lunes, 5 de marzo de 2012

Study: Pilgrimage a 'costly signal'

Have you ever considered going on a pilgrimage? If a pilgrimage is a journey taken in search of some kind of spiritual fulfillment, then pilgrimages might be part of the universal human experience and not tied to a particular religion.

Many ancient American sites are thought to have been pilgrimage centers as important to these indigenous cultures as Jerusalem is to modern Christians, Jews and Muslims.

In the latest issue of the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, John Kantner of the School for Advanced Research and Kevin Vaughn of Purdue University consider the sites of Cahuachi in Peru and Chaco Canyon in New Mexico as ancient pilgrimage destinations and ponder how these places came to be important centers of religious devotion.

They propose that a pilgrimage is a form of “costly signaling” that allows members of a religious group to demonstrate commitment by doing something extraordinary. Normally, one’s devotion to a group’s values might not be evident, so the group would benefit by having some means of knowing who is dedicated and who is pretending in order to reap the benefits of membership.

Kantner and Vaughn find that both Cahuachi and Chaco exhibit the characteristics of classic pilgrimage centers. For example, both have monumental architecture incorporating hidden knowledge, such as alignments to solar and lunar events. And there is evidence at both sites for the extensive use of exotic materials in the production of craft items.

The “monumentality and spectacle” of the sacred landscapes at Cahuachi and Chaco made them attractive to pilgrims. And if pilgrims were initiated into the mysteries of the sites, then coming home with this knowledge would prove they actually had been there.

If pilgrims brought special offerings to a pilgrimage center and returned home with some token as further proof that they did, indeed, make the journey, it would make sense for these craft items to be made of rare and valuable materials rather than easily acquired cheap things that could fool other group members. Ohio’s Hopewell earthworks exhibit all of these qualities. They are monumental structures incorporating esoteric astronomical alignments in their architecture.

Spectacular craft items made from rare materials, such as marine shell from the Gulf of Mexico and obsidian from the Rocky Mountains, frequently are found at these sites, while flint blades made from Ohio’s Flint Ridge are found across eastern North America.

Kantner and Vaughn propose that one of the benefits of pilgrimage would be fostering “pro-social cooperative behavior.” They note that there was a marked decline in violence when both Cahuachi and Chaco were at their heights.

The same is true for the Ohio Hopewell. When compared with both earlier and later periods, there is virtually no evidence for violent trauma in skeletons of the Hopewell era.

It might have been the sacred landscapes created by ancient Native Americans at Cahuachi, Chaco and Hopewellian Ohio that drew generations of pilgrims to these sites and fostered eras of peace in each of these regions.

Bradley T. Lepper is curator of archaeology at the Ohio Historical Society.

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