Message #369:
From: AzTeC SW Archaeology SIG
To:   "'Matthias Giessler'" 
Subject: The Chaco-Anasazi: Lessons Learned

[ AzTeC / SWA SASIG ] :

[ Dr. Stuart ( ) kindly provided the text from his Pecos Conference 
introductory remarks presented this last August at Chaco Canyon -- SASIG Ed. ]

The Chaco-Anasazi: Lessons Learned
Opening Comments - 60th Pecos Conference
Chaco Canyon, NM, August 15, 1997

David E. Stuart, Ph.D.
Copyright 1997
Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs
The University of New Mexico 
Albuquerque, NM 87131

It is a privilege for me to have been invited to deliver these introductory remarks to 
open the 60th Pecos Conference, held here at Chaco Culture National
Historical Park.  Today I am 
representing the University of New Mexico because the University has had, and continues 
to have, a long and very special relationship with Chaco Canyon and the National Park 
Service.  I bring greetings from UNM President Richard Peck and Provost William Gordon.


Chaco Canyon is a World Heritage Site.  As such, this place which surrounds us isn't 
just about archeology.  It's about an ancient people and their magnificent stopping 
place here in the course of their long human saga.  As a monument, Chaco Canyon 
celebrates the people who built these ancient towns.  Not knowing precisely what they 
once called themselves, we have labeled them the Chaco-Anasazi.

But Chaco Canyon is also about the people who continue to preserve these ancient 
buildings so that millions of visitors can come and see them.  So I want to thank Cecil 
Werito and his Navajo (Dine ) Preservation crews for their careers, invested wisely and 
meticulously, in keeping these ancient walls standing.  Cecil Werito, Charles Lanell, 
Jack Trujillo, Earl Johnson, Leo Chaquito, Chee Mitchell, Paul Tso, James Yazzie, George 
Beyale, Sr., Lewis Murphy, and Matthew Tso -- we thank each of you for the work you do 
that has made it possible for Chaco Canyon to become a World Heritage Site.

However, we also acknowledge that there would be no World Heritage Site at all if there 
were not also archeologists, ethnologists and ethno-historians to interpret it.  Indeed, 
there are hundreds who ought to be thanked, but I am going to select just a few to thank 
today for their role -- and the working lives they, too, have invested so wisely in 
Chaco Canyon and its interpretation.  To steal a book title from Robert and Florence 
Lister, "Chaco Canyon (Is about) Archeology and Archeologists."  So let me first thank 
Florence Lister.  She is still writing great books.  If you haven't gotten her latest, 
Pot Luck, you can fix that this afternoon at the bookseller's area.  I want to thank Al 
Hayes, too.  Al has been thanked quite a few times over the years but there aren't 
really enough "thank you's" for someone who has done so much work and been so steadfast.  
I also want to thank Dave Brugge, author of The Chaco Navajo and many other ethno- 
historical monographs.  Anthropologists like me, who compile and construct broad 
scenarios about the past, inevitably work with many other people's primary field data.  
A whole generation of us, many stuck in offices, owe a huge "thanks" to all of you who 
have done so much field work.  Rory Gauthier and I relied heavily on dozens of you when 
we wrote Prehistoric New Mexico a few years ago. 

I also want to thank R. Gwinn Vivian, whose work, Chacoan Prehistory of the San Juan 
Basin, I consider to be absolutely magisterial.  All of us also owe a debt to Jim Judge, 
second Director of the Chaco Center, who so unselfishly nurtured many younger 
archeologists into the full blossom of their careers and guided the creation of many 
important publications at the Chaco Center.  On a personal note, Jim also signed my 
Doctoral dissertation 25 years and 4 months ago, as a member of my Doctoral committee, 
at the University of New Mexico. 

The Chaco-Anasazi: Lessons Learned

I believe the folks just thanked invested wisely in their life's work because the 
importance of Chaco Canyon (indeed, one of the fundamental reasons that I first became 
involved in anthropology and archeology) goes far beyond its appeal as a magnificent 
open-air museum with well-preserved ancient sites.  It is a story.  It yields lessons.  
Powerful ones.

In the 10th and 11th centuries when the Chaco Phenomenon was at its height and a complex 
regional system had been created, a huge amount of infra-structure was created.  There 
were, all told, thousands of rooms, hundreds of kivas and many miles of formalized 
roads.  This was an enormous infra-structure that didn't directly produce food, so the 
tremendous costs associated with it, and necessary to sustain it, eventually could not 
be borne.  The Chaco-Anasazi were a society that focused on dry-farming (even though 
there were important exceptions to the theme), a few varieties of large-cobbed corn, 
beans, squash, and harvesting small game animals over a huge geographic area.  It wasn't 
quite "mono-cropping," but the large-cobbed corn had become a dangerously fragile 
obsession, and too homogeneous to endure, as late summer rainfall became more variable 
in the late 11th century.  

