Situated within the “House Made of Dawn” (the San Juan Basin) of the Four Corners area (where the boundaries of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado meet), a remarkable culture evolved. The hunter/gatherer nomadic Archaics were the first to populate the area, around 8,000 BCE. This early culture left cosmographic pictographs upon the canyon walls, revealing an ancient knowledge of the seasons and celestial movements. Approximately 700 CE, near the end of the Basket Weaver Period, the Chacoan ancestors, who had inhabited pit houses, began building complex communal architecture, monumental stone edifices now called “Great Houses,” that required the engineering of a sophisticated astrological comprehension. One wonders what the temporary means of calculating these alignments might have been, prior to these constructions. These Great Houses were not only planned, but built in stages. Assembled data from tree rings on lumber revealed that construction of some could require decades to complete, while others took centuries. This technology gathered calculations of the equinoxes, solstices, and other cycles of time; these data assisted in planting, harvesting, celebrations, and, possibly, dates for trade fairs. The villages appear to be unsustainable and were low in population on those high desert plateaus; archeologists posit the Chaco Canyon Great Houses, and other cosmological structures, to be evidence of the Chacoan worldview. Chaco Canyon appeared to be a political and cultural center, with Pueblo Bonito the nucleus, as roads of 30 foot (10 m) width, bordered with beams, lead out of Bonito to the remaining major Great Houses in Chaco Canyon. In addition, roads lead out of the canyon to the surrounding 150 communities. The canyon’s major distinct architectures were then speculated to be public structures utilized for traditional ceremonial occasions, in addition to trade and commerce. Artifacts divulge evidence of an extensive trade economy. For example, discovered samples of jewelry reveal manufacture from elements originating in Mexico and California.
Scholars such as Anna Sofaer have postulated that the Chacoans demonstrated a “cosmo- graphic expression” with the construction of their habitations, with precisely calculated roads leading out of Pueblo Bonito, in addition to each community’s placement. The Solstice Project ascertained that of the 12 major Chacoan villages, 4 have cardinal bearings, one is aligned to the solstice, 5 to the lunar minor, and 2 to the lunar major. In addition, there are Great Houses that illustrate a relationship in bearings; there are North-South and East-West connections, and a three-community relationship with the southern lunar minor standstill. Furthermore, examination of the Great Houses themselves has disclosed more alignments, of which the following is a sample: the sun sets in alignment with a south wall prior to an equinoctial full moon; calculations of terrace umbrae can be observed from East to West for daily reckoning, and seasonal from North to South; there is a kiva window forming a beam of light recording summer solstices on a wall, and an area tracking the 28-day lunar cycle; a doorway frames the rising lunar minor standstill. Other astronomical markers include the stone pillars at Chimney Rock, which frames the rising northern lunar major standstill; and an “observatory” of three sandstone slabs at Fajada Butte, which forms a glissading streak of light that records the solar solstices, lunar equinoxes, and the 18.6 lunar declinations on a petroglyph spiral.
Unequivocally, such precise calculations, constructions, and accompanied celebrations would have a significant influence upon the mindset of the Great House inhabitants and the Chacoan culture as a whole. The estimated zenith of their society peaked near 1020 to 1130 CE. Around 1250 CE, the migration from Chaco Canyon began. The House Made of Dawn stands as a testament to the sophistication of Mesoamerican cosmographic knowledge and the magnificent artistic expression it generated.
See also Anthropology; Archaeology; Tribal Calendars; Myths of Creation; Equinoxes; Geology; Navajo; Pueblo; Solstices
Sofaer, A. (1997). The primary architecture of the Chacoan culture: A cosmological expression. In B. H. Morrow & V. B. Price (Eds.), Anasazi: Architecture and American design (pp. 88-132). Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.
Sofaer, A., Marshal, M. P., & Sinclair, R. M. (1989). The Great North Road: A cosmographical expression of the Chaco Canyon culture of New Mexico. In A. F. Aven (Ed.), World of archaeoastronomy (pp. 365-376). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Stuart, D. E. (2000). Anasazi America: Seventeen centuries on the road from Center Place. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.