Saturday, February 25, 2006

Preston's Chaco Book of Judge's: Two

The permanent population of Chaco was never large, probably less than a thousand people. However, studies of the trash mounds indicate that there were large seasonal influxes. Chaco Canyon appears to have become a great religious center, visited regularly by numbers of "pilgrims" traveling in splendid ceremonial processions along the road system.

The timing of these religious gatherings would be determined by the priests at Chaco, who (through their astronomical and solar observatories) could track the movements of the sun, moon, planets, and stars. Announcements of ceremonies could be sent at short notice across the San Juan Basin using the network of lighthouses-towers or hills on which fires were built.

Around this time, immigrant groups seemed to have moved into Chaco Canyon, bringing different and even non-Anasazi influences. At Pueblo Bonito, the evidence is that two different peoples (perhaps even speaking different languages!) lived in the same structure at the same time. On the north side of the canyon, across from the magnificent Great Houses, a different sort of people lived. They were poorer, with cruder pottery and more primitive buildings. Their religious kivas, moreover, were slightly different from kivas elsewhere in the canyon. These people might have been a laboring class, or they might have represented a different cultural tradition. The Chaco Canyon experiment was becoming increasingly diverse.

As long as everything went well-that is, as long as the rains fell-people across the Anasazi world laid aside their cultural, linguistic, and theological differences. Whether this was a voluntary confederation of communities or Chaco gained absolute control over the Anasazi is still a matter of debate among archeologists.

Chaco Canyon had indeed become the Mecca of the Anasazi world.

"As the system expanded," Judge said, "these pilgrimages would be attended by increasingly large numbers of people, involve increasingly complex ritual, and thus would require increasingly larger degrees of control and administration by those in charge, presumably those resident in Chaco Canyon." The rains, as always, continued to fall.

The entire edifice was built on a single, grotesque illusion: that the priests of Chaco had gained control over nature. As Judge noted dryly: "Embedded in ritual, yet tied intimately to the continuation of a favorable environment, the system would also become increasingly vulnerable to environmental fluctuation. " That "environmental fluctuation" came in 1085 and again in 1095, when the canyon and the entire Anasazi world suffered back-to-back droughts. These droughts, while not unusual for pre-1050 Chaco, appear to have shocked the Chaco system.

They caused a breakdown of sorts. The Chacoans started enclosing their open plazas with fortified walls, leaving only a few doors open. In succeeding years, even those doors were walled up until there were no ground-floor openings at all; access to rooftops was through ladders that could be pulled up at the first sign of trouble. This puzzled archeologists, who made a diligent search for possible enemies of the Chacoans. No likely candidates turned up. The archeologists could only conclude that the Anasazi were protecting themselves from. . . themselves.

from Talking to the Ground by Douglas Preston

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