Why Did the Anasazi Collapse?

Why Did the Anasazi Collapse Author Note by Jeff Posey

This is the single most enduring question about the Anasazi culture. Why did they abandon the Four Corners of the American Southwest by about A.D. 1300?

There are several competing and commingling theories about what drove (or attracted) them away. Drought, or climate change, is the most commonly believed cause of the Anasazi collapse. But recent ideas include extremist politics and religion, and an unsustainable stratification between the rich and poor—the ancient equivalent of income inequality that so infuriated the masses, they couldn’t take it anymore and left.

Climate change and drought is easy to understand. If your farmers can no longer grow enough food to feed your own people, and the drought lasts longer than the food stores you have set aside, then your culture collapses. The game is over. Those who can move, do. Those who can’t, perish.

Indeed, the Anasazi Great Drought of 1275 to 1300 is commonly cited as the last straw that broke the back of Anasazi farmers, leading to the abandonment of the Four Corners.

Extremist politics and religious zeal can be anything from external forces that invaded the Anasazi lands and took over like occupying Nazis, or internal strife over which priests to follow, erupting like a series of Mafia turf battles that became so intolerable everyone decides to escape.

The end of the Anasazi heyday was characterized by widespread violence, especially in the Chaco Canyon outliers, and social-control cannibalism, a subtle form of warfare and an outrageous form of political control, seemed to be a mechanism for the elites of Chaco Canyon to ensure the outlying farmers continued to supply them with food, even when times were tough.

But even this fails if the farmers can’t grow enough food to even sustain themselves.

Religious zeal, most interestingly, can also mean a high-powered belief system that sprang up somewhere else and attracted all the remaining Anasazi to a new holy land. The most likely candidate for this is the Kachina cult, which appeared around A.D. 1325, about a generation after the Anasazi disappeared from the Four Corners region.

But religion can also be highly political, and can be related to the religious-political power structure of an elite minority of governor-priests who hastened the Anasazi collapse with their policies and practices that failed to adapt to changing environmental and social conditions—such as the extreme building sprees that characterized Chaco Canyon in the generation or two preceding its collapse.

Most likely, it’s a complex combination of two or three (or more) of these simplistic causes. It’s easy to imagine an overbearing class of leaders who used cannibalism and violence to coerce the surrounding communities into providing food and laborers for their frenzied public works programs in Chaco Canyon, combined with climate change that reduced the surplus calories farmers could provide, creating a volatile cultural environment that would make a new and distant religion look very appealing as a way to salvation.

And finally, when a culture has more rich people to support than poor people to sustain them, then the whole system collapses for everyone. There is ample evidence of this as contributing to the Anasazi collapse.

The Anasazi culture is not the only one in human history to have collapsed, unfortunately, and the patterns are similar. Even today, we can see in our own American culture an upper class supported by increasingly extreme income inequality (the growing “surplus” productivity of average workers flows entirely to a tiny ultra-rich minority), a climate that is changing (exacerbated by our own actions), and a rise of religious fervor (marked by increasing rejection of science and rational thought).

This line of inquiry, research, and thinking led directly to my contemporary thriller, Price on Their Heads: A Novel of Income Inequality and Mayhem.

For now, let’s look at evidence for why the Anasazi collapsed. In subsequent Author Notes, we’ll examine how Anasazi wealth and productivity was distributed, and similarities of modern trends in income inequality with Anasazi inequality.

Drought, or climate change

The Anasazi were amazingly successful in a difficult environment for a very long time

Anasazi were successful in a harsh environment, from Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, by Jared Diamond

Environmental problems, especially major droughts and episodes of streambed erosion, tend to recur at intervals much longer than a human lifetime or oral memory span. Given those severe difficulties, it’s impressive that Native Americans in the Southwest developed such complex farming societies as they did. Testimony to their success is that most of this area today supports a much sparser population growing their own food than it did in Anasazi times. —Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, by Jared Diamond

The Anasazi flourished from A.D. 900 to 1300, which is nearly twice as long as the United States has been in existence. (And the Puebloans who descended from them, in much reduced numbers, have 700 years under their belt.)

So even though the Anasazi culture ultimately collapsed, it was extraordinarily successful for a very long time in a very difficult environment.

Will we last as long?

