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Leaving the pits behind.

Leaving the pits behind

The Anasazi Indians, who lived from about A.D. 450 to 1300 in what is now the southwestern United States, were a mobile people who occupied distinctive pit dwellings for a few as 10 or 15 years before moving on. Some researchers have suggested the inhabitants abandoned and sometimes burned these "pit structures" as a result of disease, natural disasters or warfare. But the Anasazi may often have moved because of deterioration and insect infestation in their sunken quarters, or as a ritual response to a pit inhabitant's death, asserts Catherine M. Cameron of the University of Arizona in Tucson.

Cameron studied 88 pit structures at 35 Anasazi village sites dating to between A.D. 500 and 900. In their prime, the structures generally consisted of a pit up to 7 feet deep and 17 feet across, with four wooden posts supporting an elevated roof made of smaller wooden beams. The roof was filled in with brush or grass and covered with earth.

Half of the pit structures she examined had been burned, probably intentionally, Cameron reports in the spring JOURNAL OF FIELD OF ARCHAEOLOGY. The burned dwellings were not located in villages that experienced wholesale abandonment as a result of war or natural disaster, she says. Cameron suggests they may have been burned after the death of the occupant--a practice reported among some modern southwestern Indian groups.

Insects may well have infested the roof coverings of Anasazi pit structures, leading to the burning practice, although Cameron says this is difficult to document.

In contrast, at unburned structures the Anasazi removed most household items and often took apart roofs so that beams could be reused for new dwellings, which were probably erected nearby, Cameron says. Some unburned structures are strewn with Anasazi-era refuse, suggesting villagers sometimes tossed their garbage into abandoned pits.
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Title Annotation:Anasazi Indians
Publication:Science News
Date:May 12, 1990
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