Authors Comments: ABOUT THE ANASAZI INDIANS
Teachers Comments: WELL WRITTEN
jim barry 11/4/96
The Anasazi, who were named by the Navajos, knew how to chart the
seasons by observing the sky. The biggest mystery of Chaco Canyon is why the
Anasazidecided to leave the home that they had built over so many years. the one thing
that is quite interesting is that they were able to construct such a magnificent piece of
architecture without the use of metal tools or any devices with wheels.
Chimney Rock is located about 20 miles west of Pagosa Springs, Colorado. The
construction is composed mainly of sandstone which was laid there more than 65 million
years ago. The district that Chimney Rock is located in consists of 6.12 square miles, has
91 identified areas with a total of 217 different structures.
Most of these areas were grouped into 7 communities that are located at various
places within the district. The Anasazi Indians lived in the Piedra Valley beginning about
the tine of Christ. Most of them lives at lower elevations near the fields and they farmed
along the water beds, but some moved up onto the higher parts of Chimney Rock Mesa
around 925 A.D. They may have moved higher to avoid the cold sink effect that made the
lower areas colder in the winter, or they may have moved higher to utilize winter snow as
a water source. Still, most of the fields they planted in spring were along the waterways
on the floor of the valley or on terraces in the valleys above the river. At Chimney Rock
the people grew corn and beams, but no squash. Although squash was a mainstay of their
people in other areas, the growing season was probably too short in this region for squash
to mature before it was killed by frost.
The population of Chimney Rock is estimated to have been between 1200 and
2000 people. The local Anasazi built in the Northern San Juan Style, each family or
extended family building its own home. The masonry was similar to that in the structures
at Mesa Verde.
Great kivas were built in almost every major Anasazi site between 900 and 1200
A.D. One of the several great kivas at Chimney Rock has been excavated. These large
structures probably served for community gatherings and rituals. Fourteen storage
chambers, were found in the floor of this Great Kiva, presumably for the storage of
ceremonial paraphernalia. Although this Great Kiva has some unique features, it probably
was built according to a general plan used by all the Anasazi.
Ninety miles to the south, some of the Anasazi were creating a new kind of society
in Chaco Canyon. Instead of the scattered type of dwellings found in most Anasazi
communities at that time, the people at Chaco were building pueblos or great houses. This
is Pueblo Bonito. They also created more than 400 miles of roads leading to outlying
settlements, or colonies. Chaco seems to have been a focal point in the trading of
turquoise from many areas of the Southwest with the civilizations in Central America.
In 1076 the Chacoans built a great house on Chimney Rock Mesa. Their pueblo
was high above the others, the highest Anasazi settlement known anywhere, and the most
northeastern of the sites colonized by the Chacoans. Some Chacoan colonies seem to
have been built in positions where they could see the fires of other colonies at night , or,
perhaps, send signals to each other.
The people of Taos Pueblo in New Mexico claim Chimney Rock as one of their
ancestral homes and say that the two rocks pinnacles are a shrine to the Twin Was Gods.
The Anasazi were interested in calendrical astronomy as a means to tell when to plant their
crops. Religious ceremonies were related to movements of sun, moon and stars in the
heavens, just as the same movements as changes of seasons determined their lives. At
Chimney Rock they found a natural lunar observatory. Every 18 years the full moon rises
between the two pinnacles as viewed from the village. This occurs at the time of lunar
standstill, the time when the moon rises at its furthest point north of east. The Chacoan
pueblo at Chimney Rock may have been a prehistoric research institute, similar in part to
Stonehenge in Great Britain.
Dr. Frank Eddy, who has excavated some Chimney Rock sites, feels that the
colonists who moved here may have been priests, all male, because they brought only
masculine talents with them; for example, the style of masonry, a man’s task, is clearly
Chacoan. However, the residents of Chimney Rock did not produce typical Chacoan
pottery, a woman’s occupation.
Replicas of pots found at Chimney Rock Produced by Clint Swink, a local potter
who specializes in making copies of Anasazi pottery, show a Chacoan style pot, proving
that there was ongoing trade between the two social centers. Other artifacts found at
Chaco Canyon but made at Chimney Rock Reinforce the trade and cultural links.
Evidence that the Chacoan pueblo was planned and built as a whole is shown by
the continuous rear wall. The masonry was laid down on bedrock, leading archaeologists
to believe that the stones and the dirt used for the mud mortar were hauled up from below.
The Chacoans stayed at Chimney Rock for only about 50 years. Their pueblo was
abandoned no later than 1125 A.D. It is thought that the other residents deserted the
region at about the same time. Both the pueblo and the village buildings were burned
about the same time. Chaco Canyon itself was abandoned over a period of years between
1130 and 1150 A.D.
The Anasazi moved frequently when local resources became depleted. Even the
stunning cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde were occupied for less than a century. However,
the cause of their abandoning the entire Colorado Plateau was probably due to a severe
drought that occurred between 1276 and 1299. When the rains failed to come, their
agriculture faltered and they were forced to leave. The Anasazi must have abandoned this
The former inhabitants of Chimney Rock may have moved to the Rio Grande
area to join the Taos Pueblo, or they may have been one of the groups that temporarily
reoccupied Chacoan ghost towns. For example, the ruins at Aztec, New Mexico were
built by people from Chaco about 1100, abandoned by 1150, but reoccupied and
remodeled by Northern San Juan Anasazis from 1200 to nearly 1300 A.D. Some
interesting evidence recently discovered by Dr. Kim Malville at Mesa Verde may show
that some Chimney Rock Anasazi moved there after leaving their homes below the
Today Chimney Rock is managed by the U.S. Forest Service. It was made a
National Historic Site in 1970. In 1987 afire lookout tower that had been abandoned in
the 1950’s was rebuilt. The tower provides a viewpoint comparable to the one that the
Chacoans must have had from the top of their two-storied pueblo. Ranger-led tours are
the only way to wee the ruins. The area is closed except for tours to preserve the delicate
structures and to protect critical wildlife habitat.
Visitors from all parts of the country and across the world are intrigued by the
archaeological mysteries of Chimney Rock. Special occasions, such as the annual open
house or a moonrise talk by Dr. Kin Malville, who originated the theory of the importance
of the lunar standstill at Chimney Rock, attract late crowds.
Many consider Chimney Rock the most spectacular of all the Anasazi sites, and by
the magnificant architecture and ruins, who would argue that?
Greer, William W. Chaco Canyon. Johnson Books 1995.
Boulder, Colorado 80302