Rise and Fall of Chaco Canyon Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Anasazi civilization developed and prospered in the Four Corners region between 1 AD and 1300 AD and left precious traces of a swelling and prosperous civilization. Pottery, baskets, ornaments, tolls and especially architectural achievements (including "apartment-house style villages")- all were elements characterizing this civilization.

Anasazi in Navajo means "the ancient ones" or "the ancient enemies" and the Anasazis were the ancestors of the modern Pueblo Indians that live nowadays in New Mexico and Arizona. The several centers of Anasazi civilization included Northern San Juan, Chaco, Kayenta, Virgin, and Rio Grande, directions in which the Anasazi population and civilization spread and created a local community.

Historical evolution

The archeological evidence discovered in the area proves that the Anasazi first moved into the area and into the southern Colorado Plateau some time at the beginning of the 1st millennium, that is, around 1 AD. The local population of the time became a "settled, agricultural people who have valued land and water above all else." This gives us some clues about the later disappearance of the population.

The earliest Anasazi population occupied an area that had been previously abandoned by Archaic Indian populations. Settled in the area, the Anasazi civilization entered in the so-called Basketmaker phase, a simple, self-sufficient society. Later on, around the year 500 AD, the Anasazi began to introduce and develop their famous pottery, began using the bow and arrow, build pit dwellings and began to cultivate a larger variety of crops, more nutritious, including beans among others.

The year 700 AD marked the beginning of the Pueblo period, as the archeologists refer to it. This is the time when surface dwellings began to appear in the area. Architecture was not the only area where significant advances were made during this period. Pottery suffered modifications with the introduction of color in the design and of a more sophisticated decoration.

The Anasazi civilization began to flourish and philosophy and religious rituals appeared around 900 AD. The kivas appeared during this period, "structures that were originally used for ceremonial and other special purposes." The population grew due to better and more nutritious food and it is presumed that trading with other communities started during this period. Indeed, different goods and materials seem to have been destined for trading, including pottery and weapons.

The Golden Age of the Anasazi civilization began around 1100 AD and was to last for some 200 years. It was during this period that the Anasazis built villages and cliff dwellings, as well as several storey high buildings. The Anasazis became renowned for their engineering and architectural skills. However, this prosperity may have been somewhat two-fold, as it also had the incentive to attract attention form envious neighbors. As we can see from the archeological findings and sites, architecture itself became somewhat militarized: some of the buildings were constructed in caves or in "easily defensible overhangs," while others were built as lookouts on the edges of cliffs. This proves that, beginning with this period, the Anasazis needed to be on a constant lookout for threats from their potential enemies. The threat could have come during this period either form the "hunter-gatherer, nomadic Ute and Paiute peoples" or from the Apache and Navajo tribes that may have already been settled in the area during this period.

However, even considering this wartime conditions, the Anasazis civilization became known throughout the Americas as they developed several trade routes and exchanged "artistic baskets, pots and jewelry" for "seashells, feathers, and parrots" that were brought to the Four Corners region from the south or the coastal areas and were used as ornaments, jewelry and ceremonies.

However, 1300 AD marked the beginning of the downfall for this prosperous civilization. There were several causes that need to be considered. The main one to be considered is the climatic changes and the increasingly draughty climate of the area. As we have seen, ever since their settlement in the area, the Anasazis were basically farmers. As such, several years of bad crops due to draughty weather meant that the local population was forced either to move to other regions in search of food or to resolve to hunting and gathering as a source of food. As such, it is presumed that the Anasazis left the local area to settle in smaller villages in a different climate and with more reliable water sources.

Additionally, warfare can also be considered one of the direct causes of the decline of the Anasazi civilization. As we have seen in the lines above, the civilization became increasingly attractive to some of the less peaceful populations in the area. As such, constant lookout and the constant threat of war could only have had a negative impact on the peacetime activities that the Anasazis practiced and which are identified with the core of their civilization.

The chronic lack of water was also a cause for the increasing number of diseases, especially "gastro-intestinal problems which weakened the various villages." Indeed, evidence has shown that sanitation was poor in the area for that period of time. The reasons for this are rather simple: the local population had the tendency to reduce the quantity of water used for sanitation as it needed to save it for the agriculture and agricultural processes. As such, sanitation began to be more and more neglected and gave rise to the appearance of several intestinal bugs which, even if not to an epidemic extent, still caused havoc for the Anasazis.

Chaco Canyon- center of Anasazi civilization

The Chaco Canyon was the center of Anasazi life. As strange for a civilization to strive in, due to very cold winters and extremely draughty summers, the Chaco Canyon left marvelous marks of a thriving civilization. In the lines below, we will be having a look at some of the most important activities in the Chaco Canyon area during the height of the Anasazi civilization.


As I have mentioned above, the first period of the Anasazi civilization was called the Basket making period. During this period of time, Anasazis began the so-called "dry farming," a procedure that "relied on water in the soil from melted snow, summer rainstorms and occasional springs." Farming was intensive and was cone both in large and small patches of land, the basic principle being that farming can be done wherever water and light was available for plants.

Later on, the crop cultures diversified to include corn, beans and squash and the experiments made in modern times showed that as much as 40 bushels of corn per acre could be achieved. Compared with the modern 14 bushels per acre obtained nowadays through dry farming, this is certainly impressive. The surplus corn was stored carefully for less prosperous times and riskier years and "large storerooms became prominent features of communities." Estimates showed that an approximate one acre of corn per year per person was enough to be considered an adequate food supply.

At the height of the civilization, the local people began to master the soil they used and constructed small dams and reservoirs to control and best use water. Community planning and planned labor was extensively used in the Chaco Canyon. As such, the inventiveness of the local population with regards to cultivating crops meant that some of areas could host as much as 20,000 people at the height of the Anasazi civilization. Estimates showed, for example, that the "Montezuma County area may have been occupied by as many as 20,000 people during the peak years between AD 1000 and 1300 -- roughly the same number as live there today." Besides farming, the local population also relied on game and gathering plants such as pinon nuts, yucca fruit or berries.

Pottery and clothes

As we have seen, the pottery that the Anasazis made gradually increased in complexity with regards to the colors, techniques and designs used. Some of the pottery discovered in the Chaco Canyon area had black and white designs representing "family, clan or village affiliation, or simply the potter's imagination." This is consistent evidence to show that pottery was not only made for use, but was included as a form of art and art manifestation. As such, we may conclude that the Anasazis had already left the stage of needs and need satisfaction to enter a period of self-conscience and manifestation. Other designs included "plain and textured ("corrugated") cooking vessels" and the pottery forms ranged from jars and bowls, with an immediate practical use, to figurines and miniatures.

Clothing was strictly determined by the weather conditions in the area. As we have seen, the Chaco Canyon meant very cold winters and, as such, the Anasazis wore different protection robes made from furs. Animal hides were used for blankets and aprons. Additionally, the intertwining yucca was combined with rabbit fur and turkey feathers to make protective clothes. It is noticeable that the men did moist of the weaving on large looms inside the kivas.

Footwear consisted of sandals and moccasins, as well as snowshoes for the winter. Sandals were…

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