(Volume III of XV)

Notice to the reader: This miniseries features a concise narrative of based on the indigenous culture of the Colorado Plateau Province––the Ancestral Puebloans. The information is divided into fifteen subtopics so that readers have the option to peruse individual chapter material or select specific topics that appeal to one’s interest. Because this text can be read in such a fashion, there is overlapping subject material throughout this abridged compendium but is presented in more detail as befits the topic of the volume. Except where noted, the research for this text is based on a variety of observations. Therefore, entailing the academics of archaeology, anthropology, and human history, all specializing in the American Southwest. Unless otherwise specified, the collective term, “researchers” or “cultural scientists” will apply for these primary academic disciplines. 

          Volume I A Comprehensive Primer

          Volume II The Pecos Classification System

          Volume III A Georitual Landscape

          Volume IV The Utility of Pottery

          Volume V Rock Art

          Volume VI Intro to Archaeoastronomy

          Volume VII Chaco Canyon Archaeoastronomy

          Volume VIII Archeological Benchmarks

          Volume IX Warfare and Cannibalism in the Southwest

          Volume X The Great Drought and Diaspora

          Volume XI The Puebloans

          Volume XII The Hopi People

          Volume XIII The Zuñi People

         Volume XIV A Time Machine Excursion

          Volume XV The Ancestral Puebloan Homeland

This third installment written in two parts depicts the adopted homeland of the Ancestral Puebloans. Hence, the sprawling landscape of the Colorado Plateau (hereafter, “Plateau”) that not only was perceived as a suitable geographic region for settlement but also was viewed as sacred. Please note key benchmark eras listed throughout this series are governed by the Pecos Classification System (hereafter, “PCS”). The authenticity of the subject matter is accurate and based on reliable interpretative research correlating to a respected standard endorsed by the National Park Service. Instead of footnotes, Additional Background inserts appear throughout the text. Since there are no direct quotes mentioned throughout the text, the Bibliography also attests to much of the source material for each narrative. Naturally, the author expresses personal opinions from time to time.


Prologue: The specifics of the Plateau landscape for the Ancestral Puebloans reveals a tangible and abstract awareness. From the Four Corners Monument west of Cortez, Colorado, four large Western States join their respective boundaries, which is the only geographical setting in America where this happens. Moreover, the Plateau is the only quadrant forming an askew circle that’s elevated an average 6,000 feet (1,828 m) above sea level. Spreading out 130,000 square miles (336,698 km²) from the Four Corner’s Monument’s axis, the topography in this sector is somewhat similar to parts of the desert basin terrain to the south where the Ancestral Puebloans (under some unknown tribal designation) had roamed for thousands of years. Like so many other nomadic tribal bands that migrated to the Southwest, the Ancestral Puebloans previous forays into this dome-like landscape familiarized these hunter-gatherers with favorable locations; that is before their immigration from the far southern tier of present-day Arizona and New Mexico (even Nevada). These places more or less sufficed as a surrogate homeland when all the aboriginal tribal bands first arrived in the Southwest. However, those hunter-gathering forays by different tribal bands over thousands of years would one day see the Ancestral Puebloans staying on the Plateau. Hence, a community-wide decision to change a nomadic way of life to permanent settlement. And so, they chose to be so-called dryland farmers and built dwellings and villages, large and small, throughout the Four Corners region. Later, small and large villages were designed, where different communities subsisted off the land in different sectors of the adopted homeland.

It is thought the Ancestral Puebloans selected the vicinity of Cortez to begin their original settlements. If not the Cortez region, then perhaps the first settlements were to the southeast toward Farmington (New Mexico). The San Juan River flows through that sector, and, therefore, a profuse riparian environs ideal for agriculture. This entire stretch of land, including Cortez, typifies high desert terrain. Notably, a hilly geography featuring green mesas, solitary buttes, and sinuous fissures of modest depth. In the Cortez region, the iconic Sleeping Ute Mountain (actually, a laccolith) rises 9,980 feet (3,042 m) above sea level. The unique profile of this landmark is visible for well over 100 miles, (160 km), and, therefore, serves as a conspicuous natural bearing for distant travelers headed toward the main Ancestral Puebloan settlements. In other words, a natural beacon useful to outlying Ancestral Puebloan satellite communities, as well as a trading route for other tribal bands venturing into this quadrant of the Plateau. 

