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When Answers Don't Really Matter


Truth can be hard to uncover. I spent the last few days trying to learn more about the Pueblos of New Mexico, but found few answers. The Pueblos, it seemed, were private and wary of tourists. Most did not like to be photographed and were secretive about their traditional ceremonies and dances. I decided I might have better luck studying their past, and so I went to Chaco Canyon looking for facts about the Puebloan people and their culture.

Daphne and Stephanie visit Pueblo Bonito
Chaco Canyon, in northwestern New Mexico, was once the trading cneter of the ancient Puebloans. People came from miles around to shop, trade, hang out with friends, and make new ones. Pueblo Bonito is the largest building uncovered so far in Chaco. It had hundreds of rooms and huge underground ceremonial chambers called "kivas." It was built over a period of 200 years, but after the ancestral people left the area, all of the buildings were abandoned. It was not until the 1890s that archaeologists started to discover these hidden treasures.

But the discovery of Chaco by Europeans led to many questions. Why did the ancestral Puebloans build such a complex center in the middle of the desert? And, after spending so much time and effort building it, why did they leave it in the end?

These questions are hard to answer because the ancestral Puebloans didn't leave any written records. Everything was passed down by word of mouth. So to make sense of Chaco, archaeologists have to try and guess about the ways of the Chacoans.

One of the many doors of Pueblo Bonito
According to the Native Americans we spoke to, Chaco was a sign from the Creator, and a place deemed to be the center of their world. The people who built it viewed the Heavens as a place with order and thought that Earth needed some order too! So Chaco's elaborate design, which mimicked the patterns of the sun and moon, was a way to transfer the orderly nature of the cosmos to the chaos of Earth.

Why would the ancestral Puebloans think that Earth was messy and chaotic? Well, they'd experienced droughts, extreme cold, bad crops and heavy rains. They decided the best way to restore order was to try and imitate the orderly cycles of the sun and moon through the construction of their buildings.

And what about the fall of Chaco? For Native Americans, the people of Chaco abused the powers that had been granted to them by the Heavens. They caused things to change in ways that we may never understand. Which is OK, because according to Native American tradition, some things are never meant to be fully understood. What's more, everything that is built is meant to go back to Mother Earth, so the end of the Chaco era is part of the natural cycle of things.


Please email me at: daphne@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Neda - A ghost town turns into a whirling dervish dance festival
Nick - Getting in touch with the Native American past through the heart of a woman
Team - The first inhabitants of North America: A picture of a proud and strong people