The Puebloan Society of Chaco Canyon

Overview

To veteran travelers of the American Southwest, the name Chaco Canyon invokes an inaccessible, vast land of tremendous vistas and huge, empty stone houses. Today, the Canyon appears as a barren land and most visitors are struck by its apparent inhospitable nature. Yet almost 1000 years ago, during the Medieval period, Chaco Canyon was the hub of a flourishing Pueblo Indian society, with 12 multi-story great houses built of stone and wood, a dozen great kivas (large, subterranean ceremonial structures), and ...

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Overview

To veteran travelers of the American Southwest, the name Chaco Canyon invokes an inaccessible, vast land of tremendous vistas and huge, empty stone houses. Today, the Canyon appears as a barren land and most visitors are struck by its apparent inhospitable nature. Yet almost 1000 years ago, during the Medieval period, Chaco Canyon was the hub of a flourishing Pueblo Indian society, with 12 multi-story great houses built of stone and wood, a dozen great kivas (large, subterranean ceremonial structures), and hundreds of smaller habitation sites, pueblos along the intermittent drainage known today as Chaco Wash. This society peaked in the year AD 1100, when more than 150 Chacoan towns, in addition to the 12 great houses in Chaco Canyon, and perhaps 30,000 people across the greater San Juan Basin of the southwestern United States were affiliated with Chaco. This landmass, which extends across portions of the four modern states of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado, is roughly equal in size to the country of Ireland.

Chacoan society endured for more than 200 hundred years, evolving and changing in the period from AD 950 to about 1150. The peak of Chacoan society can be more narrowly dated from AD 1020 to 1130. Undoubtedly, many leaders came and went during these hundred years. But, we have no written records to name these leaders. Unlike the history of other continents, in the Americas, the absence of written aboriginal languages means that written chronologies of the events, processes, and lives of people do not exist. This simple fact makes reconstruction and understanding of America's pre-European past very challenging. The archaeological record does speak to us. Thematic chapters guide readers to the emergence of Chacoan society, its cultural and environmental settings, and the Pueblo people. Other chapters detail what is known of Chacoan society c. 1100, how it was settled, and where its people probably dispersed to. Also, given the nature of the topic, information about the discovery and investigations of Chacoan society by Europeans and Americans is provided. An annotated timeline provides easy reference to key dates and events. Biographical sketches offer a look at the people who have formed our thoughts about and approaches to Chacoan society, and twenty annotated excerpted primary and secondary documents walk readers through Canyon related material. A glossary of terms is provided, as are illustrations and maps. The work concludes with recommended sources for further inquiry, websites, video, and print.

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Product Details

Meet the Author

PAUL F. REED is a Preservation Archaeologist with the Center for Desert Archaeology, Tucson, Arizona, and currently works as the Chaco Scholar at Salmon Ruins, New Mexico.

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Table of Contents

Ch. 1 Setting the stage 1
Ch. 2 The cultural and environmental setting of Chaco Canyon 7
Ch. 3 Chaco's history : exploration and research at Chaco Canyon in historical context 15
Ch. 4 The emergence of Chacoan society : a chronological view 31
Ch. 5 Chacoan society at 1100 C.E. : a static view 41
Ch. 6 Chaco Canyon's outlying communities : the outliers 55
Ch. 7 Chaco Canyon as a ritual center of the eleventh-century Pueblo world 71
Ch. 8 Chacoan society : what we know and what we don't 83
Biographies 89
Florence Hawley Ellis 89
Alden Hayes 91
Edgar Hewett 93
Cynthia Irwin-Williams 95
William Henry Jackson 96
Neil Judd 98
Robert Lister 100
Earl Morris 102
George Pepper 104
Lt. James Simpson 106
Gordon Vivian 108
Richard Wetherill 110
Primary documents 113
1 Commerce of the prairies, 1844 114
2 Journal of a military reconnaissance from Santa Fe, New Mexico to the Navaho country 116
3 Geology of the banks of the San Juan, 1859 120
4 "The pueblo ruins and the interior tribes," 1879 123
5 "Caption for plate 59," Pueblo San Juan, 1874 125
6 "Report on certain ruins visited in New Mexico" 127
7 "Report on the ruins of New Mexico," 1875 130
8 "Report on the ancient ruins examined in 1875 and 1877," 132
9 Ruins of the houses of the sedentary Indians of the San Juan, 1881 135
10 "Origin myth of Acoma Pueblo" 141
11 Andrew Napatcha's telling of the sword swallowers and Chaco Canyon 142
12 Prehistoric ruins of Chaco Canyon 143
13 The prehistoric ruins of the San Juan watershed 146
14 A narrative of exploration in New Mexico 148
15 The Aztec ruin 150
16 Pueblo Bonito 152
17 Chetro Ketl 154
18 Chaco Canyon 156
19 The architecture of Pueblo Bonito, 1964 158
20 The structure of Chacoan society in the northern Southwest 160
21 The collapse of Chaco 162
22 Explaining the Chacoan phenomenon 163
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