Skip to comments.New Mexico's Chaco Canyon: A Place Of Kings And Palaces?
Posted on 06/06/2006 1:57:14 PM PDT by blam
Mon Jun 5 09:31:01 2006 Pacific Time
New Mexico's Chaco Canyon: A Place of Kings and Palaces?
BOULDER, Colo., June 5 (AScribe Newswire) -- Kings living in palaces may have ruled New Mexico's Chaco Canyon a thousand years ago, causing Pueblo people to reject the brawny, top-down politics in the centuries that followed, according to a University of Colorado at Boulder archaeologist.
University of Colorado Museum anthropology Curator Steve Lekson, who has studied Chaco Canyon for several decades, said one argument for royalty comes from the rich, crypt-style burials of two men discovered deep in a Chaco Canyon "great house" known as Pueblo Bonito several decades ago. They were interred about A.D. 1050 with a wealth of burial goods in Pueblo Bonito, a 600-room, four-story structure that was considered to be the center of the Chaco world, he said.
Archaeologists have long been in awe of the manpower required to build Chaco's elaborate structures and road systems, which required laborious masonry work, extended excavation and the transport of staggering amounts of lumber from forests 50 miles distant, he said. The scale of the architecture and backbreaking work undertaken for several centuries suggests a powerful centralized authority, said Lekson, curator of anthropology at the University of Colorado Museum.
"I don't think Chaco was a big happy barn-raising," said Lekson, chief editor of "The Archaeology of Chaco Canyon: An Eleventh Century Pueblo Regional Center," published in April 2006 by the School of American Research Press in Santa Fe, N.M. "Things were probably quite a bit grimmer than some have imagined."
"Kingship" developed in Mesoamerica about 2,000 years before Chaco, Lekson said, and kings quickly became a constant on the political landscape. "It's not remarkable that there were small-scale kings and states at Chaco in A.D. 1100," he said. "What is remarkable is that it took the Southwest so long to get around to it."
Located in northern New Mexico, Chaco Canyon was the hub of the Pueblo culture from about A.D. 850 to 1150 and is believed to have held political sway over an area twice the size of present-day Ohio. A center of ceremony and trade, the canyon is marked by 11 great houses oriented in solar, lunar and cardinal directions with roads that appear to have connected Chaco to outlying Pueblo communities.
Researchers have long pondered how Chaco rulers wielded control over outlying Pueblo communities in present day Utah, Arizona and Colorado, he said. Such "outliers," located up to 150 miles away, would have required that visitors from Chaco walk up to eight days straight in order to reach them, said Lekson, who is also a CU-Boulder anthropology professor.
The answer may lie in the clarity of the Southwestern skies, the open landscape and the broad vistas that created an efficient "line-of-site" system, he said. "Chaco people could see Farview House at Mesa Verde, for example, and Farview could see Chaco," he said. "I think similar linkages will be found between Chaco and the most distant outliers in all directions in the coming years."'
The roads, some as wide as four-lane highways, may have been used for ceremonial pilgrimages by priests and their followers, Lekson said. "They also could have been used by troops, tax collectors and inquisitors," he said.
Funded by the National Park Service and CU-Boulder, the new book is a collaboration of more than 30 years of fieldwork by hundreds of researchers and students, many of whom participated in a massive NPS Chaco excavation from 1971 to 1982. Scores of academics met around the Southwest during the past several years, discussing the most recent research and latest theories regarding Chaco for the book.
The Archaeology of Chaco Canyon explores the natural environment and architecture, as well as Chaco's economy, politics, history and regional influences. The authors also look at outside cultural influences from all directions, including ties to Mesoamerica, said Lekson. Twenty authors contributed to the book, including Lekson, CU Museum Director Linda Cordell, CU-Boulder anthropology doctoral student Derek Hamilton and Richard Wilshusen, who received his doctorate from CU-Boulder.
Lekson estimates that 95 percent of the Chaco people lived in small pueblos, while an elite 5 percent lived in the great houses. Pueblo Bonito and the other Chaco great houses were "tall, empty monuments" that could have been used for a variety of activities, from ceremonies and storage to inns and even slave cells, he said.
The culture's architecture and settlement patterns changed dramatically in the region about 1300, when sites begin to look more like modern Pueblos.
