Chaco Canyon Essay Research Paper CHACO CANYONGrade

Chaco Canyon Essay, Research Paper


Grade: 84

Language: english


Country: USA


Teachers Comments: WELL WRITTEN

jim barry 11/4/96

The Anasazi, who were named by the Navajos, knew how to chart the

seasons by observing the sky. The biggest mystery of Chaco Canyon is why the

Anasazidecided to leave the home that they had built over so many years. the

one thing

that is quite interesting is that they were able to construct such a

magnificent piece of

architecture without the use of metal tools or any devices with wheels.


Chimney Rock is located about 20 miles west of Pagosa Springs, Colorado. The

construction is composed mainly of sandstone which was laid there more than

65 million

years ago. The district that Chimney Rock is located in consists of 6.12

square miles, has

91 identified areas with a total of 217 different structures.

Most of these areas were grouped into 7 communities that are located at


places within the district. The Anasazi Indians lived in the Piedra Valley

beginning about

the tine of Christ. Most of them lives at lower elevations near the fields

and they farmed

along the water beds, but some moved up onto the higher parts of Chimney Rock


around 925 A.D. They may have moved higher to avoid the cold sink effect that

made the

lower areas colder in the winter, or they may have moved higher to utilize

winter snow as

a water source. Still, most of the fields they planted in spring were along

the waterways

on the floor of the valley or on terraces in the valleys above the river. At

Chimney Rock

the people grew corn and beams, but no squash. Although squash was a mainstay

of their

people in other areas, the growing season was probably too short in this

region for squash

to mature before it was killed by frost.

The population of Chimney Rock is estimated to have been between 1200 and

2000 people. The local Anasazi built in the Northern San Juan Style, each

family or

extended family building its own home. The masonry was similar to that in the


at Mesa Verde.

Great kivas were built in almost every major Anasazi site between 900 and


A.D. One of the several great kivas at Chimney Rock has been excavated. These


structures probably served for community gatherings and rituals. Fourteen


chambers, were found in the floor of this Great Kiva, presumably for the

storage of

ceremonial paraphernalia. Although this Great Kiva has some unique features,

it probably

was built according to a general plan used by all the Anasazi.

Ninety miles to the south, some of the Anasazi were creating a new kind of


in Chaco Canyon. Instead of the scattered type of dwellings found in most


communities at that time, the people at Chaco were building pueblos or great

houses. This

is Pueblo Bonito. They also created more than 400 miles of roads leading to


settlements, or colonies. Chaco seems to have been a focal point in the

trading of

turquoise from many areas of the Southwest with the civilizations in Central


In 1076 the Chacoans built a great house on Chimney Rock Mesa. Their pueblo

was high above the others, the highest Anasazi settlement known anywhere, and

the most

northeastern of the sites colonized by the Chacoans. Some Chacoan colonies

seem to

have been built in positions where they could see the fires of other colonies

at night , or,

perhaps, send signals to each other.

The people of Taos Pueblo in New Mexico claim Chimney Rock as one of their

ancestral homes and say that the two rocks pinnacles are a shrine to the Twin

Was Gods.

The Anasazi were interested in calendrical astronomy as a means to tell when

to plant their

crops. Religious ceremonies were related to movements of sun, moon and stars

in the

heavens, just as the same movements as changes of seasons determined their

lives. At

Chimney Rock they found a natural lunar observatory. Every 18 years the full

moon rises

between the two pinnacles as viewed from the village. This occurs at the time

of lunar

standstill, the time when the moon rises at its furthest point north of east.

The Chacoan

pueblo at Chimney Rock may have been a prehistoric research institute,

similar in part to

Stonehenge in Great Britain.

Dr. Frank Eddy, who has excavated some Chimney Rock sites, feels that the

colonists who moved here may have been priests, all male, because they

brought only

masculine talents with them; for example, the style of masonry, a man?s

task, is clearly

Chacoan. However, the residents of Chimney Rock did not produce typical


pottery, a woman?s occupation.

Replicas of pots found at Chimney Rock Produced by Clint Swink, a local


who specializes in making copies of Anasazi pottery, show a Chacoan style

pot, proving

that there was ongoing trade between the two social centers. Other artifacts

found at

Chaco Canyon but made at Chimney Rock Reinforce the trade and cultural links.

Evidence that the Chacoan pueblo was planned and built as a whole is shown by

the continuous rear wall. The masonry was laid down on bedrock, leading


to believe that the stones and the dirt used for the mud mortar were hauled

up from below.

The Chacoans stayed at Chimney Rock for only about 50 years. Their pueblo was

abandoned no later than 1125 A.D. It is thought that the other residents

deserted the

region at about the same time. Both the pueblo and the village buildings were


about the same time. Chaco Canyon itself was abandoned over a period of years


1130 and 1150 A.D.

The Anasazi moved frequently when local resources became depleted. Even the

stunning cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde were occupied for less than a century.


the cause of their abandoning the entire Colorado Plateau was probably due to

a severe

drought that occurred between 1276 and 1299. When the rains failed to come,


agriculture faltered and they were forced to leave. The Anasazi must have

abandoned this

homeland reluctantly.

The former inhabitants of Chimney Rock may have moved to the Rio Grande

area to join the Taos Pueblo, or they may have been one of the groups that


reoccupied Chacoan ghost towns. For example, the ruins at Aztec, New Mexico


built by people from Chaco about 1100, abandoned by 1150, but reoccupied and

remodeled by Northern San Juan Anasazis from 1200 to nearly 1300 A.D. Some

interesting evidence recently discovered by Dr. Kim Malville at Mesa Verde

may show

that some Chimney Rock Anasazi moved there after leaving their homes below



Today Chimney Rock is managed by the U.S. Forest Service. It was made a

National Historic Site in 1970. In 1987 afire lookout tower that had been

abandoned in

the 1950?s was rebuilt. The tower provides a viewpoint comparable to the

one that the

Chacoans must have had from the top of their two-storied pueblo. Ranger-led

tours are

the only way to wee the ruins. The area is closed except for tours to

preserve the delicate

structures and to protect critical wildlife habitat.

Visitors from all parts of the country and across the world are intrigued by


archaeological mysteries of Chimney Rock. Special occasions, such as the

annual open

house or a moonrise talk by Dr. Kin Malville, who originated the theory of

the importance

of the lunar standstill at Chimney Rock, attract late crowds.

Many consider Chimney Rock the most spectacular of all the Anasazi sites, and


the magnificant architecture and ruins, who would argue that?


Greer, William W. Chaco Canyon. Johnson Books 1995.

Boulder, Colorado 80302


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