Message #369: From: AzTeC SW Archaeology SIG To: "'Matthias Giessler'" Subject: The Chaco-Anasazi: Lessons Learned [ AzTeC / SWA SASIG ] : [ Dr. Stuart ( email@example.com ) 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. Introduction 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.