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Photos: Pueblo Society Chose Rulers Based on Mother’s Line

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The prehistoric rulers at Chaco Canyon’s Pueblo Bonito had their mothers, but not their fathers, to thank for their high positions. That’s because elite rulers were chosen based on their mothers’ family, making the society a matrilineal one.

Researchers made the discovery by studying the nuclear and mitochondrial DNA of nine individuals buried in an elaborate crypt in Pueblo Bonito, a multilevel settlement built in what is now New Mexico. The results show that a matrilineal dynasty ruled the area from about A.D. 800 to 1130, when the society collapsed.

Pueblo Bonito, as seen from the northern rim of Chaco Canyon in New Mexico.

Room blocks within Pueblo Bonito.

An archaeology team sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History excavated Pueblo Bonito in 1896. Here’s a sample of the vast amounts of turquoise and shell artifacts they found in the elaborate crypt there.

Pottery and a wooden flute found in the graves of the elite individuals at Pueblo Bonito.

Images and maps of Pueblo Bonito and the surrounding Chacoan sites.

A family tree showing the inferred relationships for the individuals buried in the elite crypt. Matrilineal descent is highlighted in red. The blue shows the grandmother-grandson relationship and the mother-daughter relationship.

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