Compared to where the Ancestral Puebloans originated (i.e., the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts), the mean elevation far to the north is much higher. For instance, the Cortez sector is 6,191 feet (1,887 m) above sea level, and not too far away is Durango, which is a little higher (6,512 feet/1,988 m). By comparison, the Phoenix region (1,117 feet/340 m) or Tucson (2,389 feet/728 m) is considerably lower. Of course, the Ancestral Puebloans were cognizant of the Plateau’s higher elevation correlated with higher precipitation amounts. This assertion not only holds true for mountainous terrain, but also for the high desert sector. That being said, the Plateau’s annual precipitation is far less compared to other provinces in North America.

Part I: The Nuances Of A New Homeland

A Veritable Land Of Plenty: To mention the point again, the Ancestral Puebloans were no strangers to the contrasting geography and convoluted topography they returned to sometime just before the start of the Common Era. Eventually, they constructed year-round settlements, then planted and cultivated crops. Mainly, the region where they settled had a favorable climatic advantage compared to where they roamed for thousands of years throughout the southern desert basin. With its sterile-looking mountain ranges rising above a typically flat landscape, hunter-gatherers had to go great distances to hunt game and harvest natural edibles such as seeds, berries, and nuts. By contrast, elevated sectors where numerous communities of Ancestral Puebloans chose to live were known for four distinct seasonal changes, each season nearly equal in duration. 

But the same could not be said for the lower elevation landscape far to the south. Moreover, the varying elevations and terrain of the Plateau’s equally varying ecozones favored nutrient-rich soil (in places), ample water resources (again, in places), a diverse range of flora and fauna, even slope advantage for agriculture. 

Of course, the weather and annual precipitation (rain or snow), was encouraging. Lest it goes unsaid, these erstwhile nomads––whose census was made up of many tribal bands––did not just cast their fate to the proverbial wind by venturing this far north. It follows how the Ancestral Puebloans had to know all these factors before a community-wide decision was made to return and settle here. Thus, having a prior familiarity and hunter-gatherer experience in a seeming and distinctive island in the sky territory that one day became North America’s most singular province. 

Recalling the thousands of years when sectors of the Plateau were inhabited by nomadic tribal bands, the seasonal sorties of hunter-gatherers showed up at different times of the year. In this light, desert basin tribal people were similar to people living in Phoenix today, and many of whom seek similar relief from the heavy heat. Hence, getting out of the city and going to the high, cooler country. Places like Sedona, Prescott, Flagstaff, and the South or North Rims of the Grand Canyon are preferred destinations. The Ancestral Puebloans also selected these locales for hunting and gathering, but, again, only in favorable seasonal weather. Thus, during the harsher winter season, they remained in the far southern latitudes.

That seasonal migration pattern had changed, of course, but only for the Ancestral Puebloans. On this note, there is no other evidence other tribal bands built settlements anywhere on the Plateau. Evidence of concentrated Ancestral Puebloan dwellings corroborates this statement. Throughout the Four Corners region, Ancestral Puebloan dwellings and villages are scattered, with most primitive dwellings dated a hundred or so years before the Common Era. Thus, a confirmation of their approximate entry and settlement on the Plateau. Moreover, the Ancestral Puebloans converged on this particular region with prior knowledge there were regional streams and rivers (i.e., mainly, the San Juan). Naturally, where there are year-round dependable rivers and streams, settlement, by way of farming, follows. Regardless the dominant desert landscape covering much of the immediate Four Corners axis region, the conduits of water, large or small, are conducive to plants and animals, and, therefore, hunting and gathering sorties are promising.

Additional Background: Unlike rivers in the southern desert basin region below the Plateau such as the Hassayampa that flows south of Prescott toward Wickenburg, not all of these rivers and streams flow year-round. Consequently, there are some waterways with subsurface flows for part of the year. However, the San Juan River, like the Delores River (a tributary of the Colorado River), and the Mancos River (a northeast tributary of the San Juan), flow throughout the year. Depending on the season, also depends on the volume of water (i.e., as measured in cubic-feet-second). Still, there are some rivers on the Plateau, like the Little Colorado, flowing only for part of the year. Therefore, another subsurface flow, like the Hassayampa. The two largest master streams, the Colorado and Green Rivers, each with many tributaries, are year-round flowing conduits. New Mexico’s Rio Grande, which flows through the San Juan Mountain range close to the Four Corners axis, is another larger body of year-round water. Presented with this information, it follows wherever year-round rivers and streams flow, natural, and human history is abundant. Like all hunter-gatherers who came to the Plateau for thousands of years, their camps were always located near a reliable water source.

