Writing in High Country News, Craig Childs profiles archaeologist Susan Ryan, who takes a new road between two views of the Anasazi, the ancient inhabitants of the Four Corners region. Not just refugees from drought or war, some of them apparently abandoned their pueblos in an orderly and ritualistic fashion.
Childs now can speak what archaeologists used to discuss only outside their offices: the evidence of war and violence, which has been known since the 1940s at least but which was not part of the official Park Service story of "peaceful ceremonialists":
[At one excavated site] The list of human remains revealed in the excavation reads like a war crimes indictment: infants, children, adults and elders, all found piled upon each other or scattered across the grounds and in the many rooms, their bones often disarticulated and thrown about. When the end came to this particular pueblo, it was sudden and decisive.
This tale of violence has become the new fashion among certain archaeologists. Evidence of prehistoric warfare has moved to the forefront: ancient towers found stashed with infants and children who were burned alive; skeletons discovered dismembered. Some researchers envision vicious thugs from Central America, roving gangs of cannibals overrunning pueblos weak from years of drought. Others imagine death cults and ritualized torture
Archaeologist Christy Turner finally blew the lid off that coverup in his book Man Corn: Cannibalism and Violence in the Prehistoric American Southwest , which reads like CSI: Mesa Verde.
Ryan, however, also found other sites where the burning of underground kivas seems to have followed the placement of offerings to the gods rather than violent attacks. She thinks some pueblos were depopulated in an orderly and planned fashion.
"There are all these theories about violence and drought," Ryan once said. "Why couldn’t it be as simple as it’s time to go? This culture is sedentary and nomadic at the same time. Maybe ecologically it makes sense so you don’t overstay your welcome. Sometimes you just up and go."
What impresses Ryan is that toward the end of the occupation here, the population skyrocketed. People were moving in from all around. Ryan thinks they might have been preparing for a mass exodus.
There is also a tale about a rattlesnake skeleton: Steve Bodio has more about it.