Origins of an Anasazi scarlet macaw feather artifact

Nancy Borson, Frances Berdan, Edward Stark, Jack States, Peter J. Wettstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


An artifact ascribed to the Anasazi culture (dated here to 920 ± 35 B.P.) is unique in its integrity, construction technique, style, and materials, including multiple yucca ropes with attached adult scarlet macaw feathers joined to a Sciurus aberti (tassel-eared squirrel) pelt and hide straps. We applied methods from anthropology and molecular biology to ascertain the origins of materials and manufacturing technique. The cytochrome b gene from the ancient DNA of the pelt was sequenced in its entirety. This gene was unique as defined by new nucleotide substitutions that distinguished it from the other S. aberti alleles. Phylogenetic trees constructed by both neighbor-joining and maximum parsimony methods are consistent with this unique allele being most closely related to genes from two extant American Southwest S. aberti subspecies and more distantly related to Mexican S. aberti genes. Our observations support the conclusion that the entire artifact was constructed in the American Southwest using native materials, including the squirrel pelt and scarlet macaw feathers. This contradicts a prior hypothesis that the feather rope component was assembled before being traded north from Mexico.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)131-142
Number of pages12
JournalAmerican Antiquity
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Archaeology
  • Museology


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