Costly Signaling Among Great Houses on the Chaco Periphery
Safi, Kristin Naree
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Despite decades of Chaco-style great house research, the impetus for their construction and the extent to which their communities directly interacted across the northern Southwest remain poorly understood. A key question is whether great houses represent an articulated system centered at Chaco Canyon or whether they are a regional conceptualization of communal activities enacted on a local scale. The amount of documented great house variability suggests that local social and environmental contexts played an important role in the construction and use of these structures. I present a case study of three late Pueblo II (A.D. 1050-1130) communities in the southern Cibola sub-region, located on the southern extent of the Pueblo culture area, to evaluate the role of great houses within their local and broader social contexts. I argue great houses in this area were constructed as costly signaling displays directed by local leaders to gain community prestige and access to non-local resources. I draw on survey, architectural, ceramic, faunal, and compositional data from each community to identify links between these great houses and others across the northern Southwest, examine the nature of great house use within the context of each associated community, and evaluate patterns of interaction with local and more distant communities. I then expand this analysis to evaluate evidence for costly signaling activities between great house communities from across the Chacoan sphere.The results suggest that southern Cibola great houses were locally constructed using elements from the traditional Chaco architectural canon, and utilized remodeling events to increase their architectural link to Chaco Canyon. These great houses hosted community-integrating activities that incorporated ceramics from both the Pueblo and Mogollon ancestral traditions, possibly in an effort to socially integrate a multi-ethnic population. No evidence was identified to support the historically dominant model that southern Cibola great houses were built and controlled by Chaco Canyon populations. Based on this analysis, a costly signaling model better accounts for the construction of southern Cibola great houses than others posed for a Chaco regional system. This inference is supported at other great houses across the Chaco sphere, given the available macro-regional great house data.