Early procurement of scarlet macaws and the emergence of social complexity in Chaco Canyon, NM

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High-precision accelerator mass spectrometer (AMS) 14C dates of scarlet macaw (Ara macao) skeletal remains provide the first direct evidence from Chaco Canyon in northwestern New Mexico that these Neotropical birds were procured from Mesoamerica by Pueblo people as early as ∼A.D. 900-975. Chaco was a prominent prehistoric Pueblo center with a dense concentration of multistoried great houses constructed from the 9th through early 12th centuries. At the best known great house of Pueblo Bonito, unusual burial crypts and significant quantities of exotic and symbolically important materials, including scarlet macaws, turquoise, marine shell, and cacao, suggest societal complexity unprecedented elsewhere in the Puebloan world. Scarlet macaws are known markers of social and political status among the Pueblos. New AMS 14C-dated scarlet macaw remains from Pueblo Bonito demonstrate that these birds were acquired persistently from Mesoamerica between A.D. 900 and 1150. Most of the macaws date before the hypothesized apogeal Chacoan period (A.D. 1040-1110) to which they are commonly attributed. The 10th century acquisition of these birds is consistent with the hypothesis that more formalized status hierarchies developed with significant connections to Mesoamerica before the post- A.D. 1040 architectural florescence in Chaco Canyon.




Watson, A. S., Plog, S., Culleton, B. J., Gilman, P. A., LeBlanc, S. A., Whiteley, P. M., … Kennett, D. J. (2015). Early procurement of scarlet macaws and the emergence of social complexity in Chaco Canyon, NM. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 112(27), 8238–8243. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1509825112

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