The U.S. Southwest is a marginal environment for agriculture at best

The U.S. Southwest is a marginal environment for agriculture at best, from Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, by Jared Diamond

Favorite single-factor explanations [for the Anasazi collapse] invoke environmental damage, drought, or warfare and cannibalism. Actually, the field of U.S. southwestern prehistory is a graveyard for single-factor explanations. Multiple factors have operated, but they all go back to the fundamental problem that the U.S. Southwest is a fragile and marginal environment for agriculture. —Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, by Jared Diamond

If farming were easy and productive in spite of drought, the Anasazi would likely not have collapsed, but would have remained in place in one political form or another until the arrival of the Spanish in Pueblo country in 1539.

Living and thriving in a precarious environment, especially in a complex culture, requires a system that can react efficiently to changing conditions. That means a hierarchical structure that is prescient, wise, and flexible, or a flat structure that rewards individual or small collectives of farmers for innovation and best practices.

The Anasazi had neither.

Chaco Canyon couldn’t grow enough food to support itself

Chaco Canyon couldn’t grow enough food to support itself, from Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, by Jared Diamond

It turns out that, already in the 9th century, corn was being imported [into Chaco Canyon] from the Chuska Mountains 50 miles to the west (also one of the two sources of roof beams), while a corncob from the last years of Pueblo Bonito in the 12th century came from the San Juan River system 60 miles to the north. —Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, by Jared Diamond

Like every major city today, Chaco Canyon could not feed itself. As with other material goods, such as the nearly quarter-million building logs that had to be hand-carried from sixty miles away or more, they had to import food.

Even though there is evidence of canyon-floor farming and gardening that undoubtedly contributed (similar to the modern trend toward rooftop gardening in many major cities), most calories flowed in from outlying areas.

Imagine the distribution network: Long-distance carriers loaded with all the dried food they could bear must have endlessly plied the road network leading into and out of Chaco Canyon, much as trucks and trains and cargo airplanes endlessly supply the big cities of today.

Also imagine the stories those traders would tell as they traveled, stopping along the way to sit with elders and relate the news of the day. The walking bosses of long strings of burden-bearers would have been the newspapers of the day.

The early Anasazi cut down the forests of Chaco Canyon

The early Anasazi cut down the forests of Chaco Canyon, from Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, by Jared Diamond

When the pinyon and juniper trees were cut down, the nutrients in the litter underneath the trees were flushed out. Today, more than 800 years later, there is still no pinyon/juniper woodland growing anywhere near the packrat middens containing twigs of the woodland that had grown there before A.D. 1000. —Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, by Jared Diamond

One of the worst things a culture can do to its own environment is cut down their forests. Trees, masses of them, change or modulate the climate, the transpiration of moisture, control erosion, and retain soil nutrients. They also supply building materials and fuel.

Easter Island, one of the most isolated islands in the Pacific Ocean, once had a lush forest that included the largest variety of palm tree in the world. The island supported a large population of Polynesians during the same time period as the Anasazi. But when Europeans arrived in the 1500s, they found a bare island without a single tree and a tiny, starving population.

What did that Easter Islander think when they cut down the last tree? Why did their leaders tell them to do that?

In Chaco Canyon, at least they weren’t confined to an island. Yet still, what did they think when they cut down the last trees in the canyon? That it would be easy to coerce people to carry firewood and building beams from fifty or sixty miles away? That it didn’t matter? That a local resource was meant to be used up with no regard for future consequences? That new ideas (technology) or the gods would save them?

Cultures that conserve their natural resources, as a rule, last far longer than cultures that use them up at increasing rates until the inevitable collapse. It seems an obvious rule of natural law, yet human leaders (both public and private) of cultures throughout history across the globe, over and over, trade short-term gain for the certainty of collapse.

And people tend to follow those leaders all the way to the cliff and then over it.

Upset populations become troublemakers

Upset populations become troublemakers, from Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, by Jared Diamond

The last identified construction at Pueblo Bonito, dating from the decade after 1110, was from a wall of rooms enclosing the south side of the plaza, which had formerly been open to the outside. That suggests strife: people were evidently now visiting Pueblo Bonito not just to participate in its religious ceremonies and to receive orders, but also to make trouble. —Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, by Jared Diamond

One of the incredible characteristics of our human species is that we will do everything we can to try and make things work. We are ingenious. We are clever. We are hard-working. Creative solutions abound when times get tough.

