Authors: Kathleen O'Neal & Gear Gear,Kathleen O'Neal & Gear Gear
To Doug and Sue Morley
Lester and Ruth Hofer
For more than forty years of generosity and kindness
We would like to thank Dr. Jonathan Haas and Dr. Winifred Creamer for their outstanding work on Anasazi warfare. Dr. Debra Martin sent us a copy of her excellent unpublished paper, “Lives Unlived: The Political Economy of Violence Against Anasazi Women.” We’ve also relied upon Dr. Linda Scott Cummings’s work on Anasazi diet, and Dr. Ray William-son’s work on prehistoric astronomy.
Special gratitude goes to California State University in Bakersfield for a 1975 Humanities Research Award that sparked an abiding interest in the Chaco Anasazi, and to the National Park Service staff at Chaco Canyon, who have an impossible job and manage to do it extremely well.
Tom Doherty, our publisher, has supported us throughout this project, though we’ve often bored him glassy-eyed with the intricate minutiae of archaeology. Linda Quinton, associate publisher, deserves our sincere appreciation for her firm belief that the best way to bring the science of archaeology to the people is through this medium. And, as always, we owe a great deal to Harold and Sylvia Fenn, Rob Howard, and all the wonderful H. B. Fenn folks in Canada.
The debt we owe to Harriet McDougal goes beyond words. She is, simply, the finest teacher and friend that a writer can have.
At a 6,000-foot elevation in northwestern New Mexico lies a high desert valley—a gash worn through the enduring sandstone by eons of sun, wind, and water. Only about ten miles long, defined by majestic sheer-walled sandstone cliffs, Chaco Canyon is characterized as Upper Sonoran desert. When the rain does fall, it cascades violently off the slick rock, and powerful torrents scour the washes. Temperatures soar to over one hundred degrees Fahrenheit during summer, and plunge to twenty degrees below zero in the winter. Periods of drought are common and severe. At the best of times, it is an inhospitable, if hauntingly beautiful, place.
Yet during the eleventh century this canyon became a cultural center for a people we call the Anasazi. The Chaco culture encompassed over 115,000 square miles and included approximately 100,000 people.
There are many reasons for what is called the “Chaco Phenomenon.” By about
1050 Chaco Canyon had become the focal point for the manufacture of turquoise goods. Beads, figurines, and jewelry were produced in large quantities and traded to outlying communities. Archaeologists have traced the turquoise to mines over one hundred miles away, near the present-day town of Cerrillos, New Mexico. Those mines seem to have been under the direct control of the Chacoan elite. But finished turquoise goods were more than “money.” They amounted to a ceremonial industry which maintained links between the Chacoan elite and the leaders in outlying communities.
During this period the Chacoans began construction of an elaborate road system that would be unequaled in North America for another seven hundred years. These were by no means “dirt trails,” but carefully engineered roads. Thirty feet wide in places, the roadbeds were generally excavated into the ground and bordered by earthen berms or low masonry walls. Many of them appear to have been surfaced with crushed potsherds. In one location north of Chaco Canyon, the road becomes a four-lane “highway,” where four parallel routes head north. When the desired routes encountered cliffs or steep hills, the engineers built wood scaffolding or earthen ramps, or carved stairs into solid rock. They are lined with signal towers, “way-stations,” and shrines. The latter seem to have functioned as places of prayer and ritual reflection similar to the stations of the cross in the Christian tradition.
Chacoan architecture is stunning. The Chaco Anasazi constructed multistoried Great Houses: walled towns that would have awed Europeans of the same period. D-shaped, rectangular, or circular, the Great Houses contained hundreds of rooms—most of which were never lived in. The population of these enormous Great Houses probably hovered at between one hundred and two hundred people. The extra rooms were used for storage and may have acted as guest quarters when the canyon population expanded during major ceremonials. To support the weight of the upper stories, the lower walls were built three to four feet thick, and each story was set back at regular intervals to create a “stairlike” appearance. Such daunting edifices required the builders to quarry and dress tons of stone, haul it for miles to reach the building site, and carry enough sand, clay, and water to make the mortar. Interior and exterior walls were then plastered with bright clays and painted with colorful artwork.
Chacoans were also extraordinary astronomers. The elegant motions of the sun, moon, and stars were the very heart of their Great Houses.