, accompanied by their domestic turkeys, during the 13th century CE. These results support scenarios that suggest contemporary Pueblo peoples of the Northern Rio Grande are biological and cultural descendants of Four Corners populations.
Brian M. Kemp, et al., "Prehistoric mitochondrial DNA of domesticate animals supports a 13th century exodus from the northern US southwest" PLOS One (July 26, 2017)

One question remains. What happened to their dogs?  

There were dog remains in the Four Corners area, but at their destination, only coyote and wolf remains were found.

I suspect that they ended up in soup, en route or before they left.

Footnote: The migration took place at a time of declining confidence in Anasazi Sun Priests.

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