So when farmers could no longer grow enough surplus calories to support themselves and an unproductive elite, and some of those farmers gang together and attack the elite (which is as inevitable as ultimate collapse when environmentally dependent humans fail to be reasonably conservative), then the obvious thing to do is to build better defenses.

When defense budgets go up, when a culture fears external terrorism and invasion more than it fears the ludicrous demands and directives of its own leaders, when the liberties of citizens are reduced and the growing productivity of their labor no longer improves their own lives, then collapse is a near certainty.

Horrible drought plus too many people to feed spells doom

Horrible drought plus too many people to feed spells doom , from Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, by Jared Diamond

The final blow for Chacoans was a drought that tree rings show to have begun around A.D. 1130. There had been similar droughts previously, around A.D. 1090 and 1040, but the difference this time was that Chaco Canyon now held more people, more dependent on outlying settlements, and with no land left unoccupied. —Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, by Jared Diamond

Here’s yet another allusion to what continues to be an elephant in the room, even among gritty, hard-edged authors and thinkers like Jared Diamond: A growing, high population is deadly to a culture.

When population grows to the limits of a region’s (or a planet’s) ability to feed that population, then any jolt to the ecosystem that reduces the region’s (or planet’s) caloric productivity automatically results in catastrophic mass die-offs and cultural collapse.

Human ingenuity may delay the inevitable, but most often it exacerbates it. The Anasazi, for instance, learned how to efficiently grow corn and beans and squash in an arid environment, which made life so much better the population increased until their ingenuity could no longer keep pace with the needs of the many.

It was an enormously uncomfortable situation for them toward the end. So difficult, violence spread like wildfire while the leaders manically ordered the erection of yet more and grander public works projects, and those who could got out, escaped to the defensive cliff dwellings of the Mesa Verde and canyonlands to the northwest, perhaps to protect them from the angry, desperate thugs who worked for the failing elite of Chaco.

The post-apocalyptic worlds depicted in so much modern novels, television shows, and movies can give us a sense of what the Anasazi faced. There may not have been zombies, but a Sun Priest who orders a rebellious village of farmers to be killed, cooked, and eaten isn’t much better.

Anasazi farmers finally went on strike

Anasazi farmers finally went on strike, from Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, by Jared Diamond

Probably the outlying settlements that had formerly supplied the Chaco political and religious centers with food lost faith in the Chacoan priests whose prayers for rain remained unanswered, and they refused to make more food deliveries. —Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, by Jared Diamond

They finally got mad as hell and wouldn’t take it anymore. When the farmers stop supporting you, stop buying into your failed economics, stop delivering calories to you, then the game is over no matter how rich you are.

Ultimately, it was drought and human choices that doomed the Anasazi

Ultimately, it was drought and human choices that doomed the Anasazi, from Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, by Jared Diamond

[W]as Chaco Canyon abandoned because of human impact on the environment, or because of drought? The answer is: it was abandoned for both reasons. —Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, by Jared Diamond

It should come as no surprise to sentient beings that natural environmental change combined with human choices that degrade that environment lead to collapse or extinction. Especially when combined with an oppressive leadership that always demands more—more corn, more beans, more squash, more labor to build temples, more turquoise, more meat, more skins, more everything—even in the face of impossible conditions brought by a wildly varying climate.

Yet we sentient beings seem to have a hard time learning that lesson. Even if we did, the choices we would have to make would be enormously difficult—population (birth) control, very careful and conservative farming practices, and a system to share the wealth of the land among all who labor to produce that wealth.

The Great Anasazi Drought of 1275 to 1300 wasn’t really all that bad

The Great Anasazi Drought of 1275 to 1300 wasn’t so bad the San Juan River dried up, from “Vanished: A Pueblo Mystery,” by George Johnson, April 8, 2008, The New York Times

“Overall conditions were pretty darn bad in the 1200s,” said Timothy A. Kohler of Washington State University. “But they were not maybe all that worse than they were in the 900s, and yet some people hung on then.” Even in the worst of times, major waterways kept flowing. “The Provo River didn’t dry up,” said James Allison, an archaeologist at Brigham Young University. “The San Juan River didn’t dry up.” Soon after the abandonment, the drought lifted. “The tree-ring reconstructions show that at 1300 to 1340 it was exceedingly wet,” said Larry Benson, a paleoclimatologist with the Arid Regions Climate Project of the United States Geological Survey. “If they’d just hung in there…” Though the rains returned, the people never did. —“Vanished: A Pueblo Mystery,” by George Johnson, April 8, 2008, The New York Times

So if the drought wasn’t that bad, why couldn’t they hang on? Why couldn’t they just stop having babies for a while, let the old and sick people die, maybe kill off the most offensive of their arrogant elite, and re-form themselves?

