Cynthia Bradley

Cynthia Smith Bradley

Department: Archaeology
Discipline: Archaeology

Project Summary

Remaking the Mazeway: a study of skeletal and mortuary evidence from the Ancestral Pueblo site of Wallace Ruin, Colorado, USA

To date, archaeological and bioarchaeological research on Ancestral Puebloans overwhelmingly emphasise environmental adaptation in the genesis of the social developments of the region. As a result, there is a wealth of information regarding what they ate, what they did and when, but comparatively few studies have explored possible non-material motives for the behaviours and attitudes of the living as reflected in their treatment of the dead. The unusual mortuary contexts from Wallace Ruin, however, provide a rare opportunity to address this shortcoming.

Architectural and artifact evidence indicate that Wallace Ruin was associated with, and probably integral to, the Chaco Phenomenon—a region-wide ritual/political/economic system that flourished between about A.D. 1050-1150. Possibly due to the collapse of the Phenomenon, Wallace Ruin and all habitations within several miles were abandoned in the mid 12th century. Following a hiatus of at least thirty years, Wallace Ruin was re-used for ritual purposes on an intermittent basis; although new kivas (a round, ritual room) were built within its confines, there is no archaeological evidence of residential re-occupation of either it or of any 13th century habitations within its vicinity. In a departure from the pervasive Ancestral Pueblo practice of inhumation within the residential tip, or midden, corpses of an estimated 40 individuals of all age groups and both sexes were deposited upon the floors of  nine empty rooms.  This variant funerary practice raises questions concerning possible motives for the disposition of these dead at Wallace Ruin, their association with each other and with the Phenomenon inhabitants, and also whether this atypical procedure is associated with significant changes in regional settlement patterns that took place in the 13th century.

Supervisory Team

  • Professor Christopher Knüsel
  • Dr. José Iriarte