Keeping Up With the Chacoans

One of the kivas at Pueblo Bonita

I explained in my first post why we decided to go to New Mexico. Once that was decided, the next question was where to go beyond Santa Fe. This time I got my inspiration from a travel book I received as a retirement gift from Comcast. Aside from the more well-known attractions, the author recommended visiting Chaco Canyon, home to Ancestral Puebloans (also known as Anasazi) from about 850 – 1250. I was intrigued. We’d visited ancient sites in South America, so we should certainly visit a North American version.

Chaco Canyon is a UNESCO World Heritage site, remarkable for its multi-storey great houses and elaborate engineering of both structures and roads. The buildings here were the largest in North America until the 19th century. The advanced engineering and architecture allowed, for example, the perfectly square doors and alignment shown in the photo below, where you can see five rooms from one doorway. There was also alignment with lunar and solar events, indicating their advanced knowledge of astronomy.

Based on the remains and artifacts found at Chaco, it’s clear Chaco was a major economic and cultural center, with visitors from thousands of miles away, including from South America.

The belief is the society eventually dissolved as a result of many decades of drought. There is a current PBS special about the Americas as well as two documentaries narrated by Robert Redford that focus on the largest of the houses, Pueblo Bonito, which became largely a ceremonial site toward the end of its existence.

In doing my usual research, I read that the road to Chaco could be treacherous, so it wasn’t advised to approach in a rental car. Because of that warning and also because we like to go deep into history, we enlisted an archeologist from Salmon Ruins as our tour guide. Tori was awesome, providing not only extensive information about Chaco but about the region in general. It was interesting touring the site with an archeologist since she shared some of the observations they use to draw conclusions about the ancient people who lived there.

Pat learning a bunch of history from Tori that she will soon forget.

And the reason for the title of this post? Apparently two neighboring houses, Pueblo Bonito and Chetro Ketl, were in a race to outdo each other. When one grew larger, the other added more rooms. Studying ancient cultures just shows how human beings never really change…

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