Gordon F.M. Rakita
Ongoing Scholarly Projects
Salmon Ruin Project
As I look toward the future, I have initiated a variety of projects that will continue my focus on these overlapping themes. For example, I have begun a bioarchaeological study of previously excavated human burials from Salmon Ruin, Aztec Ruin, and other sites within the Middle San Juan Basin of northern New Mexico. The majority of the Salmon and Aztec Ruin burial features date to the post-Chacoan (post AD 1100) era. The Chacoan period is characterized by regional cultural integration through a network of complex communities scattered across the San Juan basin around Chaco Canyon. As this network dissolved, communities like Salmon and Aztec, flourished. Therefore, the human remains Salmon and Aztec have the potential to shed considerable light on post-Chacoan migrations and human interactions, biological and cultural affinities of the Middle San Juan peoples, and political and religious re-organization in the aftermath of the dissolution of the Chacoan interaction sphere. Very few bioarchaeological studies of the human burials and associated remains from Salmon Ruin and nearby sites have been reported, and no regional synthetic report of human burials from the Middle San Juan region currently exists. Thus my research will fill a significant void in the literature of Southwestern bioarchaeology. This research will allow me to continue my exploration of mortuary ritual, emergent complexity, and prehistoric bio-cultural evolution, all within another location within the American Southwest. I expect that this project to lead to publications in peer-reviewed journals.
76 Draw Project
I am co-director of a field project centered on the borderlands between Chihuahua and New Mexico that seeks to expand our understanding of the development of the Casas Grandes culture (see here
for more information). The site we are investigating, called the 76 Draw site, lies at the northern edge of the Casas Grandes phenomena just south of Deming, New Mexico. For the past several years, my colleagues and I have been arguing that Casas Grandes was primarily a religious center. From this perspective, a detailed examination of a community on the periphery of the Casas Grandes sphere of influence is essential to our understanding the nature of this religious system. After two seasons of ground penetrating radar surveys and one season of preliminary sub-surface excavations at 76 Draw, we are convinced that this site presents a wonderful opportunity to test our model. The 2010 season at the site will provide us with (1) the opportunity to train students in scientific archaeological field methods, (2) the opportunity to salvage critical prehistoric remains that are in danger of natural destruction, and (3) the necessary data to test our model. We are currently preparing a National Science Foundation grant proposal to fund two years of fieldwork at the site.
Monographs & Books
Rakita, G. F. M.
2009 Ancestors and Elites: Emergent Complexity and Ritual Practices in the Casas Grandes Polity. AltaMira Press (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.), Lanham, MD.
Rakita, G. F. M., J. E. Buikstra, L. A. Beck, S. R. Williams (eds.)
2005 Interacting with the Dead: Perspectives on Mortuary Archaeology for the New Millennium. University Press of Florida, Gainesville, FL.
Articles & Chapters
Lozada, M. C., J. E. Buikstra, G. Rakita, J. Wheeler
2009 Camelid Herders: The Forgotten Specialists in the Coastal Señorío of Chiribaya, Southern Perú.
In Andean Civilization: A Tribute to Michael E. Moseley,
edited by Joyce Marcus and Patrick Ryan Williams, Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, UCLA, Los Angeles. Pp. 351-377.
VanPool, Todd L., G.F.M. Rakita, C.S. VanPool
2009 Cerro del Diablo: Un Sitio Multi-Componente de la Cultura Casas Grandes en la Regíon de Janos
. (Cerro del Diablo: A Multicomponent Site in the Janos region of the Casas Grandes Culture.
) Manuscript accepted for publication in Espaciotiempo, Revista Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales y Humanidades, Universidad Autónoma de San Luis Potosí, San Luis Potosí,
Rakita, G. F. M.
2008 Mortuary and Non-Mortuary Ritual Practices at the Pre-Hispanic site of Paquimé (Casas Grandes), Chihuahua, Mexico.
In Reanalysis and Reinterpretation in Southwestern Bioarchaeology
, edited by Ann L. W. Stodder, Arizona State Museum, Anthropological Monograph Series volume 59, Arizona State University Press. Pp. 55-79.
