The Climate Change-Witch Execution Connection: Living with Environmental Uncertainty on the Colorado Plateau

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Book Section

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Publication Title

Routledge Handbook of the Bioarchaeology of Climate Change and Environment



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London, UK

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In the US Southwest daily, seasonal, and annual patterns of weather are rather predictable, but long-term shifts in climate may result in human behaviors that we cannot always predict. In this chapter, we suggest that uncertainty and an inability to predict the changing climatic conditions might have led to the adoption of novel cultural behaviors, including witch killing. It is undeniable that humans are reliant on access to things like clean water, food, and housing. However, the reality is that one or all of these things may not always be consistent in every environment, so people have to learn to adapt to unpredictability and cope with resource insecurity. Ideology is one way that humans have accomplished this task. Among the Pueblo in the San Juan Basin it seems magic and sorcery were one way to explain when things in their world were out of order. Witches were people who could control the weather and cause crop failure and water shortages. The solution was to destroy these people and restore balance. The destruction of witches included the defleshing, dismemberment, and burning of the body, which have been misinterpreted as evidence of cannibalism or anthropophagy.


Social and Cultural Anthropology



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