Many archaeologists have proposed that the Chacoans had developed the greatest civilization north of Mexico. This culture will be the focal point. From the mid-800s through the 1200s, Chaco Canyon, carved out by the Chaco River that flows into the San Juan River, embraced eleven large settlements containing buildings, some four stories high, with hundreds of rooms. The Chacoan Great Houses and large kivas utilized five different styles of sandstone masonry for wall structures. For illustrations of the five styles, go to this National Park Service site. The Great House was larger in size and had both social and religious purposes different from the much smaller settlements where most people resided. Besides the eleven large settlements, many small farming communities were scattered throughout the canyon. These villages had between 8 to 18 rooms and one small kiva, perhaps a second one. Several forms of irrigation were used for farming.
Chaco’s cultural peak was probably from 1020-1120. A trade network branched out from Chaco, connecting Mexico and Central America in the south, Canada in the north, Texas in the east and California in the west. The 35 feet wide roads that radiated from Chaco, principally from the Great Houses, were straight and well-engineered; sometimes two or four ran parallel. They seem to have both utilitarian and ceremonial purposes.
Chacoans devised an extraordinary celestial calendar that disclosed exact knowledge of solar and lunar cycles. Buildings and roads were precisely aligned to mark the complex passage of the heavenly movements. On Fajada Butte archeoastronomer Anna P. Sofaer discovered a carefully constructed site, called Sun Dagger, that allowed the Chacoans to observe the major solar and lunar cycles, including the solstices, equinoxes, and the 18.6 year lunar cycle. The Great Houses, five for solar and seven for lunar, were also aligned for astronomical observations.
Anna Sofaer and The Solstice Project have produced a DVD entitled The Mystery of Chaco Canyon that presents the research and discoveries in an engaging manner. Information about the DVD can be viewed at The Mystery of Chaco Canyon.
Ruins of Native American settlements are scattered throughout the Colorado Plateau. These people relied on farming, hunting and gathering for their sustenance and had extensive trade routes.
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Chaco Canyon, the exemplar settlement.