Rakita, G. F. M. and J. E. Buikstra
2008 Feather Waving or The Numinous?: Archaeological Perspectives on Ritual, Religion, and Ideology. An Introduction to An Archaeological Perspective on Ritual, Religion, and Ideology from American Antiquity and Latin American Antiquity
, compiled by Gordon F. M. Rakita and Jane E. Buikstra, SAA Press, Washington, D.C. pp. 1-17.
Rakita, G. F. M.
2008 Ramos Black, Cults of the Dead, and Ritual Practices at Casas Grandes, Mexico
. In Touching the Past: Ritual, Religion and Trade of Casas Grandes
, edited by Glenna Nielsen-Grimm and Paul Stavast, Museum of Peoples & Cultures Popular Series #5, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, pp. 15-28.
As a scholar, I am first and foremost an anthropologist committed to the four-field, holistic Anthropological perspective. I seek to ask and answer anthropologically relevant questions. I believe in the unique and important role the discipline has as it spans the scientific to humanistic spectrum, takes a diachronic and synchronic view of its subject matter, and integrates the biological and cultural dimensions of the human species. Anthropology, thus conceived, can significantly impact and augment our understanding of humanity; as well as contribute to its betterment.
Within anthropology, I am a broadly trained bioarchaeologist. Bioarchaeologists study the biological remains of humans and their associated artifacts from archaeological contexts. More formally, I see bioarchaeology as the scientific study of archaeologically recovered human remains. It is an endeavor that is regional and diachronic in scope, based in the analysis of populations as well as individuals. It is biocultural in outlook, explanatory rather than simply descriptive, and above all, emphasizes the answering of anthropological research questions, not simply archaeological or physical anthropological ones. The approach is concerned with understanding human skeletal biology within the context of human social, funerary and ritual behavior. Bioarchaeologists use methods developed in archaeology, physical anthropology, general anthropology and allied fields.
Beyond bioarchaeology, my areas of expertise include emergent social inequality and complexity, anthropological approaches to mortuary and other ritual behavior, prehistory of the southwestern United States and northern Mexico, and bio-cultural evolution. Within the past five years, my research has focused on the development of complex urban communities in the American Southwest and northern Mexico. By examining the process of prehistoric population aggregation, changing health and demographic variables, social evolution, religious systems, and the bio-cultural dimension of urbanity and community collapse, I hope to provide greater insight into the nature of socio-political complexity, its biological and social foundations, its consequences, and its relationship with shifting religious practices.
Many of my publications crosscut these scholarly interests to varying degrees. The Interacting with the Dead volume (University Press of Florida, 2005) is a case in point. As lead editor, I oversaw the entire production of this volume. However, I was also primary author of the introductory chapter that provided a comprehensive history of bioarchaeological and anthropological approaches to mortuary analysis. I was lead author of the three section introductions that placed each of the volume’s contributed chapters into their theoretical and methodological context. I was also a co-author of two of the included chapters. The first was a study of the political economy of a middle-range (i.e., emergently complex) society in the Andes as observed through an examination of mortuary practices and artificial cranial deformation. This chapter built upon research my colleagues and I previous published in the Imagen del Muerte volume out of the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, Lima, Perú. The second chapter (with me as lead author) was a re-examination of Robert Hertz’s approach to mummification and cremation. A considerable portion of this second chapter involved an interpretation of data I gathered on the prehistoric spatial and temporal distribution of cremations in the American Southwest.
I have continued to expand upon my dissertation research with a series of publications. My initial study examined the changing nature of mortuary practices through time in the Casas Grandes region of Chihuahua, Mexico with a view towards understanding the development of socio-political complexity that culminated in the formation of the urban community of Paquimé. My peer-reviewed chapters in the Religion in the Prehispanic Southwest (AltaMira Press) and Reanalysis and Reinterpretation in Southwestern Bioarchaeology (in production with Arizona State University Press) volumes delve deeper into the role of specific burial practices (e.g. secondary corpse processing) and non-mortuary ritual practices to provide a more nuanced interpretation of changing ritual and religious systems at Paquimé.