The Common Sense Of Displacing Communities: Researchers do not know how many Ancestral Puebloans there were during the time of initial settlement. The figure could have been in the hundreds, but likely in the thousands. Capping those numbers, however, is not possible. Still, these people always separated their greater numbers into numerous and smaller communities. This way, the recompense of hunting and gathering was opportune for all the people who had the sense to forage and hunt in different sectors.

Using imagination, one visualizes a large group of nomads entering the region, say, 100 BCE, and camping throughout the San Juan Basin country around present-day Cortez or Farmington. The directive for tribal bands representing this or that community of Ancestral Puebloans was probably given as soon as each collective arrived. Thus, to spread out and mark the boundaries of satellite communities. Once accomplished, the people constructed permanent rock structures such as pit-houses. Meanwhile, the land was cleared for farming and gardening. This simple scenario describes the incipient manner in which the Ancestral Puebloans claimed a new homeland and went about their usual hunter-gathering ways, but also as farmers planting seeds and cultivating crops in a literal place of dry water. Still, they had the seeds to start the planting and most likely had the knowledge how to plant and cultivate crops from tribal people in the south who initially provided the seeds (i.e., maize and squash to start with).

As for a planned settlement of communities that would one day increase to well over one-hundred thousand people (at least, that many according to some researchers given their estimates), the Ancestral Puebloans divided their overall community into a plethora of relatively smaller network communities branching out from the Four Corners axis region. In time, a half dozen or so larger community centers, as villages, would appear in places like Mesa Verde, Comb Ridge, and Chaco Canyon. It also makes sense how this regional geographical layout and its varied topographical features appealed to these people; that is apart from the climate and bountiful natural resources. To mention the point again, it’s realistic to assume the desert landscape spreading out from the Four Corners region was previously noted by scouts. When these, among other scouts evaluating different sectors of the Plateau, returned to the desert basin terrain, then made their reports to community leaders, a community-wide decision among all the tribal sects was given the word it was soon time to depart. And so, the previously mentioned Farmington and Cortez environs were selected for the first wave of Ancestral Puebloans, with the presumption there were other waves still to come. Then again, perhaps all the tribal bands were mustered and made the long march to the north. Therefore, making an appearance at varying times around the start of the Common Era.

Additional Background: The arrival of a presumably large entourage of Ancestral Puebloans in this region, with the intention of large-scale homesteading, was tantamount to a well-planned strategy previously worked out among various tribal leaders. Recalling these people already had an idea how to make a stand on a year-round basis, it follows they came prepared to sustain their culture in such a manner. Without question, the Ancestral Puebloans were the only tribal people on the Plateau who fostered a practical means of subsistence off the land as dryland farmers. They would also continue hunting and gathering, but remained closer to their community dwellings.

The Importance Of Precipitation Or Lack Thereof: Other than the Farmington and Cortez sectors, which is where the Ancestral Puebloan likely began their new lives as an agrarian society, there are many other sectors where they eventually settled and farmed. For instance, west of Cortez is a divergent landscape of topographical features that would one day be known as the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. With an average of 6,700 feet (2,000 m) in the east, to about 6,000 and 5,500 feet (1,800 - 1,700 m) in the west, the immensity of this corrugated landscape preserves the largest concentration of archaeological sites in North America: over six-thousand ruins! Hence, a high-desert environs where precipitation amounts, both rain and snow, are considerably ampler compared to other sectors. Nevertheless, the Plateau’s annual precipitation amounts to a semi-arid climate. Allowing for the fact weather patterns were relatively wetter and cooler when the Ancestral Puebloans inhabited parts of this territory, the Four Corners axis region offered more natural resources (i.e., rivers and streams) and ideal terrain (i.e., when irrigated, fertile soil) that not only provided sufficient space for settlements but also protection from potential enemies. For instance, Sand Canyon, located in the previously mentioned Canyons of the Ancients, is a topographical maze-like environs where the people of that community could live and remain out of sight. However, this proclamation isn’t so much a suggested confirmation geared to fear-oriented defense and planning. Rather, it describes a practical way of living, as well as a suitable settlement for the Ancestral Puebloans who lived here. Indeed, there were many thousands who did just that!

