Secrets Still Hidden in Chaco Canyon UNESCO Site

The Chaco Canyon UNESCO site is atop the Colorado Plateau within San Juan Basin in Southwestern United States. The predominant geology is sandstone dating from the late Cretaceous Period when the climate was warmer than at present. This remote canyon seventy miles from anywhere houses an ancient observatory. There are a number of other sites in the immediate area. A sophisticated road system once connected them. We can still trace them when we know where to look.

The Great Kiva Plaza. Chaco Canyon UNESCO Site
The Great Kiva Plaza

Chaco Canyon UNESCO Site Inhabitants Down the Centuries

The first people to climb to the top of the Colorado Plateau 10,000 years ago, would have found it more fertile than it is now. Those hunter-gatherers who collected food in baskets left evidence of over 70 campsites. Over time they learned to make tools, and stone-covered pits to keep food safely. By 450 BC, their descendants had learned to make pit houses, and farm the land.

In 850 AD the Chaco people, as we now know them, went through a radical cultural step change. They began building huge stone structures. These each contained as many as 700 rooms neatly arranged over 4 to 5 stories. Each had dozens of kivas for purposes of religious celebrations, and community meetings. The great kivas, such as appearing above towered over the surrounding landscape. They would have been symbols of the power of the priesthood. The Chacoans built meticulously, and many, but not all of their structures have survived.

Staircase Leading to Chaco House. Chaco Canyon UNESCO Site
Staircase Leading to Chaco House

The Chaco Vanish As Mysteriously as They Appeared

Around 1140 AD the Chacoan civilization began disintegrating. Perhaps their population grew too large for the land to sustain them, or they abused it. We do know there was a series of long droughts, including a fifty-year one beginning in 1130. During the last two decades that they were there, the Chaco deforested large areas and cut water channels in the sandstone. But this was to no avail. Around the close of the 12th century they sealed their buildings neatly, and departed who knows where.

Passages in Chaco. Staircase Leading to Chaco House
Passages in Chaco: Flickr: Ron Frazier / CC BY 2.0

The Spanish invaders rediscovered Chaco, although they had scant respect for its religious relevance. By 1800, it was quite badly looted. Today, it slumbers on under the watchful eyes of UNESCO, and the Chaco Canyon National Monument Authority. Archaeologists have recovered some remarkable ceramic pottery and pictographs. While astronomers regularly visit to admire its remarkably dark skies and bright stars. To me, what stands out more than anything is the attention to detail in their architecture, and the mark of sophistication the Chaco Canyon UNESCO site left behind.

Ceramic Chaco Bowl
Ceramic Chaco Bowl excavated from Pueblo Alto, dating from AD 1030 to 1200

About Richard Farrell

Richard FarrellI tripped over a shrinking bank balance and fell into the writing gig unintentionally. This was after I escaped the corporate world and searched in vain for ways to become rich on the internet by doing nothing. Despite the fact that writing is no recipe for wealth, I rather enjoy it. I will deny I am obsessed with it when I have the time.My base is Umtentweni in South Africa on the Kwazulu-Natal South Coast (30.7167° S, 30.4667° E). I work from home where I ponder on the future of the planet, and what lies beyond in the great hereafter. Sometimes I step out of my computer into the silent riverine forests, and empty golden beaches for which the area is renowned.

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