Anthropology, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in Chaco Revisited: New Research on the Prehistory of Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, ed. Carrie C. Heitman and Stephen Plog. The University of Arizona Press, Tucson, 2015. Pp. 215–248.


Copyright 2015 The Arizona Board of Regents.


In a paper honoring the career of archaeologist Gwinn Vivian presented at the Society for American Archaeology 70th annual meeting, Toll and others (2005) discussed the still often-overlooked role of small house sites in Chacoan prehistory. They pointed out that many of the attributes we reserve for the category of “great house” are in fact present at some small house sites and that both the diversity and overlapping characteristics across this dichotomy require greater attention if we are to understand “how Chaco worked.” In this chapter, I present contextual data from 12 house assemblages through a comparative theoretical and ethnographic reading of Lévi-Strauss’s house society model (1979, 1982, 1983, 1987, 1991; for cultural approaches see Carsten 1991, 1995; Errington 1987; Fox 1993; Fox, ed. 1993; Hugh-Jones 1995; McKinnon 1983, 1991, 1995, 2000, 2002; Reuter 2002; Waterson 1990, 1993, 1995, 2000; for archaeological applications see Beck 2007; Gillespie 2000, 2007; Joyce and Gillespie 2000; Kirch 2000; Monaghan 1996). The goal of this analysis, in part, is to help resituate small sites within our understanding of Chacoan social organization and to highlight commonalities as well as differences between great houses and small houses. This analysis offers new and ethnographically informed variables and processes with which to think more broadly about Chacoan structures and the importance of looking at lived spaces with a holistic, anthropological lens. Sebastian (2006:421) has encouraged scholars to “redouble our efforts to coax every bit of possible data out of the limited records and large collections from the early years of Chacoan archaeology” and to “strengthen our interpretive frameworks by adopting a broader crosscultural view and examining the patterned material remains of a wider variety of non-state societies.” Coalescing a large body of published and legacy data (, this chapter attempts to embrace both of these directives.