Additional Background: Getting back to the point, of the Plateau’s arid or semiarid climate, today’s annual precipitation in most sectors amounts to less than 10 inches (25.4 cm). However, the high plateaus and smaller mountain ranges receive considerably more precipitation compared to the middle and lower elevations. This testimony, of course, relates to the orographic lifting of the terrain and the consequential cooler temperatures at higher elevations. Hence, above 8,000 feet (2,438 m) most areas the annual precipitation is anywhere from 20 to 25 inches (50.8 to 63.5 cm) and higher elevations, say, around 11,000 feet (3,352.8 m) receive 35 inches (88.9 cm). Climatic patterns also greatly vary across the Plateau, say, from north to south. Thus, the northern sector approximates the climatic patterns similar to the Great Basin Desert sector, where winter moisture infrequently gathers from Pacific air masses, and summer precipitation is typically hot though relieved by infrequent convective rainfall. And so, the two prevailing pathways of winter and summer moisture-bearing weather patterns. 

By contrast, the southern Plateau sector typifies a bi-seasonal precipitation pattern. Winter precipitation also comes from Pacific climatic patterns while summer precipitation is monsoonal. Thus, the flow of moisture comes from the south, the southwest, and sometimes the southeast (the Gulf of Mexico). Precipitation also tends to be low to moderate during the early winter, but appreciably increases around February or March. By April, nature’s spigot in this part of the Plateau is turned off. It follows how May through June denotes drier months compared to all other months of the year. Later, the monsoonal weather returns, in July, and typically the Southwest, the Plateau is wetter and cooler into early September. Besides precipitation amounts that vary throughout this territory, the bi-seasonal and north to south climatic gradients spurs the development of a vegetation gradient, where species rely on summer precipitation in the southern sector though it’s typically not the same in the northern sector. This generalization is also modified by the Plateau’s great topographic diversity and different elevations affecting different ecozones.

From all the above, it is clear how the Ancestral Puebloans were pragmatic when choosing the Colorado Plateau as their new homeland. 

36.998976ºN 109.045172ºW: Radiating outward from this quadripoint, various Ancestral Puebloan settlements, like spokes from the hub of a humongous wheel, were quickly established. The closer arc ranges some 50 to 70-miles (respectively, 80 to 122 km) using Cortez as a convenient epicenter. Of course, early on in their arrival, there were no great stone cities, like Mesa Verde or Chaco Canyon. Those settings weren’t imagined, much less built, until centuries later. Nevertheless, the Early and Lake Basketmaker II Eras typify a stopgap learning curve amounting to adaptation and innovation encapsulated in sustainability. Ergo, success for the Ancestral Puebloans likely from the start of their emergence in their acquired new homeland. 

Most assuredly, theirs was a distinctive culture in all respects. For one thing, the Ancestral Puebloans were manifestly in synch with their surroundings, especially given how long they managed to maintain a sustainable existence on the Plateau. For another, they demonstrated the praxis of awareness centered on synergy and sustainability. Therefore, doing what needed to be done for the sake of survival. Given their many settlements centered on the high desert terrain of the Four Corners region, at least, the majority of their villages were within an average few hundred miles of its axis (i.e., present-day Cortez), the Ancestral Puebloans shared a communal consciousness that permeated their cultural identity by whatever designation they originally called themselves. Over time, each community manifested varying practices and traditions based on the location of their villages. For instance, the people who built and maintained Chaco Canyon fostered an ingrained ceremonial mindset that was different from, say, those who lived at Sand Canyon or Butler Wash (on the east slope of Comb Ridge, in southeast Utah). 

With this observation mind, the Ancestral Puebloans represent a remarkable and united larger community, whose existence and cultural identity was consistent across a great span of time and space while incorporating diverse ethnicities and languages. Thus, there was always a homogenized and underlying symbology that united all their satellite communities, regardless the distance between settlements. Even with ongoing intertribal marriages that added to the census of this or that tribal band (community), the whole of the collective group maintained a prevailing and common mindset that must have been a priority for all community leaders. Settlements of the Ancestral Puebloans were also built across a vast frontier of the Plateau, which, again, defined a large cultural group split into many sub-communities. Nonetheless, these settlements embraced a connection, as a tradition of identity, though not necessarily sharing the same religious rituals as favored by individual clans within any particular group. (For instance, ceremonies at Chaco Canyon likely were different compared to those at Acoma Pueblo or Mesa Verde.) 

