Birds of a feather: Chaco trade and Macaws


Researchers recently conducted radiocarbon tests on the bones of 30 scarlet macaws, originally excavated in 1897, stored at New York’s American Museum of Natural History. Their findings are causing the previous theories about the development of civilization in Mesoamerica to molt away. The macaw skeletons were much older than previously thought. While no one is ruffled by the data, a different understanding of trade and society is being hatched. The result of the findings suggests that Chaco Canyon economic growth and reach may actually have been the driving force behind its cultural and religious sophistication and not vice versa. Joining the Indy Team today is Dr. Adam Watson, lead author of this new study, and he will explain the importance of the fledgling discovery and bring the details of the project to roost with you our listeners.






Dr. Adam Watson

Dr. Adam Watson’s research explores human interaction with the environment, political economy, ritual, and the development of societal complexity. His work has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the American Philosophical Society, and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History.adamwatson_2012_profile_full

Specializing in archaeozoology and GIS, Watson has applied these methods to examine the development of complex societies and changing patterns of human subsistence, economy, and landscape utilization in relation to environmental uncertainty in pre-Columbian North America. His past research has investigated food procurement strategies, agricultural productivity, trends in craft industries, and the role of communal ritual among Ancestral Pueblo communities in and around Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. During the 9th, 10th, and 11th centuries AD, these communities emerged as the core of an extensive regional network and Watson’s latest project addresses key questions related to the organization of the Chacoan economy throughout the rise and decline of the canyon’s regional prominence. The Hyde Exploring Expedition (1896-1900), sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History, excavated the now well-known site of Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon and encountered remarkably rich and well-preserved cultural deposits including one of the largest assemblages of bone artifacts ever recovered from the region. To better understand long-term trends in the Chacoan economy, Watson’s research tracks changes in the manufacture and use of these implements by studying patterns in raw material choice and variation in microscopic wear traces from which the uses of these artifacts (such as the manufacture of basketry and clothing) may be inferred.

Watson has organized numerous archaeological surveys and participated in excavations throughout the southwestern and northeastern United States and Turkey. His ongoing research also investigates the political economic implications of changing subsistence and economic practices among Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) peoples during the 17th and 18th centuries in what is now upstate New York.




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