In 1848, the U.S. Army sent Lieutenant James H. Simpson to survey the
new territory of New Mexico. Simpson routinely found ruins and artifacts in his work, but what he
discovered in Chaco Canyon was stunning. He found huge three-and
four-story houses built with exquisite stonework, and containing hundreds of rooms.
In an area covering more than 30 square miles, Chaco Canyon revealed nine
ancient towns with "Great Houses" and 2,400 archaeological sites.
Historians believe that Chaco Canyon was the home of the ancient Pueblo
tribe - the Anasazi (Part 1 of this series).
(Photo, right: Pueblo Bonito, the largest structure in Chaco Canyon.)
So extraordinary was Simpson's find and so perplexing were the unanswered
questions that the curator of the American Museum of Natural History,
David Hurst Thomas, refers to it as The Chaco Phenomenon.
(Photo, left: Another mystery, the huge great kiva, Casa Rinconada, one of the
few standalone great kivas. Its purpose is not really known.)
In "The Native Americans", Thomas poses some of the questions about the Anasazi that continue to
- Where did they bury their dead? Though it has been estimated that 5,000
or more Anasazi lived in the area, very few burial grounds have been located.
- What did they eat? The canyon area had only enough arable land to feed
- Why did some sites reveal more than 150,000 broken pots and rich
treasures like copper bells, turquoise, seashells from the Pacific, and parrots
- Why did the Chaco people build arrow-straight roads for hundreds of
miles in the surrounding desert when it is believed that the Anasazi didn't even
use the wheel?
- Why did the Anasazi disappear without a trace around A.D. 1100?
(Below, the beautiful reconstructed great kiva at nearby Aztec Ruins,
a Chaco Canyon outlier.
The name, "Aztec", was a misnomer.)
Be sure to read Part 1, "Mysteries of the Anasazi".
Karal Ayn Barnett is a freelance writer living in Las Vegas, Nevada.
(Note: The story on this page is Copyright © 2000, by Karal Ayn Barnett. This story may not be reproduced, reprinted,
or used in any way without the permission of the author.)