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Chaco Canyon

Listed under Archaeological Sites in Southwest Desert, United States.

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In the desert of northwestern New Mexico stand the ruins of the greatest architectural achievement of the northern American Indians. Known as Chaco Canyon, the site was the main ceremonial center of the Anasazi culture. It is not known what these people called themselves; the term Anasazi is a Navaho word meaning ‘the ancient ones’. The early Anasazi were nomadic hunter-gatherers who by 700 AD had begun to live in settled communities of which Chaco Canyon is the finest example. Intensive construction between 900 and1100 AD resulted in the development of several sophisticated dwelling complexes. Pueblo Bonito (meaning ‘pretty village’ in Spanish) had more than six hundred rooms, numerous two and three level buildings, several ceremonial structures called kivas, and a population of perhaps 1200. From tree-ring dating, it is known that a period of great drought came upon the Chaco area in 1150 AD, causing the abandonment of the site. Rediscovered in 1849 by U.S. Army soldiers, the site was made a national monument in 1907. National Geographic Society began reconstruction of the site in 1920.

Radiating from the Chaco complex are many straight lines etched into the ground and extending twenty or more miles into the desert. Conventional archaeologists explain these enigmatic lines as roads leading to outlying settlements, but this seems highly unlikely as the lines are arrow straight regardless of terrain. They go up and down vertical cliffs which make them impractical for casual or commercial travel. Perhaps they had another purpose. Research indicates that the lines often lead to other structures where evidence of religious activity is found. More than five hundred miles of these lines have so far been charted. Nowadays they are mostly visible only from the air in the early morning or late afternoon, when the sun casts deep shadows. Inspecting the lines at ground level, it is evident that they have been acted upon by hundreds of years of natural erosion, which has obscured all but scarce remains. It seems reasonable to suggest that the lines once delineated a regional map of sacred geography.

Photo: Pueblo Bonito, Chaco Canyon, New Mexico

More from Sacred Sites about Chaco Canyon.

Written by  Martin Gray.

Other expert and press reviews

“Chaco Culture”

'For over 2,000 years, Pueblo peoples occupied a vast region of the south-western United States. Chaco Canyon, a major centre of ancestral Pueblo culture between 850 and 1250, was a focus for ceremonials, trade and political activity for the prehistoric… Read more...

Written by press. UNESCO

“Chaco Culture National Historic Park”

'A combination of a stunning setting and well-preserved ruins makes the long drive to Chaco Culture National Historic Park, often referred to as Chaco Canyon, worth the trip.' Read more...

Written by press. Frommers

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