They had likely done something like that before. Most human revolutions involve those kinds of actions.

Something, this time, was markedly different. Perhaps the population was simply too big, and the die-offs were so psychologically intolerable, they couldn’t take it anymore. If you live in Manhattan and two-thirds of the population died, and none of the city services worked anymore, would you stick around? Probably not.

New technology and science only makes things worse

New technology and science only makes things worse, from —“NASA Study Concludes When Civilization Will End, And It's Not Looking Good for Us,” by Tom McKay, March 18, 2014, News.Mic, derived from a report written by applied mathematician Safa Motesharrei of the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center along with a team of natural and social scientists

Science will surely save us, the nay-sayers may yell. But technology, argues Motesharrei, has only damned us further. Technological change can raise the efficiency of resource use, but it also tends to raise both per capita resource consumption and the scale of resource extraction, so that, absent policy effects, the increases in consumption often compensate for the increased efficiency of resource use. In other words, the benefits of technology are outweighed by how much the gains reinforce the existing, over-burdened system — making collapse even more likely. —“NASA Study Concludes When Civilization Will End, And It’s Not Looking Good for Us,” by Tom McKay, March 18, 2014, News.Mic, derived from a report written by applied mathematician Safa Motesharrei of the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center along with a team of natural and social scientists

It’s fashionable and tempting to think our ingenious minds, and the technology we’re so proud of, will save us.

We’ll find new sources of energy, create more productive crops, find ways to grow food in formerly barren places, even build spaceships to move to distant uninhabited planets where we can start over.

But every time we’ve improved technology in the past in ways that allows a population to live more comfortably, we reproduce past the point of comfort. It’s our reproductive imperative as much as it is for rats or even bacteria. It’s in our DNA. We can’t seem to help it.

At best, technology can only delay the inevitable, while making the outcomes of that inevitability worse for everyone.

I can’t tell you how much this depresses me. I want to believe in humanity, that we will overcome all adversity, that we can continue to build a world that is just and fair and comfortable for everyone in it.

But the evidence of human history is completely counter to that belief.

Perhaps that’s why we turn to religion. Because we really, really need a miracle.

Politics and Religion

How would tree rings and archaeology account for the Mormon migration to Utah in the 1850s?

How would tree rings and archaeology account for the Mormon migration to Utah in the 1850s? From “Vanished: A Pueblo Mystery,” by George Johnson, April 8, 2008, The New York Times

Ultimately the motivation for the abandonments may lie beyond fossils and artifacts, in the realm of ideology. Imagine trying to explain the 19th-century Mormon migration to Utah with only tree rings and pollen counts. —“Vanished: A Pueblo Mystery,” by George Johnson, April 8, 2008, The New York Times

I love this idea! If we used purely archaeological evidence for the recent history we know so well, how wrong would we get it?

Very wrong, mostly likely.

Therefore what we think we know about the Anasazi, we really don’t. And anything we can imagine about them may be as correct as what the “facts” encourage us to believe.

We just don’t know. And we never truly will.

Religious and political ferment may have brought the Anasazi down

Religious and political ferment may have brought the Anasazi down, from “Vanished: A Pueblo Mystery,” by George Johnson, April 8, 2008, The New York Times

Scientists once thought the answer lay in impersonal factors like the onset of a great drought or a little ice age. But as evidence accumulates, those explanations have come to seem too pat — and slavishly deterministic…. Looking beyond climate change, some archaeologists are studying the effects of warfare and the increasing complexity of Anasazi society.… “The late 1200s was a time of substantial social, political and religious ferment and experimentation,” said William D. Lipe, an archaeologist at Washington State University. “You can’t have a situation where it just happens that hundreds of local communities for their own individual, particularistic reasons decide to either die or get up and move,” Dr. Lipe said. “There had to be something general going on.” —“Vanished: A Pueblo Mystery,” by George Johnson, April 8, 2008, The New York Times

When the end is nigh, people turn to religion more than to political and economic institutions. When you’re one step away from just giving up, laying down your burdens and breathing your last breath, a messiah with a clarion message can rejuvenate you, urge you to do superhuman things.

