The evidence supports that among the haves and have-nots at Chaco Canyon around 1,200 years ago, men and women fell into both groups.
"Women living at Pueblo Bonito likely had power and a great deal of influence on what was happening in society," Kennett said.
Women among the elites might even have had better status, in terms of political standing, than most women around the world do now.
"In the societies in which most of the world's people live today, the important roles in political leadership and its transmission from one leader to the next are occupied overwhelmingly by men," Drennan explained. "Anthropologists, who study the full array of human societies that have existed in the present and the past, know that this is not somehow the 'natural' or necessary state of affairs."
"In many instances, such roles are played extensively or predominantly by women," he said. "Examples of matrilineal systems among native North Americans include the Hopi, the Iroquois, and the Lenape. The evidence presented by Kennett and his colleagues of the importance of matrilineages in ancient Chaco society adds to this list of societies in which women and their roles are especially important and respected."
There is a difference between a matriline and a matriarchy, though. It is possible for a society to have a female line of inheritance of title and property, but still be a population that is controlled primarily by men. The Jewish culture, for example, has matrilineal descent, but mostly male leaders.
Within Pueblo Bonito, "The two very high status crypt burials were males," Stephen Lekson, curator of archaeology and a professor of anthropology at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History, told Seeker. "The argument (posed in the paper) is for matrilineal descent, not necessarily matriarchal governance."
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The two males were isolated from the other remains and surrounded by turquoise and finery. One of the men died in his 40s after a lethal blow to the head.
"We are not sure what led to the blow," Kennett said. "It is possible that he was killed in battle. Although this was not known to be a particularly violent interval, there is other evidence in the surrounding area for conflict, such as arrow wound injuries."