Each community may also have figured out its strategy for surviving, say, where their respective settlements were built. An example of implementing a strategy for survival is also noteworthy. Take, for example, those who lived in the Comb Ridge-Comb Wash region, and its demanding landmark features compared to the Hopis, who lived on the top of mesas. Hence, two different environs. 

The point how various communities of Ancestral Puebloans may have faced different odds or different advantages, all of whom exemplified varying traits, even traditions, is moot. Nevertheless, the people still acted in concert; that is as individual communities because they were Ancestral Puebloans representing the same culture. It follows how theirs was a cohesive culture under one name, regardless one’s initial tribal affinity before assimilation into the Ancestral Puebloan fold. In fact, this common characteristic of their culture shows up in Ancestral Puebloan traits and customs passed down through the centuries to their successors because each Puebloan Village also identifies with its specific traditions (i.e., celebrating different feast days throughout the year). Moreover, there is a binding characteristic seen in the usually distinctive design of Ancestral Puebloan architecture, as well as decorative pottery. The same also holds true for Puebloan societies today. 

Because all civilizations can be defined in different ways while using different terms by different people, it follows how dwellings and villages of the Ancestral Puebloans, as well as their crafted pottery, is part of what marks their culture superlative. 

Ecozones And Climatic Patterns Relative To The Higher Ground: Returning to the key natural resource––rivers and streams––that favored Ancestral Puebloan irrigation and farming, the prevailing climate of the Plateau is reciprocal to changing elevations and corresponding temperatures. Therefore, a wide range of diverse environments from low to high elevations, all of which are predicated principally on gradients of temperature and precipitation. 

For instance, ecozones that are classified as low and high desert riparian areas (i.e., the Lower and Upper Sonoran Desert), pinyon-juniper-ponderosa woodland and chaparral-scrub (i.e., the Transition Zone), and the higher boreal forest community (i.e., the Canadian-Hudsonian Zone). These distinct and divergent environs account for numerous wildlife species and a great variety of plants and trees. Everything that lives and thrives here is, therefore, dependent on ecozones, where each life form flourishes, and some that can adjust to higher or lower elevations. This diverse web of life found at every elevation level makes the Plateau one of the most unique provinces in North America. Considering the 80-mile (128 km) radius extended from the bottom of the Grand Canyon to the summit of the San Francisco Peaks (overlooking Flagstaff), all the ecozones are represented. It follows the replete roster of life forms––plants, animals, insects, and birds is astonishing.

There is another reason to put out the Plateau’s representations of ecozones. Essentially, the Ancestral Puebloans were adept ecologists because they were observant of environs in any particular setting where they lived. Hence, they flowed with nature and were adaptive to changes and challenges. It follows they also knew where to go for whatever sustained their existence. In this light, every man, woman, and child was ingrained and prepared for a survival of the fittest motif and everyone in the community had to pull his or her weight. 

Overall, An Exacting Topography: With such wide-ranging and diverse topographical features, and spread out at varying elevation of plateaus ranging from around 4,000 to 9,000 feet (6,437 to 14,484 meters) above sea level, the Plateau was decidedly a preferred location to settle in, but also demanding in some respects. Generally speaking, when working with nature, as opposed to going against the proverbial grain, humans can better manage the environments where they settle, including living off the land. The Ancestral Puebloans certainly demonstrated such wisdom given the strategic layout of their myriad large and smaller village communities. Moreover, it makes sense wherever desert landscape and riparian sectors appeared such as in arroyos (i.e., washes and similar culverts), canyon-inscribed terrain, and forested land, such features were deemed favorable environs for farming and living. Consequently, these places saw a greater concentrated effort by the Ancestral Puebloans to build dwellings and foster their communities. 

Again to mention the point, most Ancestral Puebloan settlements were laid out near the hub of the Four Corners region. Farther to the west, starting, say, around Monument Valley, as well as other sectors to the north, like present-day Mexican Hat, where the San Juan River courses through that region, settlements were built. Even the striking Comb Ridge and Comb Wash in that general vicinity were heavily populated. Combined, these sectors saw robust and thriving populations of Ancestral Puebloans for hundreds of years. 