"Chaco has been characterized in oral histories as a wonderful, awful place where people got power over other people," Lekson said. "Later Pueblo cultures in the region did not develop from Chaco, but rather represent a reaction against it, with people distancing themselves from a bad experience."
...And, they ate people. (Christy Turner)
No way. Can't be true. I know for a fact there was no slavery until Ronald Reagan invented it.
Interesting. Any pictures? It has been a long time since I visited the area as a child.
This is a fascinating place. We spent the day there back in June 98 walking over/through the ruins. For the life of me, I can't figure out why the site was selected to inhabit. You have to wonder how much food could be raised/hunted in this barren area.
I will never forget entering the ruin over a road thru a reservation. We had a rented DeVille and traversed 23 miles of the worst road I can remember -- it took more than an hour to navigate but was worth it. We got there an noticed we were the only vehicle other than an SUV or 4WD. Course, we all know a rent car can go about anywhere. No damage done but was very slow going over a dirt road with rock outcroppings every 100 feet.
I put Chaco Canyon in search/ images and found these..and more.
I went there in the middle of Summer '93 on a northern road that I believe has since been closed. It took something near 2 hours, IIRC, just driving in on that washboard road. Fun stuff, and great for shaking your fillings loose. ;-D
I was at Chaco 3 weeks ago, then at Mesa Verde.
I think the aforementioned acrhaelogist is probably incorrect in his assumptions. The Hopi and Zuni people are descended from the cliff dwellers, and their oral histories don't mention kings, as far as I can determine. Their lives were governed by a complex spirituality that directed every action. They had a numerous clans, and each clan was responsible for certain religious rites, that were repeated at intervals as long as 4 years. Each time a rite was repeated, a new Kiva had to be built for it.
The north rim of the canyon has quite a lot of bare rock--acres and acres of horizontal surface. It only rains about 8 inches a year there, but when it does rain, all the rain that hits the rock of the north rim runs off. The Chacoans had developed an elaborate irrigation system that was able to capture and channel this runoff, effectively doubling the rainfall available to them during the growing season. Also, there was a dam at the end of Chaco Wash (supposedly a natural sand dune, but I am skeptical)from about 900 AD until about 1020 AD, which raised the local water table quite a bit.
The corn they raised was probably similar to Hopi corn. The Hopi plant their corn very deep...about 8 inches...and the corn has a taproot, which goes very deep for water (unlike most corn, which has a shallow fibrous root system). The Anasazi were able to stretch their meager water resources very far.
Most of Pueblo Bonito appears to be composed of storehouses, which has led some archaeologists to surmise that Chaco was a regional storage and distribution center for the Anasazi, so that when food was plentiful in one area, the excess could be stored there; and when another area was experiencing famine, people could come to Chaco for relief.
Also, many of the plants in that "barren" area are edible. I bought a book on the plants of the Four Corners area, and was amazed to find that the Navajo use almost every one for either food, drink, or medicine.
***My father was a UNM Anthropology student in the 1930's.***
Do you know anything about a group known as the "Gallina" people? I read about them about 30 years ago and saw a story in a major magazine about them.
When I asked the rangers at AZTEC ruins about them they told me that this group was only a writer's imagination and did not exist.
Thats great. Keep a copy for yourself. See if you can trade them for the remains of 'Spirit Cave man.' (Ahem)
Quit it, I'm envious.
"The Hopi and Zuni people are descended from the cliff dwellers, and their oral histories don't mention kings, as far as I can determine."
This is a pretty good book.
"Did a group of thirteenth-century Japanese journey to the American Southwest, there to merge with the people, language, and religion of the Zuni tribe?"
Santa Fe NF, 2004
by Chris Reed, PIT Volunteer
An archaeologist friend told me about some fascinating scenery and archaeology in the Santa Fe area of northern New Mexico. The FS PIT program gave me an opportunity to not only see the area but to work with FS archaeologists, site stewards, and other volunteers to update the records regarding a group known as the Gallina. They lived and built their homes during the period A.D. 10501275. These ancient people are unique because of their isolation and the fact that they didnt trade with the well-known ancient Pueblo people or Anasazi of the Four Corners area. Our main task was to relocate some of the sites Dr. Herbert Dick and his students located and documented in the mid-1970s and update the site records. We planned to map, record, and photograph using current survey technology. On the first day, FS archaeologist Mike Bremer showed us a topographic map with more than a hundred dots representing known sites. It was amazing to see the vast number of past homesites in such a small geographic area. During the week, we were able to see 10 of them and record 5.
