Stephen Plog

Weatherhead Resident Scholar


Ritual and Society: The Cultural Dynamics of the Pueblo World from AD 1000-1250

Unparalleled episodes of population increase and decline, as well as migration and village construction and growth, marked the era AD 1000–1450 in the Pueblo region of the American Southwest. Stephen Plog observes "in a period of only 400-450 years, these processes and events radically altered the social landscape of the northern Southwest, transforming a countryside dotted with thousands of small farming villages into the Pueblo world as we know it today." Because this period encompasses a major cultural shift—the transition from small farming villages to large aggregated towns—it holds broad interest to anthropologists and archaeologists.

While recent research has examined migration patterns, trade relationships, ritual, ideology, and social conflict of the era, most studies have been limited to the latter three centuries. "When we consider only the period from AD 1250 to 1450," says Plog; "we in essence examine only the last half of a transformation that was initiated at least two and a half centuries earlier. I'm interested in the development of pueblo social and religious life during the 1100s and 1200s, and understanding what led to the dramatic developments—the katsina ritual societies and the great house architecture, for instance—that we see happening later on."

Plog contends that in general the impact of environmental changes has been over-emphasized at the expense of cultural dynamics and the linkages among conflict, ritual, economy, and demography. To obtain a better understanding of this period, Plog is investigating the more diverse elements of Pueblo life—such as rock art and kiva murals—that compared to ceramic data are of limited distribution. "Because these things are rare, they tend not to get much attention," says Plog. "I'm beginning to come around to the point of view that they may actually tell us a whole lot more than the items that are more abundant—or, at least, by putting them together, we can learn things we wouldn't have seen in any other way."

Tracking the introduction of cotton to the region and the influence of the volcanic eruption of Sunset Crater in Arizona are other research trajectories Plog hopes will reveal new insights about the social and religious patterns that emerged in the latter part of this era.

Affiliation at time of award:
Commonwealth Professor of Anthropology, University of Virginia

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