Naturally, rivers, like the San Juan, Delores, and Mancos flowing through this sector of the Four Corners region, as well as the Green and Colorado larger drainages further west, were ideal locations for settlements. Although many villages were built in desiccated landscapes, where the general lay of the terrain was a tangle of warped and folded topography, including chasms of varying depths, as long as there were reliable water sources the people maintained their existence. True, they were forced to relocate from time to time, whose migrations affected different settlements at different times. However, these necessities of life were just that––necessities. The reason for resettlement also had to do with diminished resources such as over-farming and a scarcity of wildlife and plants. Hence, settlements usually lasted no more than a single generation. Naturally, such locales might be reoccupied later in time by another community; that is once all the key natural resources were, once again, nominal. 

Nothing Ever Lasts Forever: The Ancestral Puebloans favored settling on the Plateau because its territory was as vast as it was accommodating for numerous communities spread out from nearly all points of a compass. Given the facts thus far presented in this volume, this statement goes unchallenged. Supposedly, at their peak, population numbers closer to the end of their stay suggest there may have been some 125,000 people living in the Four Corners region. Then again, by some estimates, this astounding figure is too conservative. As previously alluded to, there is no way to tell one way or the other how many Ancestral Puebloans lived at any one period, much less a combined census during the thousand or so years when their settlements flourished. However, the Plateau was excessively populated; at least, in some sectors, this proved to be the case. To their credit, the Ancestral Puebloan tenant farmers knew how to maximize their lives and get the most out of the land while they could. In other words, they were wise stewards of the land who knew how to work with nature and available natural resources.

Eventually, everything came to a standstill in the late 13th-century. The suitably named Great Drought had set in, and so did famine, disease, social stress, and just about everything else that wasn’t routine in the lesser or greater scheme of things. In the end, a mass diaspora came about, with one community after another departing the Plateau. Each tribal community split up and headed south-southeast to a new promised land: the Rio Grande Valley near present-day Albuquerque. The people also left everything behind, except what that could carry. It was as though the Ancestral Puebloans intended to some day return. Of course, they never did. After their lengthy settlement across the centuries, describing this mass immigration was a parody of Eden lost. In time, the Ancestral Puebloans reformed their rank and file, and after the 16th-century, they were known as the Puebloans. 

Part II: The GeoRitual Landscape Explained

What Changed The Lifestyle Of An Entire Culture? For the Ancestral Puebloans who opted for settlement, as opposed to camping and living in temporary wikiups, it wasn’t just benefiting from the Plateau’s abundance of natural resources that lured them back to this region as tenant farmers. Rather, there were other societal needs that also had to be in place. For instance, seeking protection from an unforeseen enemy that might encroach upon their homeland was a rational means to defend a settlement. One look at places like Aztec and Salmon, both near present-day Farmington or Mesa Verde suggest security likely was part of the plan for building their dwellings in these particular locals. The fact that defensive settings appear much later in time say, starting around the 11th-century, implies a rationale along such lines. Take another example, Betatakin and Kiet Siel located on present-day Navajo National Monument (relatively close to Kayenta, Arizona). Their respective alcove cliff palaces above the desert floor might mimic a form follows function motif. In this case, the principle of the shape of a building or object (and here substituting a cliff with an alcove or caves) should be primarily based upon its intended function or purpose. Hence, inhabitants living in such lofty dwellings took advantage of a good thing (i.e., cliff overhangs or natural cavities made from soft tuff).

Then again, human nature entails how a good defense is better than having no defense. Thus, the Ancestral Puebloans had to consider the likelihood of an invasion from outsiders or, as it turned out, one Ancestral Puebloan community that may have attacked another settlement. (This thorny subject matter is taken up in Volume IX of this miniseries.) Mentioning this point brings up the obvious question: When facing danger, how did the Ancestral Puebloans maintain a web of community support? The answer is partly found in signal fires and signaling devices. Sentinels on top buttes and mesas sent signals that could be seen for miles. Another means of staying in contact with neighboring communities was the use of runners. For example, if a message from a settlement in Sand Canyon was meant for dwellers inhabiting places like Cross, Squaw, and Ruin Canyons (in the vicinity of Hovenweep and Montezuma Creek), which is roughly 40 miles (64 km) by today’s road system mileage, then someone in the settlement was chosen to be a messenger. More than likely this person didn’t think anything about the physical demands or potential danger; that is other than getting the message through, and then return with an answer if a reply was forthcoming. 

There is also the aspect of a so-called georitual landscape that entails the Plateau’s ranging geography likely influenced migrations of Ancestral Puebloans over time. One, therefore, senses a religious, perhaps a cosmological, significance they held about their homeland (see below for more background details).