We met in Santa Fe and drove a scenic route, traversing a beautiful valley and passing by a lake, and finally came to our remote campsite in the Llaves Valley. The rugged topog-raphy consisted of alternating high mesas, steep ridges, narrow valleys, and scattered mountains. We set up camp within a side canyon under a canopy of pine trees. On either side of the canyon lie ridges, each with a set of stone ruins blending into the landscape. On top of the southern ridge, light sandstone stood out against the blue sky. Upon a closer look, one could see a stone slit that could have been a lookout point. Several of us took advantage of our free time to hike to the top for a closer look. Behind the lookout and among the trees was a deep depression in the ground the size of a home swimming pool, with interlaced stones. Seven hundred years ago, this was one of the homes to the Gallina people. Two evenings later, we went back up to see the rock art we had missed that was directly below the ridge. Local site stewards Lee and Candy told us about the petroglyphs and provided us directions, using the proximity of a large yucca plant as a signpost.
Each of the ancient sites we visited was on top of a ridge with far-reaching views of the green valley and forested mountains on each side. The masonry rubble structures were either constructed belowground as pit houses or aboveground as unit houses. We mapped the locations of the room blocks and rubble mounds, identifying the types of lithic materials and broken pottery, and describing the surrounding environment. In addition to the unit houses, pit houses, and stone bins, there was a series of agricultural terraces. We mapped these using the baseline method, and our resulting map revealed a small community on top of this ridge with great views of their surrounding landscape. They had their shelter, storage bins, and agricultural areasa past life now silent with the passage of time.
The highlight of the week was to document a mesa-top site known as the Eagle Trap. The trap is a small alcove in which a person could hide, cover the opening with brush, and tie a rabbit down. When an eagle flew down to catch the rabbit, a man would spring up to catch the eagle. Knowing the size and strength of an eagle being captured, I cannot imagine a brave soul trying to wrestle with this special bird. Directly below the trap on the eastern side of the sandstone, there was a panel of petroglyphs depicting human figures.
Along with the thick-wall and large-room architecture, the Gallina are also known for their pointed-bottom pottery. The advantage of this shape is that the pot can be place directly on the coals of a fire. Other pottery pieces were corrugated, plain tan or gray ware, and painted black on gray. Many of their stone tools were made from a local light brown or gray Nacimiento chert. Obsidian and fine-grain basalt were also used.
Each morning, I woke up with the sun, heated water for tea, and watched the day come alive. The clouds in the eastern sky evolved from purple, to orange, then white with the warming glow of the sun coming up from behind the mountains. I would listen to the birds and watch the green plant life change from a grayish green to yellowish green. The white sandstone mountain ridge above us would brighten up. With all of the shade trees, the bright sunlight and corresponding warmth moved along the ground to make our camp more comfortable. As the morning turned warm, I could tell it would be another day in paradise.
At night after dinner we would join at a campfire. Not only did the fire keep us warm, we could get to know each other and share stories. We mused about whether the Gallina people were predominantly hunters or farmers. Another night, Mike wanted us to think of a good research question for him to ponder. I started to think about the reasons houses with the same interior features were built on various ground levels. Could it be the toughness of the ground, or could these people not accept change? And there was the night Site Steward Bill entertained us with some of his stories of living in Saudi Arabia.
On the last day, Martha Dick, the wife of Dr. Dick, met us in camp. She provided an oral history of the 10 field schools that she and her husband coordinated, the archaeological methods of the past, and some insights into the personalities of the time. All of us duly noted that back in the 1970s, the students were served lunch in the field. We, on the other hand, had to bring our own lunches. One of Mikes hopes was to instill in us the passion he has for the archaeology of the area. During the week, my passion grew each day. I would love to return. The week was special to me because of the beautiful landscape, the unique archaeology, and friendliness of my coworkers.
Thank you for posting, blam.
I needed a hit of Chaco here in NJ today.
I LOVE Chaco. Mesa Verde, too. They are both mystical, magical places of intense beauty. Spectacular. Spiritual.
Renfield, you are a lucky dog and I salute you.
I'm heading out to that part of the country in the next few weeks. Don't know if I'll make Chaco this trip unfortunately.
God bless America.
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