Perhaps in the Anasazi world, such a call went across the land as their world was falling apart. Perhaps they heeded it and joined the masked men imitating spirits that had long been asleep that urged them to chant and dance and to get along with each other without paying tribute to their lunatic leaders.

Why not? They had nothing to lose.

Kivas, and perhaps religion, became more open to everyone in the 1200s

Kivas, and perhaps religion, became more open to everyone in the 1200s, from “Vanished: A Pueblo Mystery,” by George Johnson, April 8, 2008, The New York Times

By studying changes in ceremonial architecture and pottery styles, Donna Glowacki, an archaeologist at the University of Notre Dame, is charting the rise of what may have been a new puebloan religion. For more than a century, the established faith was distinguished by multistory “great houses,” with small interior kivas, and by much larger “great kivas” — round, mostly subterranean and covered with a sturdy roof. Originating at Chaco Canyon in northwest New Mexico, the formidable temples seem designed to limit access to all but a priestly few. Though Chaco declined as a regional religious center during the early 1100s, the same architecture spread to the Mesa Verde area. But by the mid 1200s, a different style was also taking hold, with plazas and kivas that were uncovered like amphitheaters — hints, perhaps, of a new openness. —“Vanished: A Pueblo Mystery,” by George Johnson, April 8, 2008, The New York Times

The descendants of the Anasazi, the modern Puebloans, are a strictly egalitarian society. I’ve heard stories that when a Hopi man gets a new pickup truck, his neighbors ostracize him until it becomes a beat-up old truck like everyone else’s.

Their obsessively flat culture may be a reaction to the overly stratified culture of the Anasazi that failed.

The Anasazi lasted about 400 years. The modern Puebloan cultural form has lasted more than 700 years.

They may be onto something.

Perhaps the Anasazi went through a religious reformation that called for migration

Perhaps the Anasazi went through a religious reformation that called for migration, from “Vanished: A Pueblo Mystery,” by George Johnson, April 8, 2008, The New York Times

If the pueblo people had left a written history perhaps we would read of the Anasazi equivalent of the Protestant reformation. —“Vanished: A Pueblo Mystery,” by George Johnson, April 8, 2008, The New York Times

It’s not uncommon in human history for such things as the Protestant reformation to happen—out with the old, in with the new. We do that all the time when we can. If we can’t overturn the king, then we overturn the Pope. If we can’t do that, then we kick the scoundrels out of Congress. If we can’t do that, then we go have a beer and wait for the impending collapse.

The Anasazi didn’t have beer. Insofar as we know.

The Kachina religion may have been the draw for the Anasazi migration

The Kachina religion may have been the draw for the Anasazi migration, from “Vanished: A Pueblo Mystery,” by George Johnson, April 8, 2008, The New York Times

Other archaeologists see evidence of an evangelical-like religion — the forerunner, perhaps, of the masked Kachina rituals, which still survive on the Hopi and Zuni reservations — appearing in the south and attracting the rebellious northerners. Salado polychrome pottery may have been emblematic of another, possibly overlapping cult. —“Vanished: A Pueblo Mystery,” by George Johnson, April 8, 2008, The New York Times

The Hopi and Zuni people who practice the Kachina religion are extremely closed-mouthed about it. So we don’t really know what it entails, other than spirits that spend most of the year hiding, and part of the year coming out into the streets and playing pranks on people.

What we do know about it is that there is no High Priest, no Pope, no CEO of the not-for-profit organization that supports it, no professional lobbyists in Washington, D.C., that work to curry political favors, no threat of mass cannibalism if dirt-poor farmers don’t give the Kachinas all their surplus food.

So whatever it is, exactly, is far, far better than what the Anasazi had. And maybe what we and other modern cultures have.

