Chaco Canyon

Information about the Chaco Canyon

Chaco Culture National Historical Park is a United States National Historical Park and World Heritage Site which contains the densest and most exceptional concentration of large pueblos in the American Southwest. The park is located in northwestern New Mexico, between Albuquerque and Farmington, in a relatively inaccessible valley cut by the Chaco Wash. The park preserves one of America's most fascinating cultural and historic areas.

Chacoan corner doorway in Pueblo Bonito. Created circa AD 1050Between AD 850 and 1250, Chaco Canyon was a major center of ancestral Puebloan culture. It was a hub of ceremony, trade, and administration for the prehistoric Four Corners area - unlike anything before or since. Chaco is remarkable for its monumental public and ceremonial buildings, and its distinctive architecture. Building construction, and creating the associated Chacoan roads, ramps, dams, and mounds, required a great deal of well organized and skillful planning, designing, resource gathering, and construction.

The Chacoan cultural sites are fragile and irreplaceable and represent a significant part of America's cultural heritage. At least one of the sites in the park, Fajada Butte, has been closed to the public due to fears of erosion caused by tourists. The sites are part of the sacred homeland of Pueblo Indian peoples of New Mexico, the Hopi Indians of Arizona, and the Navajo Indians of the Southwest, all of whom continue to respect and honor them.

Cultural history

Archaeologists identify the first people in the broader San Juan basin as hunter-gatherers designated as the Archaic. By approximately 900 B.C., these people lived at sites such as Atlatl Cave and Shabik'eshchee Village. The Archaic people left very little evidence of their presence in Chaco Canyon itself. However, by approximately 100 B.C., their descendants, designated as Basketmakers, were living permanently within the canyon. A small population of Basketmakers remained in the Chaco Canyon area, going through several cultural stages, until about A.D. 700, when small, one-storied, masonry pueblos began to be built. These structures have been identified as characteristic of the Early Pueblo People. By A.D. 900, Pueblo population was growing and the communities expanded into larger, but more closely compacted pueblos. There is strong evidence of a canyon wide turquoise processing and trading industry dating from the tenth century. At this time, the first section of the spectacular Pueblo Bonito complex was built, beginning with one curved row of rooms near the north wall.

However, the meticulously designed buildings characteristic of the larger Canyon complex did not emerge until about A.D. 1030. The Chacoan people combined pre-planned architectural designs, astronomical alignments, geometry, landscaping, and engineering to create an ancient urban center of spectacular public architecture. Researchers have concluded that the complex may have had a relatively small residential population, with larger groups assembling only temporarily for annual events and ceremonies. Smaller sites, apparently more residential in character, are scattered around the Great Houses in Chaco canyon.

The extended Ancient Pueblo community also began to experience a population and building boom about this time. By A.D. 1115, at least seventy outlying pueblos with characteristic Chacoan architecture had been built within the 25,000 square mile (65,000 km˛) area of the San Juan Basin. Researchers debate the function of these outlying settlements, some large enough to be considered Great Houses in their own right. Some suggest they may have been more than agricultural communities, perhaps acting as trading posts or as ceremonial sites.

Many outliers are connected to the central canyon and to one another by the enigmatic Chacoan "roads." Extending up to 60 miles (100 km), in generally straight lines, these roads appear to have been extensively surveyed and engineered. Common "road" characteristics include a depressed bed between twenty-five to forty feet wide with edges defined by rock edging or curbing. When necessary, the roads continued on their course over obstacles, using steep stone stairways and rock ramps. Although the "roads'" overall function may never be known, scientists speculate that they were used to transport building materials or for ceremonial processions.

The cohesive system that characterized Chaco Canyon began to break down about A.D. 1140, perhaps in response to a severe region wide drought. Outlying communities began to disappear and, by the end of the century, the buildings in the central canyon had been abandoned. Archaeological and cultural evidence leads scientists to believe people from this region migrated both south and east to the valleys and drainages of the Little Colorado River and the Rio Grande.

Nomadic Southern Athapaskan speaking peoples, given the name Navajo by the Spanish, succeeded the Pueblo people in this region by approximately AD 1620 to 1650. Ute tribal groups also frequented this region, primarily during hunting and raiding activities. The modern Navajo Nation lies north of Chaco Canyon, and many Navajo (more appropriately known as the Diné) live in surrounding areas.

The above includes excerpts from Wikipedia.org, the free encyclopedia:

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