From the perspective of its physical demands, the Plateau’s territory most certainly was a landscape that inspired migrations. The reason for this is traced to periodic cycles of drought and ongoing erosion, along with a nearly constant search for water and fertile soil. Thus, a necessity for existence by way of farming. It follows how there were intervals of major resettlements by abandoning villages, and later building new structures elsewhere. Hence, the seemingly endless migrations and patterns across the territory is everywhere implied by a vast network of roads these people built and constructed conveniently where mesas were common.

Another interesting facet of Ancestral Puebloan culture beyond being proficient and seasoned travelers, as well as exceptional road builders, was the fact communities moved as a group from one place to another. In this light, they left messages and signs everywhere they roamed while establishing or maintaining trading networks with other cultures living far south and west of the Plateau. Indeed, some Ancestral Puebloan well-traveled trade routes went as far as Mexico, and some that penetrated deep into Mesoamerica. Forging great alliances with these other tribal bands had always added to the Ancestral Puebloan collective group. Hence, the earlier point mentioned about tribal marriages that brought new people into the fold whose single culture was, therefore, partially made from outsiders.

So, in a way, these assiduous people did mirror the landscape they claimed as a homeland. Likewise, they took advantage of everything the territory’s greatly varied terrain offered. The same can be said for the night’s sky, for in those starry points the Ancestral Puebloans learned temporal lessons that not only advanced their science but also provided select societal members (i.e., ceremonial priests) with predictive powers. Therefore, the cosmos that governed their mindset and religious practices to a great degree; at least, later in their cultural development across the centuries, this was the case. Consequently, the Ancestral Puebloans were defined by the changing subchapters of the ensuing Puebloan eras marking their greatest cultural advancements. 

Additional Background: Perhaps as some archeologists and Puebloans hold, the most pivotal advancement of Ancestral Puebloan centers on two fundamental attributes of their culture: religious practices and science. Notably, the previously mentioned study of the night’s sky and a forecast of changing seasons broadly outlined in the sophistication of archeoastronomy. Those imaginary meridians drawn in the nave of the celestial canopy were just as precise to the Ancestral Puebloans as was the network of their communities and roads laid out on the ground. Considering where they erected some of their Great Houses, particularly at Chaco Canyon, it was difficult to get lost in the immensity of such a geographically demanding landscape. For them, it must have been like connecting the dots, only using distant landmarks that inscribed an accurate line of sight. Hence, the import of knowing the value of a georitual landscape and its relation to the people. One visit to Chaco Canyon and seeing its impressive and precise layout should convince visitors the people who created its masterful floor plan of dwellings were indeed great thinkers, as well as mathematicians and researchers. But did they learn such skills on their own or was there an influence, as some archeologists hold, from either the Mayan or Aztec civilizations, or possibly both? 

A Landscape Of Opportunity: The overall landscape of the Plateau’s diverse topographical and landmark features is arduous terrain, and often to the extreme. Because the Ancestral Puebloans are credited with being the first tribal people to build settlements here, their former nomadic way of life had changed their culture in distinctive and important ways. Hence, the kind of people who stayed close to their farms and settlements. That being said, farming in a prevailing arid or semiarid climate demanded astute attention about living off the land, and partially subsisting on an adequate crop yield meant to feed numerous community members in each settlement. Their patent success, as bona fide stewards of the land they watched over, was indeed measured by cultural advancements and categorized over many centuries. 

Apart from how and where they lived, including constructing architecturally advanced villages that came much later in time, the Ancestral Puebloans viewed their homeland as an open-spaced environs relative to select ceremonial sites. It follows how the concept of the previously mentioned georitual layout of landmark features played a vital role in their cultural mindset. 

Referring to Chaco Canyon’s village layout, its sizable compound serves as a perfect example of how and why the Ancestral Puebloans chose this remote location for what was to become the premier archeoastronomy site on the planet. Located in relation to large-scale geometric patterns entailing notable natural features (i.e., Fajita Butte, the Great North Road, and farther out, a landscape studded with buttes and mesas that harmonized with Chacoan ideation), the georitual framework of this or other select sites suggests to researchers and Puebloans an unspecified relationship of a higher spiritual power or essence; that is as viewed in the landscape itself. That power correlates with the precise design and architecture of dwellings (mainly, Great Houses) that define a ceremonial site. Therefore, entailing religious meridians that also require precise details of triangulation centered on key landmarks and ceremonial sites. Moreover, there are other characteristics imbued in the far-reaching scenery that maintained a firm Ancestral Puebloan ideology over the centuries. In other words, an ongoing productivity of mind and body in the guise of spiritual awareness.