Economic Stratification

Chaco Canyon elites consumed an enormous amount, but produced very little

Chaco Canyon elites consumed an enormous amount, but produced very little, from Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, by Jared Diamond

Chaco Canyon became a black hole into which goods were imported but from which nothing tangible was exported. —Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, by Jared Diamond

This is arguable in some relatively minor ways. Chacoan-worked turquoise beads were widely traded, though not in enough quantity to have made them a major trading force.

From a big-picture perspective, Chaco Canyon was indeed a black hole of calories (expressed as food and as labor), which soaked up all of the surplus productivity of the land and the farmers who worked the land.

What did the Chacoan elites give in return?

At best, they centrally stored and redistributed (in short-term hard times) surplus calories in the form of dried beans and corn and squash.

They also provided unifying ritual and culture, a way to imbue meaning into what must have been a hardscrabble, gritty, uncomfortable existence for all but the elites living in the big houses.

That unifying force held a widely scattered, highly diversified culture together for a very long time, so its importance cannot be overstated. Whatever it was exactly we may never know. But it worked. Until it didn’t.

Anasazi chiefs ate better than the peasants

Anasazi chiefs ate better than the peasants, from Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, by Jared Diamond

As for evidence that the chiefs ate better than did the peasants, garbage excavated near Great Houses contained a higher proportion of deer and antelope bones than did garbage from homesteads, with the result that human burials indicate taller, better-nourished, less anemic people and lower infant mortality at Great Houses. —Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, by Jared Diamond

Of course they did. Any culture in which the leaders used the threat of cannibalism to force common farmers to accept high taxation of their harvests would exhibit a highly lopsided quality of life. And besides, human meat is highly nutritious, so I’ve heard.

Would the farmers be resentful? Watching the healthy children of the arrogant elites thrive while their own children cried themselves to sleep with empty bellies when their own meager stores ran out, how could they not?

But the threat of violence would keep them in line as long as the High Priests and their entourage made good on the threats and as long as the rains came in response to their ceremonies and entreaties to the gods.

When anything went wrong, though, when any crack appeared in the façade of the elites, when the rains didn’t come and the crops failed…what then? How long would a farming family stay and take it? What could entice them to move?

From our modern perspective, it’s easy to think we wouldn’t take it. We would fight back or at least leave. As my wife says, “We would be the first ones out of that place.”

The elders would urge caution and patience, while the hot-blooded young men would let off steam by going on long hunting trips or laboring in the fields, perhaps even marauding nearby farmers and clans. They might have wanted to form a force to reckon with the overbearing elites, but if their farms were too scattered, if the clans were too inwardly focused and distrustful of other clans, then they would only be able to glare at the High Priest Kings and their Princes as they strutted around in the big houses the farmers’ forefathers had been forced to build.

The buck stops here: The rich upper-class caused the Anasazi collapse

The buck stops here: The rich upper-class caused the Anasazi collapse, from “NASA Study Concludes When Civilization Will End, And It's Not Looking Good for Us,” by Tom McKay, March 18, 2014, News.Mic, derived from a report written by applied mathematician Safa Motesharrei of the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center along with a team of natural and social scientists

Motesharrei’s report says that all societal collapses over the past 5,000 years have involved both “the stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity” and “the economic stratification of society into Elites [rich] and Masses (or “Commoners”) [poor].” This “Elite” population restricts the flow of resources accessible to the “Masses”, accumulating a surplus for themselves that is high enough to strain natural resources. Eventually this situation will inevitably result in the destruction of society. —“NASA Study Concludes When Civilization Will End, And It’s Not Looking Good for Us,” by Tom McKay, March 18, 2014, News.Mic, derived from a report written by applied mathematician Safa Motesharrei of the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center along with a team of natural and social scientists

This, from a completely different perspective, is what modern macroeconomists argue when they decry the trends of income inequality in the U.S. and other developed countries.

If the additional wealth from increased productivity of a worker is not shared with that worker, then what’s the point in working harder and being more productive? Over the long haul, it leads to apathetic workers, an over-reliance on welfare, and a growing resentment of the increasingly disconnected upper class.

That’s exactly what my contemporary thriller, Price on Their Heads: A Novel of Income Inequality and Mayhem, is about, directly inspired by my research into the Anasazi and other cultures that collapse.

