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Keywords:

  • U.S. Southwest;
  • archaeology;
  • social transformation;
  • resilience theory;
  • ecological theory

ABSTRACT  Change is inevitable, but some changes and transformations are more dramatic and fraught with suffering than others. Resilience theory suggests the concept of a “rigidity trap” as an explanation for these differences. In rigidity traps, a high degree of connectivity and the suppression of innovation prolong an increasingly rigid state, with the result that the eventual transformation is harsh. Three archaeological cases from the U.S. Southwest (Mimbres, Mesa Verde, and Hohokam) and new methods for assessing transformations and rigidity are used to evaluate this concept. They reveal the expected association between the severity of transformation and degree of rigidity, suggesting that a rigidity trap contributed to the Hohokam decline, which included significant human suffering. Possible causes of rigidity, with implications for today's world, are explored.