Monday, August 10, 2009

Chimney Rock - A Chacoan Outlier

Here's an interesting report on this year's excavations undertaken by the University of Colorado Field School at Chimney Rock, an Anasazi site near Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Chimney Rock was a colony planted in the 11th century AD by groups from the political/cultural Anasazi center in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. Steve Lekson, a Chaco expert on the faculty at CU, is aiming his research at showing status differentiation between inhabitants of different parts of the pueblo.

When I was in graduate school ages ago, the consensus was that the prehistoric Anasazi were largely an egalitarian society, with a highly developed ceremonial complex, much like contemporary Pueblo peoples. Lekson is among a group who now believe that the entire Chaco complex is based on a political elite imposing control over large portions of the Southwest. This article from the NY Times from a few weeks ago talks about Lekson's theories, and previews a new book he has coming out this Fall.

Lekson believes that this Chacoan political entity is based on a Mesoamerican model and has ties to Paquime (also known as Casas Grandes) a large site in northern Chihuahua. He ties in the appearance of Mesoamerian behaviors that are preserved in Anasazi sites, such as cannibalism; trade in exotic goods such as rubber, macaws, and cacao; and construction of monumental architecture and roads.

Chimney Rock is nearly the northernmost of Chacoan outliers, I believe only the Escalante Ruin over near Dolores is further north, and apparently purposefully positioned for conducting astronomical observations. As the article points out, this is the first work done at the site since the early 1970s when one of my former professors at CU, Frank Eddy, ran excavations there. True to its name, the site is on a high precipice, and work was banned during this period due to concerns about Peregrine falcons nesting in the area.

Also, just for fun, some friends of mine, Mike and Kathy Gear, have written an imaginative novel about the inhabitants of Chimney Rock based on real archaeology titled People of the Moon.


Chas S. Clifton said...

"Egalitarian" my Euro-American ass.

If Chimney Rock was on the Rhine, anyone passing by would look up at it and think, "That is where the baron lived."

And I do not think that the "Ancestral Puebloans" were much different.

So when do you think the Park Service is going to stop pushing the "peaceful, ceremony-loving Anasazi" line?

Steve Bodio said...

Don't hold your breath under the current administration (or to be fair the last).

LabRat said...

I would say approximately never.

Also, I remember reading Thunderhead, in which the idea of a Mesoamerican-Anasazi cultural connection was presented as very radical, with proof thereof being a goal rich enough to be worth an extremely dangerous expedition... times do change.

Reid Farmer said...

Well, I don't think the NPS will say anything that might honk off the tribes these days. I agree with you Chas, it looks like something the Elector of the Palatine would come swooping down out of to harry the peasants.

I remember that a lot of us used to get really honked off in the 70s and 80s about the USFS ban on fieldwork due to the Peregrine nests. You can visit the site now, but I'm pretty sure that they still have seasonal restrictions due to the Peregrines.

I really enjoyed "Thunderhead", Lab Rat. You're the only other person I know who's admitted to reading it! I thought they did a pretty good job stringing together archaeology and romantic Southwest explorer adventure in an imaginative manner. At least as good as the Gears' work.

LabRat said...

Douglas Preston is a bit unimaginative, but he does *good* research and that's one of his interests. You should try "Relic"- one of the reasons I enjoyed it was the amount of bio and evo-geekery evident in its construction. I was able to piece together what the monster was meant to look like just from the morphology jargon.

Then Lincoln Child shows up and provides the characters and the action plot. A happy marriage of fiction.

mdmnm said...

Those Anasazi/archeology novels by the Gears are good- nice sense of place and interesting cutting back and forth from Anasazi to modern times.

As to changing the view of "peaceful, ceremony-loving Anasazi", last time I was up at Bandelier it was "peaceful, ceremony-loving Ancestral Puebloan".

Chas S. Clifton said...

I reviewed the Gears' Bone Walker on my other blog, including its tacit acknowledgment that the Ancestral Puebloans invented the sports bra.

Perhaps the Park Service could mention that in their exhibits.

Chas S. Clifton said...

Lab Rat, I would still put Preston's Cities of Gold on my list of essential Southwest reads.

WV: "Dealited." Didn't Teddy Roosevelt say that a lot?

Reid Farmer said...

That's sports bra thing is a nice catch, Chas. I've known Mike and Kathy for about 30 years. I remember talking to them at a party in the late 1980s when they told me they had quit their jobs and were going to write novels for a living. We all thought they were crazy and had bets on how long it would be before they were out of money and back looking for work. The joke was on us.

I think the three novels in the "Anasazi Mysteries" are their best work ("The Visitant", "The Summoning God" and "Bone Walker"). Mike and I had dinner together when I ran into him at the SAA meetings a few years ago in Salt Lake. I told him of my opinion on those books and he told me how much he and Kathy had enjoyed writing the "Dusty and Maureen" books as they call them - after the modern protagonists. He said fans were always after them to write more books with "Dusty and Maureen" in them but their agent and publisher keep pressuring them for more novels in "The People of.." series that is really a brand now. Chains of gold

I am always in awe of how they seem able to just crank out the words. They're just scary prolific