Societal Complexity

On our October trip, Lissa and I visited the Anasazi Heritage Center outside Cortez in southeastern Colorado. It’s a neat museum, built to record, preserve and provide public access to excavations done before the nearby McPhee Reservoir was filled. Adjacent to the museum, there’s a small pueblo room block that’s been excavated and then stabilized for visitors to see.

This morning I was reading an amusing discussion of the site by Joseph Tainter in the introduction to Evolving Complexity and Environmental Risk in the Prehistoric Southwest. Tainter points out the relative complexity of two structures – a small pueblo room block “consisting of a few rooms, and once home to a handful of people.” Next to it is the museum, “a great edifice, many times the size of the little pueblo…. It exists because our national government commissioned it to be built, and pays each year for a permanent staff, energy to heat and cool the building, and a fleet of vehicles.” Then he adds:

Indeed, the energy we have spent to excavate these small pueblos, analyze and curate their remains, attend scientific conferences, publish interpretations and theories, and tell the public what we have learned may well exceed what the prehistoric Puebloans themselves consumed in their lives.

I personally say it’s energy well spent.