Archaeologists unlock a mystery of the Anasazi, this ancient female-dominated dynasty

In a study published in the journal Nature Communication, archaeologists suggest they have figured out who ruled the Anasazi, the ancient civilization considered the most influential in the American Southwest more than 1,200 years ago.

The Anasazi are Native Americans of southwestern North America who were divided into several groups in the present-day states of Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. A recent DNA analysis of nine people buried in a crypt set up at the Pueblo Bonito site identifies them as the leaders of this powerful Native American dynasty that passed leadership from mother to daughter.

Back in 1896: archaeologists discovered the ruins of a 650-room house on the site of Pueblo Bonito, New Mexico, with a crypt in the center inside which 14 people were buried. These individuals were decorated with bracelets, necklaces and other jewelry made from opalescent shells. The burial was then considered one of the richest in the American Southwest. The location of the crypt and the ornaments buried inside then underlined the importance of these 14 people within this hierarchy maintained between 800 and 1250.

Now, genetic analysis of the remains of nine of those people suggests they all belonged to the same maternal line. A « matrilineal » who reigned for at least 300 years according to researchers.  » It is clear that these individuals were revered, enjoying exceptional treatment to allow them to pass to the afterlife. “, explains Adam Watson, of the American Museum of Natural History, who participated in the study.  » Most Chacoans were buried outside the colony and never with such an amount of jewelry and exotic goods « .

The test results revealed that all nine samples contained identical mitochondrial DNA (the genetic material only passed from mothers to their children), meaning these people all had the same maternal ancestor.

Anasazi cave dwelling in Bandelier, New Mexico. Credits
byrdiegyrl — Flickr

Since the first excavations made more than a century ago, archaeologists have tried to determine whether this civilization had an egalitarian or hierarchical society. This analysis finally gives us the answer: it was a hierarchy dominated by women. Definitive conclusions are rare in archaeology, especially when it comes to ancient societies that haven’t left written clues as to their social structure, but researchers say they’re confident.

 » It is possible that this document could generate some controversy within the scientific community, in particular by the use of biological data to determine sociological structures “, conceives Angelique Corthals, a forensic anthropologist at New York University who was not involved in the research, “ mBut the authors have built their case very convincingly, using archaeological data AND genomic data « .

As for the sudden disappearance of this civilization, the question still arises. Many hypotheses have been considered: war, disappearance of resources linked to drought… But these hypotheses are contradicted by observations. Indeed, this civilization « stopped » all at once and not gradually. The inhabitants brutally left everything behind, even leaving food on the plates.


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