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1999--Is the Andrews Community a Chocoan Outlier?



For this assignment I read "The Andrews Community:  A Chocoan Outlier in the Red Mesa Valley, New Mexico."  The article was authored by Ruth M. Van Dyke of California State University at Fullerton, and it appeared in The Journal of Field Archaeology (vol. 26, 1999).


Several explanatory models regarding the development of the San Juan basin place the Anasazi culture of Chaco Canyon as the hub of a centralized sociopolitical entity that began to assert itself across the area toward the end of the tenth century.   These models are based on observed similarities between Chacoan great houses and the architecture of surrounding communities.  However, Van Dyke's findings at the Andrews Community, located approximately 80 km south of Chaco Canyon, throw doubt on these models, and her article discusses the evidence that supports on a non-Chocoan origin for at least some of the architecture of what have traditionally been categorized as Chocoan outlier sites.


Although the great house at Andrews shares many common features with Chocoan great houses (e.g. core-and-veneer masonry, sandstone as building material, multiple stories, etc.), Van Dyke feels that there is no need "to invoke a Chocoan agency to explain the appearance of this structure."  This is because ceramic dates associated with the Andrews house pre-date the Chocoan era of the Classic Bonito style (ca. 900 to 1100 A.D.).  Similarly, most outliers spawned by Chaco Canyon have ceramic dates that correspond much more closely to the latter half of the Classic Bonito.  

Additionally, the Andrews Community does not show evidence of the same trade networks with which Chaco Canyon and its sister sites were engaged.  Most notable is the absence of Chuskan ware at Andrews.  Chaco Canyon and other sites in the area have a high frequency of Chuskan ware, and its absence at Andrews suggests a dissociation from Chaco. 

Van Dyke also points out that if the Andrews great house was the result of Chacoan incursion one would expect it to lie outside of the already established community.   However, this is not the case.  The great house at Andrews lies in the center of the community, and presumably, this is because it was built at the community's outset, not at some later date.

Finally, Van Dyke uses Occam's Razor by pointing out that everything needed to construct the great house at Andrews was already at Andrews.  The site had adequate resources, knowledge, and labor to construct the great house on their own.   Consequently, there is no need to bring in a second party to explain its existence.  


The significance of Van Dyke's article is that it calls into question traditional modes of interpretation regarding the existence of Chaco-like architecture throughout the San Juan basin.  While Van Dyke does not disclaim all Chacoan influence, she does call for a re-evaluation of certain sites in the area.  This seems to be another example of archaeologists realizing the ever-increasing complexity of the past.  Often, though sites seem to be the result of a single, seminal influence, the reality is not so tidy.  Though general explanatory models are helpful at the outset of investigation, archaeologists must never come to see them as fixed or all-inclusive.  Consequently, answers are as elusive and hard-won as imaginable, however, archaeologists can take solace in the fact that as long as there is no definite answer someone, somewhere, will pay them to try and find one.