Dr. John Kantner, University of North Florida

Origin of Pilgrimage Centers

Most archaeologists, including Dr. Kantner, believe that Chaco Canyon became a pilgrimage center during the eleventh century AD, if not earlier. How a particular place on the landscape becomes endowed with such significance that people are willing to walk dozens of miles Chimayo pilgrimage center, photo by Andrea Stawitcke across the high desert—likely carrying heavy loads of offerings—is a fascinating question, the answer to which can reveal insight into human individual and social behavior. At some point in the past, Chaco Canyon was no different than any other part of the Puebloan Southwest. What happened to make it so important that its impact is still felt today?

Hundreds of pilgrimage sites are known from across the ancient and contemporary world, many small with localized followings, some enormous that attract international pilgrims. Dr. Kantner is exploring the diversity and commonalities of pilgrimage centers, from the Cahuachi center of ancient coastal South America to the small but influential pilgrimage site of Chimayo in New Mexico, to understand how they emerged and how that knowledge might inform archaeologists as they investigate ancient religious monuments.

With Dr. Kevin Vaughn (Purdue University), Dr. Kantner recently published an article in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology that uses costly signaling theory from behavioral ecology to consider how pilgrimage behavior and pilgrimage centers co-evolve.