Unearthing Ancient Power Networks: Chaco World Paint Production Revealed at SciX 2023

Published on: 

Explore the hidden world of Chacoan paint production and its profound societal implications in Kelsey Hanson's groundbreaking talk at SciX 2023. Uncover the secrets of ancient power networks through meticulous analysis of paint recipes and their circulation within the Chaco communities.

At SciX 2023 at the Golden Nugget Resort in Sparks, Nevada, there was a talk that delved deep into the world of ancient paint production and its profound implications for understanding the dynamics of power within the Chaco communities of the northern U.S. southwest. The title of the presentation was "Paint Production in the Chaco World: Revealing Networks of Power from the Chemical to the Cosmological," and it was delivered by Kelsey Hanson from the University of Arizona.

Paint, a technology that is nearly as old as humans, has often been overlooked and misunderstood in archaeological contexts. However, Hanson's research shed light on its vital role in expressing and perpetuating core cosmological beliefs within Pueblo communities (1). These beliefs encompass cardinal directions, seasons, and sociopolitical affiliations, making paint a crucial medium for conveying these intricate ideologies across various forms of art, from pottery and murals to pictographs and performance regalia.

Hanson's investigation centered on the Chaco World, a historical epicenter located in northern New Mexico between A.D. 850 and 1150. Her research delved into the extensive analysis of 1,566 paint-related objects sourced from museum collections, all originating from Chaco-era archaeological sites. This vast data set allowed her to explore the diverse range of paint recipes employed during this era, sparking intriguing questions about the sharing, centralization, and control of these recipes over time (1).

To unravel these mysteries, Hanson employed a multifaceted approach, utilizing advanced scientific techniques such as polarized light microscopy, X-ray fluorescence (XRF), Fourier transform infrared (FT-IR) spectroscopy, Raman spectroscopy, and scanning electron microscopy with energy dispersive spectroscopy (SEM-EDS) (1). By characterizing paint recipes through these methods, she was able to unveil the intricate details of the Chaco communities' paint-making processes (1).

One of the most striking aspects of her research was the application of social network analysis to identify shared compositional signatures among different Chaco communities. This provided a clear picture of the circulation of paint recipes and the accompanying knowledge, both within and between these communities. The implications of this network analysis extend beyond the realm of chemistry; it offers fresh insights into the historical and sociopolitical dynamics of the Chaco World.


During her presentation at SciX 2023, Hanson shared preliminary results of her extensive analyses, initiating a thought-provoking discussion about the networks of sociopolitical power that ebbed and flowed through time within the Chaco World. Her research promises to rewrite the history books, providing a new perspective on how power dynamics evolved within these ancient communities.

In conclusion, Kelsey Hanson's talk at SciX 2023 illuminated the vital role of paint in expressing complex cosmological beliefs within the Chaco communities and offered a groundbreaking exploration of the networks of power that underpinned their societies. Her meticulous research, conducted at the University of Arizona, exemplified the power of interdisciplinary approaches to archaeology and left attendees eagerly anticipating the publication of her full findings.

This article was written with the help of artificial intelligence and has been edited to ensure accuracy and clarity. You can read more about our policy for using AI here.


(1) Hanson, K. Paint Production in the Chaco World: Revealing Networks of Power from the Chemical to the Cosmological. Presented at SciX 2023 in Sparks, Nevada, October 9, 2023.