Matriarchy in America: An Ancient Civilization Ruled by Women?

Fagjun | Published 2017-03-10 07:15

Research suggests that matriarchy existed on American soil thousands of years ago.

DNA evidence shows that a “dynasty” that handed power from mothers to their children flourished in the Chaco Canyon. Matrilineal dynasties are much less prevalent than patrilineal dynasties, which makes this discovery a very interesting one at the least.

Researchers published a study detailing their findings in a Chaco great house called Pueblo Bonito, where members of the “dynasty” are interred. The manner of burial of the six individuals indicate great social status in Chaco society. The location and manner of the burial, combined with DNA evidence, indicate that power in Chaco society lay in women.

Aerial view of the great house Pueblo Bonito, where the remains were found.
[Photo by Bob Adams, Albuquerque, NM]

Matriarchy and the Chaco Civilization

Ancient Pueblo Peoples thrived in the Chaco Canyon from 900AD to 1150 AD. Pueblo peoples were ancient Native American communities that lived in parts of what are now New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, and Arizona.

Modern Pueblo peoples claim descent from these ancient communities. Pueblo groups, like the Hopi and Zuni tribes, trace descent through the matrilineal line. This means that children belong to their mothers' clans and inheritance flows from mothers to their children.

Ancient Chaco society had apparently clear hierarchies. Elite Chacoans ruled over culture, politics, and religion. Numerous studies on Chacoan society discovered that common Chacoans lived in smaller stone houses surrounding great houses. The elites of the society lived in the great houses, one of which is Pueblo Bonito.

Genetic Evidence

The researchers performed radiocarbon dating on the remains from Pueblo Bonito. They discovered that the earliest burial occurred sometime between 800 to 850AD, around the time of the Chaco civilization's founding. Meanwhile, the latest burial occurred in 1130AD or thereabouts. That's about 330 years between the earliest and latest burials.

The next step is obtaining mitochondrial DNA to establish if the individuals had familial connections. Mitochondrial DNA is an effective way to trace matrilineal descent. The researchers took mtDNA from nine of the individuals, and found that each one descended from the same female ancestor.

Finally, the researchers analyzed nuclear DNA to establish more specific family ties between the individuals. Unlike mtDNA, nuclear DNA is a combination of genes from both mother and father. Nuclear evidence suggested that two individuals were mother and daughter, and another two were grandmother and grandson.

The data show a group of related women, and some men, who can be argued to have been the persistent leaders of Pueblo Bonito for more than 300 years,” says archaeologist Paul Reed. Based on the artifacts found with the remains, this particular familial group may have presided over their community's ritual practices. If true, then they were probably quite influential in their immediate society.

The study provides evidence of matriarchy at least in the Pueblo Bonito community. However, it also reveals much about Chaco society as a whole. Researchers know relatively little about the Chaco civilization, and this research is a step in the right direction. The researchers hope to study more burials to ascertain if matriarchy was indeed a prevalent aspect of ancient Chaco society.

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