Chaco Canyon collapse: recent study challenges drought theory

In the center of the region across America, Chaco Canyon is a barren and desolate place, dotted with junipers, cacti, or the occasional solitary sage. Hundreds of ancient and mysterious structures haunt this canyon and the entire region, meticulously aligned along the paths of the Sun, Moon, and the constellation Orion.

Known as the Grandes Maisons du Chaco, these structures include sunken ceremonial chambers known as kivas, cliff dwellings, watchtowers, huge facades, and long, massive “roads” that seem to get nowhere. This culture emerged around 900 AD, but around 1100 to 1200 AD, the Great Houses were abandoned. Drought is frequently cited as the cause of the collapse and migration of this mysterious culture, but now the latest research is casting doubt on these deforestation and drought assumptions and presenting a more horrific alternative.

Understanding This Complex Chacoan Building Frenzy

The Hopi, Ute, Shoshone, Navajo, and contemporary Puebloans all share some degree of ancestral history with this region. The Navajo and the Ute refer to the inhabitants of the Great Houses as the Anasazi, which means “old enemies” or “old enemies”. Contemporary Puebloans dislike the term, although some modern Navajo, Ute, and Hopi refuse to renounce its use. Conscientious experts have attempted to sidestep this awkward tension by referring to these people, and this culture, as Chacoan.

Who exactly these people were, they took an accurate survey of the landscape upon their arrival and launched a frenzy of complex construction projects. They dealt with the problems of the inhospitable land by establishing a cult that involved periodic pilgrimages and the delivery of offerings to these sacred sites.

The raw materials used to create these astro-temples were not readily available, so sandstone and wood were transported great distances. Massive woods were needed to line the roofs of the kivas. These large timbers have been collected so far away that archaeologists remain uncertain as to their origins. Small springs were used, but it appears that the locals depended on and controlled a network of offerings that flowed from the north and south. Meanwhile, archaeological evidence has only uncovered several hundred strange burials.

Certain rooms in the Grande Maison, which at first glance appear to be rooms, show no sign of habitation. These rooms often have no exit or light, and are too closed even for there to be a fire inside. Experts hypothesize that the grandeur of the building itself was the goal, and these “rooms” are in fact only walled spaces used to add size and visual imposition.

Digital reconstruction of the ancient Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico before the site was mysteriously abandoned. ( Public domain )

The Native American narrative and the obligatory mysteries of the Chaco

Today, archaeologists and anthropologists work with Native Americans who have ancestral connections to the ruins. But despite this cooperation, there remain persistent elements of tension, taboo and secrecy. Some natives of the region refuse to discuss ancient culture fully, even among themselves, and those who speak openly do so with extreme caution, gentleness, and even with a pang of heart.

They speak of people in ancient times who had great spiritual power over animals, weather, and humans. They vaguely suggest that the natural order of things may have been altered in some way. In some cases, they will politely explain that some of their traditions are not meant to be repeated over and over again (especially to Europeans), or that they have migratory traditions that they themselves do not fully understand. But virtually all traditions hold that their ancestors emerged from the underworld and, guided by their ancestral demigods, deities and spirits, made a series of epic migrations.

Speaking of things that defy understanding, there are some weird elements of Chaco archeology that should be highlighted. This ruling elite of “religious specialists” had abnormal genetic traits that were revered. In a 2016 National Geographic article, Aaron Sidder explored the eerie reality that the ruling elite of Chaco culture had six fingers and toes. “We found that six-toed people in particular were common and appeared to be associated with important ritual structures and high-ranking objects like turquoise,” Sidder summed up when discussing his team’s findings at Chaco Canyon.

