A everyone who reads my lexicon of bloggery knows, Abby and I spend a lot of our recreational time hiking and exploring in the desert southwest, which is home to some very interesting archaeology. The most compelling and intriguing is that of the Chaco Culture National Historical Park in Chaco Canyon, in the lonely high desert of northwest New Mexico.
Every time I go to Chaco, rangers and explorers talk about what the Ancestral Puebloans did here, and why they left. It remains an enduring mystery, possibly because they aren’t looking at it from a practical enough standpoint. At Chaco, there are few burial grounds, and few weapons of any kind found. This indicates that few people actually made Chaco their home. Analysis of excavations, aerial photographs, and other evidence shows a large number of kivas, giant stone pits that are all similar (in the case of the Puebloans, round; the Mogollon to the south built square kivas), as well as a great number of unventilated small rooms with no windows.
Rangers, scientists and printed literature continually refer to these structures as centers of religious ceremonies. But think about human nature. All you need to do to figure out the purpose of these places is look at other cultures throughout history and in modern times, and ask yourself, “What is the largest, most important building in our town?” Is it the church, city hall, or the library? Not by a long shot. It is the mall, Target, Macy’s, Safeway, Kohl’s.
Chaco wasn’t a great church of the ancient people of the southwest. It was their Wal Mart. Why did they leave? They went out of business.