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The Chaco Organization of Production Conference

Catherine M. Cameron and H. Wolcott Toll

The Chaco Organization of Production Conference was held March 21­23, 1999, on the campus of the University of Colorado-Boulder. This is the first of a series of conferences [funded in part by the National Park Service (NPS) and the University of Colorado (CU)] aimed at synthesizing the results of the Chaco Project, the NPS's long-term (1970­1982) investigation of Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. The Chaco Synthesis, organized by Stephen H. Lekson (University of Colorado Museum), consists of six small, focused, working conferences that explore broad themes: the organization of production; social and political organization; economy and ecology; and the Chaco regional system, and architecture and its public uses. Conferences are hosted by Chacoan scholars who invite carefully chosen "outside experts"southwestern and world archaeologists with specific expertise. Each conference will produce journal papers and also will contribute to professional and public volumes.

The Chaco Organization of Production conference was organized by Catherine Cameron (CU) and H. Wolcott Toll (Museum of New Mexico), both former staff members of the Chaco Project. It was attended by four "outside" specialists: Timothy Earle (Northwestern University), Melissa Hagstrum (University of Washington), Peter Peregrine (Lawrence University), and Lord Colin Renfrew (Cambridge University). Three Chaco specialists also attended: Peter J. McKenna (BIA), Frances Joan Mathien (NPS), and Thomas C. Windes (NPS).

Several participants produced "working papers" that were circulated before the conference. Some papers outlined the participant's understanding of the nature of Chaco Canyon and its place in a regional system. Others looked topically at the organization of production for a particular artifact type. In all, "outsiders" and "insiders" worked extremely well together weaving "outside" expertise with the insiders detailed knowledge of Chacoan archaeology and the conference was extraordinarily productive.

Individual ideas about the Chacoan regional system were presented on the first day of the conference. The second day focused on the production and distribution of the most abundant goods found in Chaco: ceramics, chipped stone, turquoise, and wood (the thousands of wooden beams that roofed Chacoan Great Houses). The third day was devoted to identifying areas of agreement and disagreement and working out a schedule of products.

Although there was considerable agreement about things Chacoan, some participants saw Chaco as primarily a place for the ceremonial deposition of goods. Renfrew called it a "location of high devotional expression." Others emphasized the mobilization of goods to finance the construction of Great Houses and roads. Earle proposed that Chaco had a staple finance economy; food and everyday goods were mobilized to support large communal ceremonies, building activities, and other events. While wealth was probably important at these occasions, a "prestige good exchange" was perhaps of only minor significance. Peregrine, following Blanton et al. (1996, R. E. Blanton, G. M. Feinman, S. A. Kowalewski, and P. N. Peregrine, A Dual-Processual Theory for the Evolution of Mesoamerican Civilization. Current Anthropology 37: 1­14), suggested that Chaco emphasized corporate leadership rather than individual leadership. He stressed the kin-based nature of social relations and the potential of matrilineal kinship systems to enhance the regional mobility of males. The participants agreed that there must have been leaders in Chaco Canyon to organize the construction of Great Houses and roads, but their status was not highly marked. In fact, their power may have been situational, emerging only in the context of communal activities.

All agreed that production of goods in Chaco Canyon and in the Chacoan region was probably household based, although there was household specialization in the production of some goods, like ceramics and turquoise ornaments. Archaeologists have remarked for decades on the enormous quantity of ceramics and chipped stone material found in Chaco Canyon that derive from the Chuska Mountains (75 km west of Chaco Canyon). Some participants suggested that the distribution of these artifacts could be the result of bilocal residence; others emphasized the provisioning of large communal events held in Chaco Canyon.

Special, nonstaple goods are found in unusual quantities in Chaco Canyon -- thousands of pieces of turquoise, 200 cylinder jars, projectile points of unusual materials, macaws, and copper bells from Mesoamerica. There is no evidence of elite control of production of special goods, however. Special goods are found in especially high quantities at Pueblo Bonito, the oldest Great House in Chaco Canyon, and conference participants agreed that Pueblo Bonito was a sacred space where special goods were ceremonially deposited and removed from the social system. Conference participants discussed, but did not resolve, the question of why so many Great Houses were built in Chaco Canyon. Explanations included control of different parts of the canyon, the establishment of enclaves by ethnically different groups from throughout the region, and the use of particular Great Houses for specific ceremonial events that were seasonal or episodic.

The presence of turquoise was an especially interesting topic of discussion. It seems to have been widely produced at the household level, but was found in exceptionally high concentrations at Pueblo Bonito and with special burials. Peregrine noted that it is not unusual for goods produced at the household level to be used to mark individual status. Consumption, not production, is where power is shown. McKenna observed that finished pieces of turquoise often are recovered from small sites so turquoise was not consumed exclusively at Great Houses, although Pueblo Bonito may have been the focus of special "votive" deposits of turquoise.

Many scholars have suggested that long-distance trade was a critical element in the development and operation of the Chacoan System; specifically trade of turquoise to Mesoamerica in return for macaws and copper bells. Conference participants agreed that the quantities of long-distance imports are not large enough so that their control could serve as a source of power for elites. Although these goods may have been exchanged among leaders, their quantities never reached levels where they could be used for political gain. Nothing in the production process of wealth, like turquoise, could have been controlled directly, and there is no evidence for bulk raw turquoise that would be expected if export for long-distance exchange were significant.

The first conference in the Chaco Synthesis series, the Chaco Organization of Production Conference, has resulted in nine papers. Toll and Cameron produced an introductory summary of the conference. Outside experts produced the following position papers: Earle on political economy, Renfrew on sacred economy, Peregrine on the recently proposed network-corporate hierarchy model, and Hagstrum on household production. Chacoan "insiders" produced data-oriented papers that address the models proposed by the outside experts: Toll on ceramics, Cameron on lithics, Mathien on turquoise, and Windes on wood procurement. These papers have been submitted for publication. ·

Catherine M. Cameron is assistant professor at the Department of Anthropology at the University of Colorado-Boulder and H. Wolcott Toll is with the Office of Archaeological Studies at the Museum of New Mexico.

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