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

Page under construction and concept testing

Keet Seel Center PanoramaPurpose. This series of pages is a look at what we think we know about the lives of an ancient people in order to draw lessons about life, ethics, and policy in the modern organization.

As we argue elsewhere, human beings are evolving members of an evolving world. Not being the end of all creation, we bring with us genes and memes of the past and face a future for those that follow us that we can only influence, at best. We expect to confirm that organizations have universal problems to identify and solve, but that there have been few universal definitions and solutions to such problems.

Approach/Methodology. This integration of what we think we know about the Anasazi experience is accomplished through the framework for assessing organizational ethics and compliance programs developed elsewhere in this Site. Taking this approach is limited, of course, by the data available to flesh out the framework itself.

We concentrate, for now, on the Anasazi (coming to be referred to as "Ancestral Puebloans"), native Americans who lived in the greater Four Corners area of the United States from approximately 6,000 B.C. to 1350 A.D., where they then merged with large, plaza-oriented pueblos in the Rio Grande and western Pueblo areas. There will not be interviews, focus groups, and surveys of Anasazi Puebloans. Nor will there be document review beyond the pictographs, petroglyphs, and pottery they left behind. There will, however, be much value gained from site visits, inspecting and reflecting upon the villages and ruins left behind.

As the series itself evolves, we will include, interpret and integrate photos from Anasazi ruins such as Keet Seel (pictured above), Chaco Canyon, Salmon Ruin, Aztec, Mesa Verde (both NPS and Mountain Ute), Hovenweep (including its outliers), Cedar Mesa (especially Grand Gulch), and Bandelier as well as other, less well-known Anasazi and modern Pueblo villages and ruins.

Cedar Mesa Approach from SouthOrganizational Context. First and foremost, the organizational context of the Anasazi 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 Mesa (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.

Keet Seeel North toward CenterOrganizational Culture. 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 (below right), point to sophisticated engineering techniques and social organization.

Keet Seel North Residence Elbow DeflectorThe photo opposite is instructive. Note the relatively crude construction, probably a reflection of both culture and construction materials available. Deflectors are generally associated with kiva design, but the amount of smoke and t-shaped door suggest this was a dwelling unit. At least according to one Park Ranger, this is the only example remaining of an Anasazi elbow shaped deflector.

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.

Salmon Ruin Mesa Verde KivaEthical Framework/Organizational Worldview. This Keet Seel experience was perhaps a more intense example of the very normal pattern of Anasazi family groups occupying and adapting previously constructed and abandoned pueblos. My favorite example is 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 then abandoned the pueblo two to three generations later. It stood empty of human habitation for some 50 years until families from Mesa Verde reoccupied it temporarily and adapted it. The kiva above left 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. It was decorated with murals, which were removed during excavation.

Salmon Ruin Kiva TowerOrganizational Alignment. Archeological support for importance of the circle in human society. This tower kiva, a spiritual center of Anasazi life (a great kiva is just visible in the background), is located at Salmon Ruins, Bloomfield, NM. It has a particularly poignant story to tell.

There is evidence of a tremendous fire that started in the wood and fiber roof of an adjacent room. When excavators reached this kiva, a tower kiva, they found to the skeletal remains of 42 children and one adult female. They hypothesize that she fled with the children in her care to the top of the two story tower kiva to avoid the fire, only to have it burn as well. She and the children were buried together when the kiva's roof collapsed below them.

In a much earlier era, the Arcahic in Cedar Mesa, another, more intimate tragedy is portrayed in the image opposite of a breech birth.This culture is described in detail below from the Cedar Mesa Project Web site.

"The earliest known documented inhabitants of the Cedar Mesa area in Southeastern Utah were the "Archaic," a highly mobile, low-density hunting and gathering culture, which depended on wild animals and plants, probably exploiting resources through seasonal movement using open campsites and natural shelters. Recent research indicates that they were moving through the area from B.C. 6500 to B.C. 1500. Excavations at Old Man Cave on the northeast edge of Cedar Mesa substantiate these early dates (Geib and Davidson 1994:191-202). Members of this culture made stemmed projectile points for atlatl weapons and ground stone tools. More than 250 elements of abstract polychrome rock paintings found at the Green Mask site in Grand Gulch are attributed to the archaic period (Cole 1993:198-201)."





"Following the Archaic Period, there was a substantial increase in population during the Basketmaker II Period (B.C.1500-A.D. 400). Habitation sites, alcoves for camping, burials, and rock art, were located near arable land used for flood plain or dryland farming (maize and squash) and close to areas with a high diversity of wild foods (Lipe 1993:1-10). Caves were used for camping, storage, burials, and rock art imagery. The San Juan Anthropomorphic style pictographs and petroglyphs, large figures often with elaborate headdresses and/or necklaces and other body decoration can be attributed to Basketmaker II time (Cole 1993:201-218). Research suggests that during the late Basketmaker II period, (A.D. 50-400) small populations lived in egalitarian communities with an informal social organization. Pottery was not used during this period. The composite dart and the atlatl (throwing stick) were the principal weapons. The superior quality of workmanship and design attributed to the Basketmaker II people is remarkable and included coiled baskets, conical collecting baskets, twined sandals, and bags."

Ethics/Compliance Outcomes. Under development.

End of concept test to date. We truly believe in learning and growth in all that we do. Your comments or questions about this site, its content, and implications are important to us. Please drop us a line.


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