New Mexico, December 2008

Of the twenty one World Heritage sites in the United States only four are pre-Hispanic human habitations and of these four Chaco Canyon is probably the finest. Late in 2008 I flew out to Albuquerque to meet my Texan friends for a very special birthday present, a return to this remote New Mexico archaeological site in safety. This was the one which had defeated Sandy and I two years previously when we had tried to visit during snowy weather, her husband probably still has nightmares about the risks we took even attempting it.

This time we had crisp wintry sunshine and found an excellent on-site guide and visitors’ centre. I’ve already mentioned my surprise at how few Americans seem to be interested in their own archaeological treasures, it becomes even more of a mystery as I travel the world and meet educated and well informed people who remain seemingly uninformed of the riches on their own doorstep. The sophistication of the astrometric alignment of Pueblo Bonito, the largest structure in the canyon, rivals any comparable ceremonial building anywhere else in the world. It certainly made my wish that the subject of paleo-astronomy didn’t give me such an overwhelming urge to go and lie in a darkened room with a cold cloth on my forehead.

Until quite recently it was believed that the hundreds of rooms and prayer circles (Kivas) of the Chaco Canyon religious complex served a substatial population and that resource depletion and climate change had been their downfall. More recent work has proved that this is an oversimplification, it is only about six hundred years since the inhabitants abandoned the site and it was certainly no Garden of Eden even a thousand years ago. The land would only have supported a small permanent population, as indeed the sparsity of actual living accommodation confirms. This was a place of ceremony, of pilgrimage and of the study of the heavens.

As you can see from the photos we had a picturesque road trip back to Austin with, of course, a little local food tasting and souvenir hunting along the way.

Categories: North America

1 Comment

  • Sandy says:

    You took some fabulous photos on our wonderful journey. Next time we will go to Canyon de Chelly in Arizona. My friends say it is even more spectacular; although I don’t know if they mean the terrain, the artifacts, or the importance of the settlement.

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