2009 saw the publication of my book-length manuscript by AltaMira Press. This book presents my analysis of prehispanic ritual behaviors in the Casas Grandes region of Chihuahua, Mexico. This volume expands upon my previous research on the emergence of complexity and ritual practices at the site of Paquimé. In doing so it not only places my research within the context of Southwestern mortuary and ritual practices, but also grounds these empirical data within broader anthropological theories relating to ancestor worship, ritual and religious behavior, ritual specialists, and especially emergent complexity. My research suggests that the ritual use of human bone in the Casas Grandes culture occurred as part of the emergence of specific religious cults and ritual practices that supported and encouraged the development of social and political complexity in the region.
I have also been active in publishing about the history and methodology of bioarchaeology. My published chapter in the Mapping Our Ancestors (Aldine Transaction Press) volume provides recommendations to researchers engaged in cultural phylogenetic research based upon bioarchaeologists’ experience with bio-distance studies. The chapter uses the history of such bio-distance studies in the American Southwest to illustrate the methodological hurdles that modern day phylogenetic researchers could profitably avoid. Building on my knowledge of bioarchaeological research in the Southwest, I contributed a chapter entitled Hemenway, Hrdlička , and Hawikku: An Historical Perspective on Bioarchaeological Research in the American Southwest to a recently published definitive and synthetic history of American bioarchaeology (published by Elsevier Press). I have also presented a paper at the American Anthropological Association meetings and subsequently published a column in the Society for Archaeological Science Bulletin about the nature of bioarchaeological training in the United States.
I have an intense interest and commitment to the bio-cultural dimensions of evolutionary theory and continue to actively pursue this aspect of my research. I have co-edited a volume (published by Bergin & Garvey) that explores the application of evolutionary theory to aspects of human prehistory. As part of that volume I was a co-author of a chapter that used the concept of sorting developed by biologists Vrba, Eldridge, and Gould to explain the non-random patterning of artifact traits. My article published in the peer-reviewed Anthropological journal Kiva (with G. Raymond) applies the theories and methods of evolutionary archaeologists to a technique for chronologically ordering archaeological sites on the basis of frequencies of various ceramic styles found at those sites. My contribution as second author of a paper published in the International Journal of Learning (also peer-reviewed) included those parts dealing with the evolution of preliterate human cultural transmission and the evolution of human information and technological systems. I also have published a column in the Society for Archaeological Science Bulletin regarding the court decision barring the teaching of intelligent design theory in Dover, Pennsylvania schools. I presented a paper entitled Kith & Kin: An Extension of the Inclusive Fitness Model at the 19th annual conference of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society. The model I outlined in that paper provides a heuristic broadening of the inclusive fitness model of William Hamilton to explanations of altruistic behavior exhibited among biologically unrelated individuals.
A major aspect of bioarchaeological research centers on the ritual treatment of human corpses. Simply put, one can not properly evaluate how well a given archaeological sample of human remains represents the biological population they came from if the mortuary customs of the society are not fully understood. My interest in mortuary ritual was initially kindled when I served as co-author of the Staging Ritual volume (published by the Center for American Archaeology). In this volume, my co-authors and I analyzed the complex ritual behaviors surrounding the disposal of corpses in an Illinois burial mound that dates to the Hopewell period (50 B.C. – A.D. 250). My research in Chihuahua has, in large measure, revolved around similar issues of prehistoric ritual practices. I continue to develop this aspect of my research. Indeed, the Society of American Archaeology has accepted for publication a collection of articles a colleague and I have complied. The volume includes twelve articles germane to the topic of religion and ritual that cover the full geographic, cultural, and socio-political range typically in the Society’s publications. Each article that was selected has significantly impacted the way scholars view the archaeological record of religious and ritual behavior. Moreover, the selected articles provide compelling examples of new theoretical and/or methodological approaches to the study of ritual and religion in the archaeological record. Our introduction to the reader provides a detailed examination of the place each selection has in the field’s literature and highlights additional linkages to other publications. Moreover, our introduction grounds each selection in the historical context of anthropological studies of religion and ritual.
In sum, my research revolves around five overlapping themes. Those themes include bioarchaeology, the emergence of socially complex human communities, ritual and religious behavior, bio-cultural evolution, and the prehistory of the American Southwest and northern Mexico. Frequently these themes intersect one another in my research endeavors and this situation is illustrated in the following diagram.