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Renowned Archaeologist to Discuss 'Social Memory' of Chacoan People

January 14, 2009

Chaco Canyon's Pueblo Bonito was a 600-room, four-story Great House that was considered the center of the Chacoan world.  Photo courtesy Steve Lekson/University of Colorado

A renowned expert on the ancient Pueblo people of Chaco Canyon will give a free public lecture at the University of Colorado at Boulder on Jan. 24.

Barbara Mills, professor and chair of the anthropology department at the University of Arizona, will discuss new interpretations of ancient Chacoan society. Mills said the Chacoan society cannot be fully appreciated without understanding the social networks of the 10th through 12th centuries, including how these networks were created and maintained through "social memory."

The presentation, the 15th annual Distinguished Archaeology Lecture, will be at 7 p.m. in room 270 of the Hale Science Building, just southeast of the intersection of Broadway and University Avenue in Boulder. Parking is available on University Avenue or in the Euclid Avenue AutoPark east of the University Memorial Center at Broadway and Euclid.

Chaco Canyon, now preserved as a national historical park, is known for its large-scale public architecture and isolation in the high desert of present-day New Mexico. But from the 10th through 12th centuries, it was at the center of the Ancestral Puebloan world.

During that period, Chacoan people built multistoried stone Great Houses, using then-unique masonry techniques. Some of the structures are oriented with lunar and solar events such as solstices and equinoxes. Several large roads converge upon Chaco Canyon, suggesting that the area was of central importance to the ancient Southwest.

"A high proportion of the materials consumed at Chaco were transported over long distances, but there is little evidence for what went out in exchange," Mills said. One big question has been why people congregated there.

How Chaco was established and maintained is a fundamental question in Southwestern archaeology, according to anthropologists. In her Jan. 24 presentation, Mills will discuss new interpretations of Chacoan society.

Mills uses new analyses of ceremonial caches to assess the size and variety of ceremonial networks and how they were linked through "memory practices." The contexts in which caches were found are highly varied but also show continuity in Ancestral Puebloan ceremonies. These practices underscore the uniqueness of Chacoan society and leadership, even as they draw attention to similarities with historic and modern Puebloan ceremonial practices.

Mills earned her doctorate from the University of New Mexico in 1989. She is the first woman to head the anthropology department at the University of Arizona. She also serves as an interdisciplinary faculty member with the American Indian Studies Programs at UA. She is the author of numerous books, book chapters and scholarly articles.

For more information, contact CU-Boulder anthropology Associate Professor Catherine Cameron at 303-492-0408 or A full schedule of the spring 2009 anthropology speaker series may be found at


Catherine Cameron, 303-492-0408
Clint Talbott, 303-492-6111

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