At the same time, Chaco-Anasazi society had also begun dramatic internal stratification.  
We can argue endlessly (and uselessly) as to whether or not the "Chaco Phenomenon" met 
the minimal definition of a "low-level state."  Either way it is abundantly clear that 
those who lived in the "BC" sites on this side of Chaco Canyon, near our meeting tents, 
and those who lived on the other side in the "Big House" sites experienced differences 
in their daily lives that we would call "social stratification."  Families living in 
each simply did not all experience the same outcome from events on a given day.  The 
differences in nutrition, skeletal stature, quality and quantity of artifacts, and 
burial populations recovered in excavation from small vs. large Chacoan sites all attest 
to this.  In both good times and in bad at 1100 A.D., the lives of those Chacoans who 
had more, varied dramatically from the lives of those who had less, and the enormous 
tensions created simply could not be sustained indefinitely.  The Chacoan world had 
become too large, too complex and too fragile.  Thus, by the mid-1100s, hundreds of 
farming families had moved on, abandoning the infra-structure that had cost far more 
than it could sustain, and began to do things differently.

Many regrouped in the moister highlands of the Southwest and gave us the "Mesa Verde" 
and the regional variants of "Coalition" periods (Bandelier, Gila Cliff, Talpa Phase at 
Taos, etc.).  This move into the highlands transformed society.  It was smaller-scaled, 
not so flamboyantly religious, lacked formal roadways, depended on a rather different 
style of agriculture (mesa tops and grid gardens, supplemented by a partial return to 
hunting/collecting),  quite different ceramic styles and a far-flung upland trade 
network.  In spite of enormous restructuring, this post-Chacoan Upland society was 
destined to be short-lived.  For two centuries following the Chacoan Phenomenon's 
decline, cold night-time temperatures, droughts, dislocation and short growing seasons 
imposed terrible hardships on all but a few.  The 12th and 13th centuries were hard -- 
so hard that the fragile Upland adaptation failed.  Thus, in the early 1300s, survivors 
moved downhill, inching down the moister east slopes of various mountain ranges, to 
arrive at major rivers throughout the Southwest.

There, some centuries later, the Spanish, and (eventually) archeologists, ethnologists 
and ethno- historians, found the descendents of those who raised Chacoan walls.  But 
they did not find unrepentant acolytes of the old Chaco Period.  Instead, they found a 
fundamentally transformed Pueblo society -- a society that did not invest in costly, 
non-productive infra-structure.  In contrast to earlier times, these farmers invested in 
waffle or cobble mulch gardens over dozens of square miles of landscape, acequia systems 
and low run-off retainers -- all designed to produce food.  This society was one that 
wove together a much more complex agricultural and foraging eco-system than it had 
during Chacoan times.  There were micro-niches in uplands, river bottoms, mesa tops and 
sandhills -- all used to implement several very different styles of agriculture at the 
same time, so that the risk of having no field bear fruit was vastly reduced.  Based on 
many ethnological and ethno-historical accounts, we know that this later Puebloan 
Society had become obsessed with egalitarian social-organizational principles.  It just 
was not, and is not, the same society that once raised these Chacoan walls.  It was a 
society that had learned painful, but indelible, lessons in the evolutionary crucible of 
the 1100s and 1200s A.D., followed by fundamental transformations in major economic, 
organizational and ideological realms.  In today's cryptic political parlance it would 
be fair to assert that "mistakes were made; lessons were learned."

As we enter the millennium in the modern, industrial/information society that we, too, 
have inherited from our "American" antecedents, let me note that we have invested a 
staggering portion of our resources in an immense infra-structure that, too often, 
doesn't produce food.  Each year good farmland is being turned into parking lots and 
roads.  We all know that we are beset with an increasing divergence between the rich and 
the poor, even in these "good" times.  Just as in Chacoan times, the lives of some vary 
dramatically from the lives of others, given the same local and national circumstances.  
We now depend for food upon vast, fragile mono-crop systems in agriculture -- sustained 
by fossil fuel that, once used, can never be replaced.  So my query to you as we spend 
these next several days here, reflecting on the past is: "Won't you please look, think, 
and reflect deeply on what we truly know as Anthropologists and Archeologists?"  Can't 
we still "learn," as well as we ordinarily "teach?"   In short, will we do as well as 
the Anasazi and their descendents.  Are we wise enough that one day we can honestly say 
of American Society "mistakes were made; lessons were learned!" 

Yes, Chaco Canyon is much more than an open-air museum.  It is an agonizingly real 
lesson from the past begging us to comprehend it in its fullness.  This is the Chaco-
Anasazi legacy gifted to all of us...and why Chaco Canyon is a World Heritage Site.  

Thank you very much.