Chacoan Culture – the begining

I am drawn to ruins.

In July of this year I spent time in Chaco Canyon, at a cluster of archeological sites left by the Anasazi (the Ancient Ones) over a thousand years ago.

Chaco Canyon was a place of power, wealth and the center of an architectural, technological and cultural revolution like the world had never seen before or has seen since.

108The New Mexico San Juan Basin located on the Colorado Plateau is a 100 mile diameter area edged by Cuba, New Mexico and Farmington, NM on the southern side and Durango, Colorado and Pagosa Springs, CO on the northern. The most extensive collection of ancient ruins in North America are in the San Juan Basin on the Colorado Plateau.

Most of the Basin is above 5,000 feet in elevation. The region is arid scrubland where only a few low gorges and mesas interrupt the general flatness of the desolate sandy countryside.

117Stone projectile points show that Paleo-Indians  camped and hunted near the San Juan Basin 10 to 11 thousand years ago. None of their actual dwelling sites exist as the highly mobile groups moved from place to place searching large game.

Over time the human dependence on hunting decreased and plant foraging increased. Archaic-Indian occupation of the region began about 5500 B.C. and was continuous until approximately 500 B.C.  Campsites became settlement locations throughout the basin. The Late Archaic phase demonstrated a gradual progression toward a more sedentary lifestyle concentrated in localities that had permanent water.

107By almost any standards, Chaco Canyon in the San Juan Basin, is a harsh and inhospitable region. Summers are hot and dry, winters are cold and windy. Annual precipitation within the basin is a mere 6 inches and vegetation is largely limited to desert scrub. The harsh climate and relatively high elevation (6,200 feet) make this an unlikely place for a large and advanced civilization to develop.

110As early as 1000 B.C. maize and other cultivar crops were introduced to the area, although widespread agriculture did not take hold until eight hundred years later. For the next six centuries the culture continued to slowly develop. By 400 A. D., the Basketmaker III phase was on the rise in the San Juan Basin. Many experts believe that over time  the Archaic peoples developed traditions and a culture that evolved to become the Puebloan Anasazi.

016 Between 400 and 700 A.D. there was a period of increased moisture in this arid region. Water drainage from the mesa tops helped support agriculture and a general population shift to Chaco Canyon began.  The dependence on agriculture brought about a greater degree of sedentism, more permanent architecture and the widespread use of ceramics.

132Beginning in 700 A.D., moisture and groundwater levels in Chaco Canyon began a steady decline which lasted for two centuries. The Anasazi of the San Juan Basin developed strategies to cope with the poor climactic conditions. Populations dispersed to find agriculturally productive niches. Exchange and trade systems expanded. Well-designed storage facilities were built to house any surplus foodstuffs. This was a difficult time but it initiated social and technological change.

During the next few centuries, Chaco Canyon was the setting for the development of one of the most complex societies in pre-Columbian North America.

089By the early 900s climate conditions began to improve, and the Chaco  culture began a remarkable cultural and sociological transition. The  people overcame the harshness of the environment of the San Juan Basin to establish a culture that would dominate the area for more than four centuries.

The ancient village sites in Chaco Canyon  illustrate the architectural and engineering achievements of the Anasazi people. The corresponding cultural and organizational structure of these people influenced the entire region.

Chaco Culture National Historical Park in western New Mexico is a special, remote, isolated area, allowing visitors the chance to view and wonder at the ruins left by the Anasazi over a thousand years ago.

……….to be continued

Happy Trails, Dohn

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About earthstonestation

promoting environmental education, protecting all species and preserving the wild places with art, music and storytelling.
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4 Responses to Chacoan Culture – the begining

  1. FeyGirl says:

    Wonderful pieces (both)! This has been a must-see of mine for decades. Completely fascinating — thanks so much for the thorough write-up!

  2. Pit says:

    Thanks, Dohn, for this highly interesting post. I saved it to my computer so I can always refer to it should I ever [there are so many places on my bucket list] get to see that region.
    Have a great week,
    Pit

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