There is also a macabre element to this culture, which perhaps relates to the abandonment of sites – cannibalism. In January 2000, scientists Billman, Lambert, and Banks published an article via Cambridge University Press regarding Mesa Verde, another Chacoan site in southwest Colorado. “Cut marks and percussion scars involve humans in the disarticulation and reduction of these bodies,” the article explained in its report on the discovery of cannibalism. “Evidence of heat exposure on some bone fragments and laboratory analyzes of human coprolite recovered from one of the pit houses support the interpretation that people prepared and consumed parts of the human body. ”

Distribution of the great houses of Chaco Canyon.  (Wills, et. Al. / PNAS)

Distribution of the great houses of Chaco Canyon. (Wills, et al. / PNAS)

The outdated narrative of the collapse of drought and deforestation

Regional climate change, deforestation, topsoil erosion and prolonged periods of drought are generally cited as the main factors leading to the abandonment of the Great Houses and the extinction of the Chacoan culture. Geologists have determined that there was indeed a fifty-year drought that began around 1130 AD.

It is also commonly believed that the thousands of large timber needed to cover the kivas and pit houses have been overexploited, exacerbating the acute arid conditions. This is then interpreted as an inscription on the wall regarding unsustainable land use practices. However, savvy researchers have pointed out that the popularity of such theories has appeared to align well with modern campaigns regarding our own unsustainable land use practices, suggesting a lack of objectivity.

Wills, Drake and Wetherbee recently published their findings with the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America ( PNAS). “There is no direct evidence of human impacts on local forests during the Bonito phase [the period of high construction from AD 850 to 1150], no indication that agricultural fields have been destroyed by deforestation or any other process, and, surprisingly, no conclusive information on the amount and sources of archaeological timber, ”the researchers wrote in their perspective report.

“Indeed, the people of Chaco had sources of timber and other natural resources that were certainly less expensive than those shown in the Chaco Canyon collapse models. Construction models indicate that the overall energy investment in the large houses of the Chaco began to decline dramatically at the end of the Common Era [AD] Thousands, before the onset of any documented drought, and immigrants appear to have arrived in Chaco during the drought of the 12th century.

Archaeologists come to new conclusions thanks to the analysis of the remains of the Great Houses of Chaco Canyon.  (kojihirano / Adobe Stock)

Archaeologists come to new conclusions thanks to the analysis of the remains of the Great Houses of Chaco Canyon. ( kojihirano / Adobe Stock)

Alternative Conclusions: Discovering Clues Indices at Chaco Canyon

The abandonment of the Great Chaco Houses in Chaco Canyon has left some interesting clues. For example, it is certain that the huge beams that covered the kivas were deliberately and individually removed. It might seem like a relatively easy task, but the systematic removal of all that massive timber must have been a huge labor-intensive project, roughly equivalent to some of the constructions.

It is also important to note that the entrances to the kivas have been walled up, which is strange, because once the framework is removed, the sealing of the doors hardly prevents access to the structure. Perhaps the most fascinating clue is that only some of the large kivas, where the ruling elite of cannibalistic polydactyls resided, are marked by fire damage.

Fire damage, reliance on offerings, ritualized murder, and high degree of social stratification may point to a popular Chaco revolt as the cause of the collapse. When a small group or clan of despotic rulers depends on and controls a population of common people, conflicts will inevitably erupt between the two radically divided classes.

This is especially common when the majority population becomes stressed and far outstrips their oppressors. The local tribes may have been subjected to the relentless demands of the “henchman squads”, who operated under the deception of religious obligation, this combined with a hostile environment is only a matter of time. until the exploited caste reaches a breaking point.

Imagine people at the time, not having enough food to eat, water to drink, and on top of these difficulties, being ordered to participate in construction projects while their loved ones were abducted, butchered. and devoured. It is not difficult to imagine that after generations of hardship and suffering, these oppressed classes in Chaco Canyon revolted violently against their overlords cult leaders, dismantled their sacred spaces and set fire to the great kiva, never to return.

Top image: The remains of Pueblo Bonito, the largest of the great houses in the Chaco du Chaco Canyon. Source: Victor Posnov / Adobe Stock

By Mark Andrew Carpenter

Comments are closed.