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  One of the greatest secrets of Chaco Canyon archaeology is that these people have no visible means of support. Grid gardens have been proposed but I intend to propose that even these limited agricultural enhancements are now in question. Even if grid gardens mapped by Vivian, Potter and Kelly were accepted they would only cover an area of 72.9 acres within the National Park. This would have supported only 82 people, while the population of Chaco is estimated up to 6,000 people (Loose). Further Vivian and others make no allowance that the “grid gardens” would have been in use for up to 200 years and there has never been any formal proposal for fertilizer accepted by archaeologists.

I began to research the fertilizer production of the Anasazi when the Tarahumara Indians reported that fertilizer was absolutely required for agriculture. I reasoned that if the Tarahumaras required fertilizer then the Anasazi, Hohokam, and Paquimé cultures would also require high quality fertilizer. Beginning with ethnographic evidence of the Chinapas (floating gardens) used by the Aztecs, I began to investigate the potential use of water, reservoirs, wells, and ponds for creating fertilizer.

Diane Rushford of the Tuzigoot National Monument indicated the first opening concept for producing fertile water when she told me “agriculturalists can hear corn grow when ionized rain comes from thunder and lightning storms.” She made the point so strongly that the concept followed my thinking for years and initiated this idea of “natural sources of fertilizer” for the Anasazi/Hohokam/Paquimé cultures.

What I discovered was a major breakthrough in the archaeological analysis of virtually all of the pre-Columbian cultures associated with Mesoamerica, including the Anasazi, Hohokam, and Paquimé.
The first key was the explanation of Mummy Lake where Ken Wright of the Paleohydrological Institute provided the basic archaeological data to support a soluble nitrate collection pond and surrounding walled garden.
The second breakthrough was for reinterpreting the usage of Hohokam ballcourts which I interpret as the architecture in which the Hohokam gathered fertile summer rainfall and mixed in other components to make liquid fertilizer.

The third, and for me the most important triangulation, was the mysterious pools on the agricultural construction of Lefthand Canyon provided by James A. Neely. I interpret these pools as being the mixing ponds for making the liquid fertilizer.

I also consider the Chaco Canyon well which is much too small to be a religious “kiva” and is not the standard shape and design for a corn storage silo/round room.
The Chaco Canyon “motes” have been an archaeological enigma. I suggest that the one along the south wall of Chetro Ketl has human waste collection compartments, and that this fertilizer was collected and then mixed in the “multiple headgate” to feed the system of fertilizer dehydration basins in the Chetro Ketl field.
R. G. Vivian has proposed that the Chaco Canyon “multiple headgate” with its three progressive boxes was constructed during three successive

  time periods. I counter with the proposal that the multiple headgate boxes were built as one unit and used to create a mixing or stirring motion as the water poured from one box to the next before entering the fertilizer dehydration basins. The water would have been inoculated with waste material and cyanobacteria to create liquid fertilizer.

The Paquimé well contained two whole bison and many sacrificial birds. Such a very rich mix of water and decaying meat would have produced a very valuable liquid fertilizer.

The Paquimé cistern closely matches several features of the Mummy Lake, Mesa Verde early intake system. This “intake box” was probably used to mix waste material and cyanobacteria to create liquid fertilizer in the cistern.

And finally the entire Paquimé site has many “water features” that would clearly have been for ponding gray or waste water. As a ceremonial site, many people would have arrived for festivals bringing with them valuable human fertilizer. Some of the activities on the mounds would also have produced waste material that when mixed with water would have produced liquid fertilizer.

Most or all of these fertilizer enhancements were likely used for hand watering special corn that was used to make tesquino corn beer, as fertilized corn has a high sugar content.

Pre-Classic Mayan foundations for fertilizer production - I have found substantial support that some of these ideas were in circulation since the Mayan pre-Classic period of 600BC-AD150 in the Mirador Basin of northern Guatemala. Professor Richard D. Hansen ,under the sponsorship of National Geographic and as documented on PBS, states “the Mirador Basin of the pre-Classic Mayan period had an economic agricultural engine where marsh muck from local swamps was deposited into terraces to produce fertile soil for the growing of corn and other crops. These deposits equaled thousands of tons of transported organic soil material. Some of these terraces were more than 3½ meters (10 feet) deep.” Professor Hansen further stated that these agricultural methods are evident throughout the Mayan era into the time of the Aztec Chinampa swamp dredging agricultural system.

This ancient knowledge would be the basis for our Paquimé/Anasazi/Hohokam “natural systems” agricultural methods for producing fertilizer.
Marvin Harris, from his book Cannibals and Kings, points out a fascinating method in which the Peten Maya C.E. 300-800 had a way of produced fertilizer in a structure that looks something like a Chaco “road.” Although Harris and his colleagues, including C.L. Lundell, never actually realized that the Maya were producing nitrate rich water for fertilizer, their basic analysis for the use of the linear depressed swale where leaves from dry season deciduous trees decayed was, I believe, correct.
Kin Ya Chacoan Great House and Road may provide the break through link between fertilizer, corn growing field design, and long term storage. Note the very distinctive Chacoan “road” that intersects the rim around the Kin Ya “island.” I propose this site be tested as one great corn field which used substrate “irrigation” and infusion of soluble nitrates produced by the surrounding cryptobiotic soils (left). Permission granted Adriel Heisey.
copyright 2005 - Richard D Fisher -