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Were the Chacoan Great Houses let down on golden threads from heaven or were they built by the hands of people who wanted to know where their next meal was coming from? Evidence from a 1967 study by Loose, Lyons, and a recent interview with Stein, has led me to what may be one of the most important discoveries made about the Chacoans. Based on this evidence I now propose that the Chetro Ketl “grid garden” is rather a field of fertilizer dehydration basins. While I have covered the findings of Loose and Lyons in the Fertilizer Harvesting and Production section of this paper, the comments of John Stein are pertinent to this debate.

“The Chetro Ketl grid garden was not an agricultural field in the traditional sense of the word. It was plastered, as was much of the Chacoan landscape in the central canyon” (Stein). In an interesting side note, Stein relates that the Navajos, who have been excavating the area for decades, feel that it is some kind of paved ballcourt or sports venue.

When all possible agricultural sites in Chaco Canyon proper are analyzed, “the 72.9 acres taken from the combined mapping of Vivian, Potter, and Kelli would have supported only 82 people within the entire canyon” (Loose, Lyons). I would strongly point out that there is no provision whatsoever for fertilizer during the 200 year usage of the central canyon. This is the basis for my initial observation that “the Chaco Canyon Anasazi had no visible means of support.”

With the evidence now recorded in this thesis in context, I propose that the making of fertilizer from the blue/green algae, in addition to exploiting the vast agricultural resource of cryptobiotic soils that are dominant throughout the region, were harnessed by a highly organized system of transhumance labor between the canyon and the major outliers. This seasonal life-style allowed for the population to be dispersed and engaged in productive agricultural activities during the summer months and apply themselves during the winter months to building the monumental architecture that has made Chaco a focus of world attention. This transhumance system is the basis of every other important accomplishment of the Chacoans.

The vast system of agricultural great house grain silos and their attendant populations also provides the human resource for a successfully integrated cultural system. I have seen numerous proposals made for political structure, but none that are consistently convincing.

I propose from the evidence available now that the Chacoan hierarchy was able to establish voluntary political control over the entire region through a system of intermarriage or multiple familiar alliances through marriage.

This completely new model for Chacoan culture fits the Chaco Canyon archaeology and is very common in agricultural systems worldwide. The builders of Pueblo Bonito or other central great houses like Chetro Ketl could have been married to the daughters of the headmen at outliers such as Kin Ya-a and Peach Springs as well as Newcomb at the same time. This would have provided cooperative benefits to all concerned in terms of resource availability, provision of fertilizer, as well as long term corn storage. This common human system also provides for a stable political platform from which to concentrate on the necessities of agriculture and aids in recruiting labor for seasonal monumental building projects. This is a model that works in harmony, I believe, with all the current accepted archaeological evidence.

I do not believe that the Chacoans held their rituals in hundreds upon hundreds of small, dark, smokey, and dangerous pits. Rather, evidence is continuing to emerge that they held their ceremonies on platform mounds and perhaps even pyramids, as did all highly organized Native American cultures during that time period.

The Chacoans were rightfully proud of their ingenious knowledge of their grand desert landscape and their mastery of its difficult and challenging elements. Like other great peoples worldwide, they would have felt that their powers were god-given. Based on their ability to feed a large work force that built some of the most elemental and elegant architecture ever created, I am sure that, while there is very little actual evidence, they had a ritual tradition that lasted into the current era and matched their breathtaking landscape as well as their ingenious creativity.

copyright 2005 - Richard D Fisher -