Pueblo Bonito, found in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, was the epicenter of Chacoan culture. Photo by Douglas Kennett/Penn State University
Feb. 21 (UPI) -- New archeological evidence, including radiocarbon and DNA analysis, suggests the Chacoan society was ruled by a matrilineal dynasty for more than 300 years.
Pueblo Bonito is the largest and most thoroughly studied of the great houses found in New Mexico's Chaco Canyon. But archaeologists have remained unclear on exactly how the Pueblo people of Chaco Canyon and their great houses organized themselves.
Some researchers have previously claimed Pueblo Bonito was a leaderless, egalitarian community, while others have argued the great house was part of a hierarchical state-level society.
The new evidence consists of human remains and material goods found in a burial crypt, the only burial chamber found within the 650-room pueblo village, or great house.
"It has been clear for some time that these were venerated individuals, based on the exceptional treatment they received in the afterlife -- most Chacoans were buried outside of the settlement and never with such high quantities of exotic goods," Adam Watson, an anthropologist and postdoctoral fellow at the American Museum of Natural History, explained in a news release. "But previously one could only speculate about the exact nature of their relationship to one another."
The crypt was discovered in the 1890s. But until now, analysis of its content has been incomplete. A total of 14 burials were found within the chamber. The latest DNA analysis showed the individuals all share the same mitochondrial genome sequence -- genes inherited from the mother.
The chamber's first burial revealed a man in his early 40s killed by blunt force trauma to the head. The man was buried with 11,000 turquoise beads and 3,300 shell beads, as well as abalone shells and a conch shell trumpet. His was the greatest material display of any burial yet uncovered by archaeologist in the American Southwest.
The findings -- detailed in the journal Nature Communications -- suggest this man and his successors were members of a ruling maternal lineage.
"Using DNA sequences from the nuclear genome combined with the radiocarbon dates, we identified a mother-daughter pair and a grandmother-grandson relationship," said Douglas J. Kennett, a professor of anthropology at Penn State Univeristy.
"For the first time, we're saying that one kinship group controlled Pueblo Bonito for more than 300 years," added Steve Plog, a professor of archaeology at the University of Virginia. "This is the best evidence of a social hierarchy in the ancient Southwest."