As far as anyone knows, the Southwest may even be the birthing of a highly intelligible mindset that began its incubation on the continent a few thousand years ago. Certainly, the Aztec and Mayan civilizations attest to this claim. Later advancements were manifest throughout parts of the Plateau, but this time achieved by the Ancestral Puebloans. The question is: Did the landscape features and terrain have anything to do with such advancements? Unquestionably, the scenery is alluring and typically represents a planed landscape with assorted higher landmarks rising from the landscape like isolated edifices of varying sizes and designs. However, was there something else found and seen here that inspired the Chacoans to achieve the mastery of predicting temporal events by way of the cosmos such as they did? There will be more to say about this further along in this volume. (Volumes VI and VII will provide a thorough background of archaeoastronomy, which includes how its science directly relates to the layout of some of Chaco Canyon’s structures.)

A Venerable Landscape With Fixed Sedimentary Rock Altars: For those unfamiliar with the Plateau’s geographic layout, with a profusion of scenic features the view in all directions is indeed sweeping. It follows how usual descriptions about the Plateau’s warped, folded, and bent landscape, along with a mountainous terrain, is a veritable showcase of singular geologic features and a geographic landscape that includes just about everything nature created. The primary architect of design here is all about the physical and chemical elements of erosion. To think wind and water can fabricate such splendors everywhere one looks, the result is unimaginable. This point about erosion also serves a purpose, in that the sculpturing of the seeming floor attractions adorning the Plateau meant more than the aesthetics people of today realize. For the Ancestral Puebloans, the whole of the scenery represented a ceremonial aspect that related directly to the landscape.

An example for this gets back to the georitual significance of the Plateau and illustrates a phenomenal gift of insight and imagination the Ancestral Puebloans came up with all on their own. To them, buttes, like mesas, were likely considered crucial axis landmarks in a landscape of so-called "spirit lines.” Dennis Doxtater (Professor Emeritus, Landscape Architecture) investigates such implications. Wherever the Ancestral Puebloans moved along pre-established lanes of travel, it was as though they were sojourners on said spirit lines. Perhaps these road-like thoroughfares were intended for use during pilgrimages, say, leading in and out of Chaco Canyon, which is said to be the most important Ancestral Puebloan ceremonial site. If this assertion proves to be the case, then various groups of these people followed the spirit lines that connected key ceremonial sites with regional landmarks. Moreover, this fundamental concept leads to another important question: Did the Ancestral Puebloans construct these high points merely to ensure satellite communities were connected? Such that it is, these man-made causeways were accurate axis' that turned an ordinary landscape into something extraordinary. Hence, “georitualized” by labor and intent.

Additional Background: Once again to mention the point, Chaco Canyon, and its vaunted North Road engenders the reality of preexisting routes by ample clues of potsherds and sundry other artifacts along the way. Moreover, there is verifiable confirmation how archaeological surveyors centuries ago had painstakingly mapped their way across the regional landscape, where the route sometimes went straight to the top of a landmark, then continued down the other side. Those summits of buttes or mesas were also used for the convenience of making signal fires at night. During the daytime, however, those who tended to such affairs used something shiny such as volcanic glass (aka "obsidian"). If the intent was to announce outsiders were venturing into the Ancestral Puebloan homeland, these prearranged signals were of utmost importance to alert outlying communities. To be sure, building large bonfires with billowing plumes of smoke were practical high points anywhere along the North Road. By day or night, the fires alerted other signal stations down the line, just as long as the line of sight continued. For instance, distant dwellers at Pueblo Alto, which is one of Chaco Canyon’s Great Houses, would be forewarned of imminent danger. From there, the signal was relayed to other similar outposts beyond the line of sight in that locale. Not only were sectors of the territorial landscape linked in such a way, but spirit lines could be extended toward the Rocky Mountains to the north and east or the Chuska Mountains in northern Arizona. The entire Four Corners region was, therefore, connected by greater distances made smaller by such radiating lines. (For more background on this intriguing subject matter, this website is recommended:

The Plateau, and the singularity of its geographic spread, as well as the significance of its georitual aspects, offered the Ancestral Puebloans the kind of topographic features that also joined them to their homeland in acute and natural ways. This factor was the case when locating the chance presence of water, and in more extreme cases, the absence thereof. 

(end Volume III)