Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Anasazi of Chaco Canyon

Anasazi Cliff Dwelling - Photo: Peter Kunasz

For about a thousand years and before Europeans ever set foot in North America the people who were the hunter gatherers of the American Southwest built an elaborate and sophisticated centralized society in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. Actively trading with their neighbors to the south, the Toltec and Myan, they started growing corn, beans and squash. As they shifted to agriculture they were able to settle and they built elaborate structures out of clay masonry. These buildings are precisely aligned to the four directions, aligned to the sun in ways that mark the solstices and equinoxes. We call these people the Anasazi. In Hopi Anasazi means “ancestors”, in Navajo, “ancient enemy”.

Underground rooms entered from above through a hole at the top are called kivas. The kivas were lined with benches and appear to have been used for ceremonial purposes. Flutes, body paint, crystals, turquoise, stone pipes and effigies are among the items found in kivas. The great kiva at Casa Rinconada could accommodate hundreds of people and it is believed that people traveled from the surrounding areas to visit the great kivas at certain times for ceremonies that marked the changing seasons.

Anasazi Frog Fetish - Turquoise and Jet
Pre-Columbian Jade

According to Dr. Shelley Valdez, a member of the Pueblo Laguna Tribe, the cardinal directions, "connect people, the seasons, the Sun and Moon's patterns, time, nature, the environment, the cosmos, and ceremonial systems. Observance of the cardinal directions and the Sun essentially ensured life by knowing when it was time to plant, harvest, and hunt for example."

Interactive exhibit - Chaco Culture National Historical Park
Link to: Traditions of the Sun