The next installment in my “Why We Fight” series has been posted over at the Scientific American Guest Blog! It’s called In Search of the Origins of Warfare in the American Southwest. The post looks at some archaeological research in Arizona that tried to answer the question, what does a war look like a thousand years after it ends? Archaeologists pieced together the history of a prehistoric Native American group known as the Kayenta Anasazi and found that their story may challenge ideas about where human warfare came from. It’s a cool story, so check it out!

Further reading for anyone arriving here from the Scientific American Guest Blog who’s interested in learning more about warfare in the American Southwest:

Gambler’s House is an excellent blog dedicated to archaeological research in the Southwest, with a specific focus on archaeology at Chaco Canyon.

For a more recent, model-based approach to the archaeology of warfare in the prehistoric Southwest, read “A Scale Model of Seven Hundred Years of Farming Settlements in Southwestern Colorado” (pdf) by Timothy Kohler and Mark Varien, a chapter in Becoming Villagers: Comparing Early Village Societies, University of Arizona Press: Tucson (2010).

There is an ongoing controversy over whether cannibalism was practiced in the prehistoric Southwest, and how this behavior may have been tied into warfare and militarism. Gambler’s House has a great series of posts that give an overview of the controversy, the evidence for cannibalism, and how the practice can be explained in a social context.

Update: A response to my Scientific American Guest Post has been posted over at Gambler’s House. The post compares and contrasts Haas’s work to archaeologist Steven LeBlanc’s research regarding warfare in the prehistoric southwest (and his very different conclusions about the origins of warfare in general). It also includes a particularly interesting discussion of the evidence for Kayenta Anasazi migration following the abandonment of the Kayenta region by the end of the 13th century. Check it out here.

  7 Responses to “New Post at the Scientific American Guest Blog”

  1. I’m surprised you seem unaware of any of the numerous publications on warfare in the SW that have appeared in the past 25 years or so. It’s been a hot topic, and Haas’ work is just one example. There has been abundant media treatment of issues such as “cannibalism at Cowboy Wash”, etc. and arguments in both the professional literature and the popular press about whether the Chacoan society of the late 1000s and early 1100s might have used cannibalism and mutilation to reinforce their political influence. Most of the research papers that have been published describe particular cases of probable warfare, but there are some more general and theoretical treatments as well, e.g. see Kohler et al. in Shennan 2009 (accessible from the publications list on the “Village Project” web site: ). There also are several books by Steve LeBlanc that summarize the evidence for SW warfare and attempt to explain it in the SW context; also an interesting book by Larry Keeley titled “War Before Civilization” that summarizes cross-cultural ethnographic as well as archaeological evidence for the prevalence of warfare among small-scale societies generally. I don’t think Haas’ basic interpretations are wrong, i.e., that there was warfare in Long House Valley in the 1200s, but I don’t think there is evidential support for his suggestion that this was tied into long-distance raiding between the Kayenta and Mesa Verde areas, nor is there support for the idea that everything was peaceful prior to the late 1100s. If you look at the broader region, there is evidence for warfare, and sometimes substantial evidence, in every period. In any case, I’m surprised that you apparently did not ask anybody working in the field you are writing about to recommend any current literature for you to read. Would you do this in any other field of science? I’m surprised that the editors at Scientific American didn’t ask you to find out more about how your post relates to the field you are posting about.

    • First, thank you for your recommendations on further literature related to the topic. Allow me to explain how I decided to write this post. I was interested in writing about how archaeologists study prehistoric warfare. Because I was confined to writing a short blog post that would be understandable and interesting to a general audience, I chose to focus on a specific instance of archaeological research regarding how warfare emerged at a specific time (1200’s) and place (Long House Valley). Haas’s work in Long House Valley had been recommended to me in the past as a good case study of an archaeological approach to the study of warfare. I didn’t intend for the post to be a comprehensive review of the topic of prehistoric warfare in the American Southwest. Even so, I agree that further contextualization of Haas’s work would have been appropriate given its age. So I’ve added a few links above to sites describing more current research regarding prehistoric warfare in the Southwest – in case any interested readers make their way here from the Sci. Am. post. If you have any other recommendations to add to this list I’d be happy to put them up.

  2. [...] appears to be Haas’s) is highly debatable.  Also, Bailey very kindly linked to me in his post at his own blog pointing to the guest post (apparently in response to a tongue-lashing from Bill [...]

  3. SO cool, Dan!!!

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