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Dissertation Defense: Benjamin Bellorado


May 14 2020 - 9:00am

May 14, 2020
9:00 AM

Title: Leaving Footprints in the Ancient Southwest: Visible Indicators of Group Affiliation and Social Position in the Chaco and Post-Chaco Eras

Abstract: This dissertation investigates how people in the northern US Southwest used clothing and representations of clothing in other media to signal aspects of social identities in the Chaco and post-Chaco eras (A.D. 850–1300). This was a time when communities were first organized into a large regional system and later fractured into smaller organizational entities focused at the site cluster and village levels. In the aftermath of the Chaco reorganization, social inequalities appear to have burgeoned across the greater San Juan River Drainage, and not long after these developments, the entire region was depopulated. Understanding the development and transformation of identity during this pivotal period is critical for explaining the social mechanisms that contributed to the major reorganization of communities in the post-Chaco era.

To better understand identity expression during these tumultuous times, I perform technological and stylistic-design analyses of attributes used to create and decorate ornately woven, twined yucca sandals, alongside cross-media and proxemic analyses of sandal representations in building murals, rock art, and portable media. Technological and stylistic analyses show that some communities consistently made and used sandals with specific sets of attributes that signaled shared village-level identities. At the same time, other communities favored more diverse repertoires of design attributes that signaled aspects of identities shared across a much larger area. During the Chaco era, twined-sandal styles became highly variable and appear to have signaled positions in social hierarchies. During the following post-Chaco era, the stylistic variability of the sandals declined across the region and may have come to signal a leveling of the social hierarchies. In both time periods, ornate geometric designs woven into the soles of the sandals signaled the home communities or sodality groups to which their wearers belonged. Sandal imagery in rock art were placed to mark major travel routes and boundaries between communities that signaled shared identities. Depictions of sandals in other media closely matched their woven counterparts and show that these images were potent symbols of group affiliations and identity politics in the post-Chaco era. Although this research focuses on clothing, it also addresses broader issues of adaptation and identity, providing new information about societal disruption and reformation.


Committee: Dr. Barbara J. Mills (co-Chair), Dr. Ronald H. Towner (co-Chair), Dr. Laurie D. Webster, Dr. E. Charles Adams, and Dr. T J Ferguson

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