Collapse of Anasazi Civilization

Jerry Russell

Staff member
Article by Chris Hedges. He draws the obvious comparisons between the Anasazi's ancient predicament, and our own.

...this complex society, like all complex societies, proved fragile and impermanent. It fell into precipitous decline after nearly three centuries. The dense forests of oak, piñon and ponderosa pines and juniper that surrounded the canyon were razed for construction and fuel. The soil eroded. Game was hunted to near-extinction. The diet shifted in the final years from deer and turkey to rabbits and finally mice. Headless mice in the late period have been found by archaeologists in human coprolites—preserved dry feces. The Anasazi’s open society, one where violence was apparently rare, where the people moved unhindered over the network of well-maintained roads, where warfare was apparently absent, where the houses of the rich and powerful were not walled off, where the population shared in the spoils of empire, was replaced with the equivalent of gated, fortified compounds for the elites and misery, hunger, insecurity and tyranny for the commoners. Dwellings began to be built in the cliffs, along with hilltop fortresses, although these residences were not close to the fields and water supply. Defensive walls were constructed along with moats and towers. The large, public religious ceremonies that once united the culture and gave it cohesion fractured, and tiny, warring religious cults took over, the archaeologist Lynne Sebastian notes.

Lekson, a professor of anthropology at the University of Colorado in Boulder, believes the Anasazi rulers during the decline increasingly resorted to savage violence and terror, including the public executions of dissidents and rebels. He finds evidence, much of it documented in Steven A. LeBlanc’s book “Prehistoric Warfare in the American Southwest,” that “Chaco death squads” were sent out across the empire. LeBlanc writes that at Yucca House, a Chaco Great House near Mesa Verde, as many as 90 people were killed and tossed into a kiva and at least 25 showed signs of mutilation.

“Chacoan violence, concentrated and brutal, appears to represent government terror: the enforcement of Chaco’s rule by institutionalized force,” Lekson writes in the article “Chaco Death Squads” in Archeology magazine. “Violence was public, intended to appall and subdue the populace. Chacoan death squads (my term, not LeBlanc’s) executed and mutilated those judged to be threats to Chacoan power, those who broke the rules.”

The anthropologist Christy G. Turner, who specialized in osteology, the study of human bones, in his book “Man Corn” cited “cannibalism and human sacrifice as conspicuous elements of terrorism.” In short, as Lekson writes, “the death squad killed you, cut you up, and then ate you in front of your relatives and neighbors.” The term “man corn” comes from the Nahuatl word “tlacatlaolli,” which Turner defined as a “sacred meal of sacrificed human meat, cooked with corn.” Debra Martin goes on to argue in a paper titled “Violence Against Women in the La Plata River Valley, A.D. 1000-1300” (located on the periphery of the Chacoan empire) that there is evidence of battered women who were perhaps slaves.

The Anasazi elites, no longer willing or able to provide social services or competent governance and plagued by shortages of natural resources, kept extracting unsustainable tribute. They resorted to harsher and harsher forms of repression. By the end, they were hated. The civilization suffered a severe drought in the year 1130. It was the final blow. The impressive structures would lie abandoned until they were discovered by the nomadic Navajos some 600 years later. The Navajos did not reoccupy the buildings, many of which contained skeletal remains, because they believed them to be filled with evil spirits.

Richard Stanley

Interesting article Jerry. I found the following of note as well:

This human inability to foresee—or watch for—long-range consequences may be inherent to our kind, shaped by millions of years when we lived hand to mouth by hunting and gathering. It may also be little more than a mix of inertia, greed, and foolishness encouraged by the shape of the social pyramid. The concentration of power at the top of large-scale societies gives the elite a vested interest in the status quo; they continue to prosper in darkening times long after the environment and general population begin to suffer.”

We in 2018 are beset with signs of impending collapse. The droughts, wildfires, flooding, soaring temperatures, crop failures, poisoning of the soil, air and water, and social breakdown from global warming are leaving huge segments of the world’s poor without adequate food, water and security. Desperate migrants are fleeing the global south. Crisis cults carry out nihilistic acts of terrorism, often in the name of religious beliefs. Our predatory elites, who have retreated to their own versions of Anasazi Great Houses, with access to private security, private education, private medicine, private transportation, private sources of water and food and luxury items that are unavailable to the wider population, have walled out reality. Their hubris and myopia, as well as blind obedience to an ideology—global capitalism—that benefits them but accelerates social and environmental destruction, mean they have only bought a little more time before they succumb like the rest of us. ...

This all fits in with Brian Fagan's book, The Long Summer, which discusses how complex societies are indeed fragile and usually fail because they are ill equipped to adapt to significant stressors, especially short term cyclical droughts and longer term climate shifts. Ironically the Bible records just such a phenomenon in the story of Joseph colluding with 'Pharaoh' during the 7 years of plenty followed by the 7 years of drought. We appear, at least on the surface to be just as myopic as most of the rest of humanity. But, perhaps there are elites today, at least, that understand that lesson to their benefit. Most of us cultural Christians and whatnot never learned or comprehended the lesson of Genesis 47, in that Joseph story, where it seems that the result that was imposed upon the Egyptian commoners later became the feudal serfdom of Christian Europe.

Ancient Sparta imposed such organized terror upon their neighboring and enslaved Helots. And the famous letter in 1 Maccabees 12 asserts a familial connection between the old school Jews of the OT and the same Spartans. It is most commonly attributed as some kind of vanity or propaganda device, but the late Moses Hadas, in his Hellenistic Culture, Fusion and Diffusion, told us why we should consider it to be sincere and authentic.

Similar to Hadas, the late Cyrus H. Gordon in his later years became an advocate of Diffusionism, the belief in a prior global civilization which included such ideas that some PreColumbian cultures appearing in the New World might have been immigrants 'diffused' from the Levant and other 'related' regions. Of course, diffusing such ideas did these two no good to their careers, and might be of the same vein as to why most don't come to appreciate the real meaning of the story in Genesis 47.

With some difference in focus, aspects of this phenomenon are discussed by conservative pundit Jonah Goldberg in his new book, Suicide of the West, an interview about which occurred on MSNBC's Morning Joe show. Of course, the interview, and likely the book, ignores the presence of behind-the-scenes Machiavellian machinations, covert organizations and hidden agendas, etc.. It finishes ironically by devolving into conflating the importance of 'spirituality' with "God-fearing". In the case of the West (including the Russian 'orthodox') this Jekyll and Hyde like 'god' is rather psychopathic in nature.

Aspiring Author

New Member
Despite this random side track into Jews (who had nothing to do with Native Americans so why are we talking about them here!) I think it's interesting that most Pueblo people reject claims that their ancestors engaged in cannibalism.
Also they hate the term Anasazi, just FYI.

Richard Stanley

Despite this random side track into Jews (who had nothing to do with Native Americans so why are we talking about them here!)
The late Professor Cyrus H. Gordon, and prolific author, of Brandeis University was a proponent of Diffusionism, among which ideas, would have such as the Semitic Phoenicians and others related to such as American Indians (or perhaps those that were here before them, that's why.