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The Ancient Ones and Organizational Life: What We Can Learn from the Anasazi People

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Organizational Context. First and foremost, the organizational context of the Ansazi was their environment. They were one of the people of mesa tops and canyons of the rugged, arid greater Four Corners area of the United States. Mesa Verde and Cedar (opposite) are two of the famous concentrations of Anasazi known by their association with mesas, initially and especially the mesa tops and the verdant side canyons off of them. We explore here, the Anasazi context.

The mesa tops and the flood plains of the side canyons initially provided subsistence through hunting and gather and, beginning in the Basketmaker II periods of the Puebloan chronology of the Greater Four Corners area, first floodplain and then upland dry farming, and catch dam irrigation.

Puebloan Chaco Canyon is identified by the arid canyon in which it is located. Keet Seel is infamous, perhaps, for the eight and a half mile—and 1,000 foot elevation change—Tsegi Canyon approach (lower right) one needs to walk to reach the village. (The story is told by rangers of a tourist, years ago, who wondered why the Anasazi built their dwellings so far from roads.)

The canyons provided the creeks, floodplains and permanent streams that allowed cultivated crops: that first sense that human beings could control their environment, with the help of their gods. From this ability to feed more people at the same location, for a time, arose greater concentrations of people, the physical structures to house them, and the division of labor that was possible to support artisans and administrative and religious centers. From this also appears evidence of class differences that seem to naturally arise.

Cutthroat castle, one of the six groups at Hovenweep, is apparently such a religious and administrative center. Archeologist reach this conclusion due to the relative lack of middens, trash deposits, and the characteristics of the unexcavated ruins below the "castles" that rise up from the bedrock on which they were built. Pueblos Bonita in Chaco Canyon and Cliff Palace, on Mesa Verde, each now appear to be similar administrative centers because there is little evidence of habitation: hearths and middens.

The Anasazi were ingenious, though constrained by their environment or "organizational context," as are all organizations. If you look closely at the photo detail of Keet Seel at left, note the keyhole-shaped kiva in the middle and relatively crude construction of the rooms on the right along the street, but the ingenious retaining wall that supports the streets and the rooms on the left. In talks with one archeologist, he points to the lack of easily shapeable sandstone for the relatively crude Kayenta construction. Certainly the size of Keet Seel (possibly the largest residential Pueblo), the ingenuity of its retaining wall, and other unique innovations, such as the elbow deflector system, point to sophisticated engineering and social organization.

It is particularly intriguing that Keet Seel was constructed in stages as new family groupings or clans arrived independently. Construction dates and the number of kivas at Keet Seel point to the acceptance of news groups into the village. The amount of presumably cooperative social action to lay the foundations, receive new comers, and maintain the whole might serve as a powerful example of organizational action, if we learn more.

This Keet Seel experience was perhaps a more intense experience than the more normal pattern of family groups occupying and adapting previously constructed and abandoned pueblos. My favorite example is probably Salmon Ruin, where families journeyed 60 miles northeast from Chaco Canyon to build an outlier on the style of Pueblo Bonito between A.D. 1088 and 1094. They abandoned the pueblo two to three generations later. The pueblo stood empty for some 50 years until families from Mesa Verde reoccupied it temporarily and adapted it. The Kiva to the right is a classic example of this adaptation process. If one looks closely at its construction, one will see that it is a circular Kiva, Mesa Verde-style, built within a rectangular room on the Pueblo Bonito style.

Finally, the square walls overlooking Bullet Canyon, part of Grand Gulch, Cedar Mesa was probably a watchtower.

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