Sunday, August 08, 2010

Four Corners Furtherance: Mesa Verde National Park and the Ancients

Four Corners Furtherance is headed to the Four Corners. Oddly, the spot where Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona meet is near the epicenter of the Ancient Pueblo civilization. They are also called Anasazi, which is Navajo for "ancient ones" or "ancient enemies."

Put off by that last moniker, Hopi and Zuni Indians prefer the current term, or Ancestral Puebloans for the people who built pueblos in the early part of the last millennium. Their classic period was from 1100 to 1300, although the Ancient Puebloans lived in Mesa Verde 500 years prior. They were wizards of masonry. Pictured on top is just a small portion of Spruce Tree House, a complex that contained 129 rooms and housed 60-90 people.

The park is near Cortez, Colorado, in a wetter part of the Four Corners region, which is perhaps it lasted longer than most of the other Ancient Pueblo communities.

What happened? A prolonged drought possibly or maybe exhausted soils. Or maybe a combination of both.

The residents of Mesa Verde and other Ancestral Puebloans faded away, or perhaps migrated south, transforming themselves into the Pueblo Indians of today. Zuni and Hopi oral traditions, along with some scientific concurrence, supports this theory.

The people of Mesa Verde supported themselves by cultivating beans, squash, and corn, as well as by hunting. Their only domesticated animals were turkeys and dogs. Besides masonry, the Ancient Puebloans were skilled potters and basket makers.

Because of our difficult trip across the Rockies the day before, our trip to Mesa Verde started late, and we were only able to get an intimate look at Spruce Tree House, but we drove through most of the park--pictured from a distance is Balcony House. That pueblo, along with Cliff Dwelling, the park's largest, require tickets for ranger-guided tours for those seeking an up close and personal inspection.

If the Mesa Verdans did quietly migrate south, they fared better than the Ancestral Puebloans of Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico. The drier climate failed them first, and warfare may have hastened their decline.

In Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, Jared Diamond presents a frightening story reconstructed by archaeological evidence of some Chocoans who were were killed in their pueblo, dismembered, cooked, then eaten. Feces found in the room contained human muscle protein. A circle of life and death.

Next: More Mesa Verde

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paul mitchell said...

Impressive photos.

John Ruberry said...

Thanks, Paul.