Why this book?
Chaco Canyon was a great capital of the Pueblo world, flourishing from about 850 to 1130 in an unlikely remote, desolate canyon in northwestern New Mexico. In that bleak setting, monumental “Great Houses” rose, the ruling elites’ (relatively) palatial homes. Chaco’s region was about the size of Ohio, with perhaps 100,000 people in 200+ villages, scattered at likely agricultural areas – wet places in the high desert. At each settlement, a small Great House loomed over the town, on a rise or hill. The far-flung villages were connected to Chaco (and to each other) by a network of “roads” and an intricate line-of-sight signaling system, working with smoke and mirrors.
We didn’t know any of this when I started out in archaeology in the early 1970s. The hot textbook of that time lamented, regarding Chaco, that “Less is really known about the area than of almost any other southwestern district.”
From 1976 to 1986, I was a research archaeologist – a junior position – on the National Park Service’s Chaco Project, directed by a University of New Mexico professor. It was a big deal: we excavated many sites and wrote many technical reports. But at project’s end, there was no grand synthesis, no concluding volume. Ten years later I was doing other things, when the National Park Service approached me about writing or assembling such a volume. Which I did, through an elaborate series of meetings and conferences eventually published as The Archaeology of Chaco Canyon: An Eleventh Century Pueblo Regional Center – a technical, scholarly volume rife with archaeology jargon and charts, topical chapters written by twenty different authors. David Noble, an old Santa Fe friend, sat in on our final sessions and convinced the authors of most 2006 chapters to re-write them in standard accessible English, accompanied by excellent illustrations; and to the mix of my archaeologists, he added several profound chapters written by Native scholars (something I was unable to do, because of sticky politics at the time). With one thing and another, Noble’s excellent book In Search of Chaco came out a couple of years before mine/ours. And a wonderful summary of our knowledge of Chaco it is.
Why should I read it?
What is this book about?
Startling discoveries and impassioned debates have emerged from the Chaco Phenomenon since the publication of New Light on Chaco Canyon twenty years ago. This completely updated edition features seventeen original essays, scores of photographs, maps, and site plans, and the perspectives of archaeologists, historians, and Native American thinkers. Key topics include the rise of early great houses; the structure of agricultural life among the people of Chaco Canyon; their use of sacred geography and astronomy in organizing their spiritual cosmology; indigenous knowledge about Chaco from the perspective of Hopi, Tewa, and Navajo peoples; and the place of Chaco in the…