Monday, November 4, 2019

Landscape Lines in Chaco Canyon

By Kristy McCaffrey

Certain areas around the world, such as Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, contain landscape lines that resemble ancient roads. Chaco Canyon is in semi-arid high mesa country in northwest New Mexico, within the San Juan Basin, a depression about one hundred miles in diameter. Home to the Anasazi, Chaco Canyon was one of their key centers and contained many Great Houses comprised of walls, courtyards and kivas (subterranean ritual chambers). There were nine Great Houses within Chaco Canyon itself, all built between 900 AD and 1115 AD, and in the surrounding area there were at least 150 more Great Houses that have been identified by archaeologists.

A kiva in Chaco Canyon.

Within the canyon and for miles around it, there are “Chacoan roads” that comprise a surprising linearity. Serving as a link between the Great Houses, they were clearly engineered since the roads were wide (nearly consistent at approximately thirty feet across) and were bordered by berms, rows of stones, or occasionally drystone walls. The road surfaces were either compacted subsoil or sometimes simply cut down to the bedrock.

Why would an ancient people with neither wheels nor horses go to so much effort to create such broad and exact roads? That it was for trade and mundane usage seems unlikely. The prevailing theory is that they were used for religious purposes, connecting the Great Houses and their ceremonial functions.

Nasa scientist Thomas Sever, who was involved in infra-red and computer image-enhancement work at Chaco, states, “…we should not always perceive roads as always being utilitarian; that, in short, we must not transfer our concept of modern-day roads into the prehistoric past.”

It’s now believed that at certain times of the year, the local populations made pilgrimages to Chaco Canyon to participate in religious rituals, and these roads supported these journeys.

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