Without the “have nots,” the “haves” cannot survive

Without the “have nots,” the “haves” cannot survive, from Anasazi America: Seventeen Centuries on the Road from Center Place, by David E. Stuart

In a stratified society there can be no cooperation between the “haves” and the “have nots” if the daily needs of the humble producers are not sustained. Anasazi America: Seventeen Centuries on the Road from Center Place, by David E. Stuart

And without cooperation between the social layers, the whole social contract will collapse.

It’s as inevitable as a corn seed failing to sprout when the soil has no moisture.

An Anasazi baby boom!


Conclusion

This is a very bare sampling of everything I could have included here. In fact, from time to time I will add to these sources. I’m constantly finding new and interesting tidbits that fit neatly into what is becoming an increasingly clear picture of what leads to the collapse of cultures.

After researching the Anasazi and other cultures that collapse, what do we see in our modern world that are telltale signs of impending collapse?

There are many, unfortunately. Environmental degradation, particularly of our farming soils and the health of our forests. Increasing religious fervor with an attendant rejection of science and reason. And income inequality trends that are arguably the worst in U.S. history.

Next week we’ll look at Anasazi wealth distribution and how it’s similar to today’s, and the week after, we’ll take a deeper dive into modern income inequality.

Meanwhile, here’s more on my novel, Price on Their Heads: A Novel of Income Inequality and Mayhem.


This is background research for…

Price on Their Heads: A Novel of Income Inequality and Mayhem by Jeff Posey 3D coverPrice on Their Heads: A Novel of Income Inequality and Mayhem.

Warning! This story contains impolite language, graphic violence, a little sex, and is very politically incorrect.

Jackie Key inherits a full scholarship from a rich man murdered by his brother. To justify his complicity, he studies the economic ripple effect of the dead man’s assets.

What he discovers and tries to publish makes him become public enemy number one among the country’s rich and powerful because Dr. Jackie Key can calculate a true price on their heads.

From Jeff Posey, author of The G.O.D. Journal, Anasazi Runner: a novel of identity and speed, and The Next Skywatcher: Prequel to The Last Skywatcher Triple Trilogy Series comes a twisting and turning contemporary political thriller that exposes the cruelly tilted playing field of American economics and politics.

Join Nobel Prize-winning economist Dr. Jackie Key as the heavy-handed government and ultra-rich drive him into the grasp of his brother, head of a team of assassins targeting Jackie’s list of the “too rich to exist.”


Jeff Posey writes novels inspired by the Anasazi culture of the American Southwest a thousand years ago.

“Cultures that have dramatically collapsed,” he says, “should at least compel us to dream up stories about how such things can happen.”

He does not, under any circumstances, advocate violence against anyone, even the too rich to exist.

Jeff’s Books on Hot Water Press


Image Credits

—Tiny Anasazi corncobs in the hand from Waymarking.com.

—Image of piñon tree clinging to a cliff from New Mexico Piñon Coffe at nmpinoncoffee.com.

—Image of the Grinch as troublemaker from Sodahead.com.

—Image of farmers striking from Our Flat World.

—Image of the Great Awakening in the U.S. Colonies from AllWeightLossInfo.net (yeah, surprised me, too).

—Image of people tubing the San Juan River through downtown Pagosa Springs, Colorado, is from TripAdvisor.com.

—Image of Mormon migration to Utah in the 1850s from McSheep.Tripod.com.

—Image of open kiva at Chimney Rock National Monument by Jeff Posey.

—Image of Martin Luther nailing his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg on 31 October 1517 from Augustine1 Conservative Christian Worldview Blog.

—Image of Kachina dolls from AnimationResources.org.

—Image of rich guy lighting a cigar with money from IvyVest.com.

—Image of science saving us all from LiamScheff.Com.

About The Author

Jeff Posey

Author of Anasazi thrillers with a hint of romance.

1 Comment

  • Larry Benson

    Reply Reply December 29, 2016

    The Chuska Slope as an agricultural alternative to Chaco Canyon: A
    rebuttal of Tankersley et al. (2016)
    Larry Benson
    Museum of Natural History, University of Colorado, Boulder 602 Pine St., Boulder, CO 80302, USA

    Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports xxx (2016) xxx–xxx; pub is online or email me your email address
    [email protected]

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