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Ancestral Puebloans

Ancestral Puebloans



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The ancestral Puebloans were some of the first farmers in the American Southwest. Join US ranger Karen Henker for a brief look at their lifestyle, as well as the art and architecture they left behind in what's present-day Colorado.

View this video with audio descriptions: https://youtu.be/yJuy6fMQyRs


Ancestral Puebloans - History

Ancestral Pueblo jars
AD 900�
Pueblo Bonito, Chaco Canyon, New Mexico
Clay, paint
15 x 14 x 25 cm, 25 x 11.5 cm
Collected by George H. Pepper
Mrs. Thea Heye Collection
5/2116, 5/2109

Ancestral Pueblo cylinder jars are emblematic of Chaco Canyon. Only about two hundred of these vessels are known from the American Southwest 166 come from the Chacoan site of Pueblo Bonito. Designs in black mineral-based paint on a white slip reflect styles common at Chacoan sites in the 11th century. About a third of the cylinder jars are slipped but lack painted design.

Scholars agree that cylinder vessels functioned in ritual contexts. Archaeologist Patricia L. Crown recently discovered Theobroma cacao, or chocolate, residue in shards of cylinder vessels from Pueblo Bonito. Cacao was grown in neotropical Mesoamerica and used as a beverage in elite rituals throughout Mesoamerican civilizations. The Mexica (Aztecs) used cacao beans for currency. Chaco Canyon is the farthest north cacao occurs outside the area of its cultivation. The cacao found in cylinder vessels at Chaco Canyon indicates the performance there of a specific ritual that had ties to Mesoamerica. Until this discovery, cacao had been found no further north than central Mexico.

Dr. Crown also noted that some Chacoan cylinder vesels had been re-slipped, re-painted, and re-fired. Older designs are visible through the slip, as in the vessel with the wedge-shaped designs. Re-firing pottery required a relatively great investment in fuel for Chaco Canyon, where wood was scarce. Vessels were likely cached for re-use. These vessels are two of 111 found in a single room—Room 28—in Pueblo Bonito.

Infinity of Nations: Art and History in the Collections of the National Museum of the American Indian
Ongoing

The National Museum of the American Indian | George Gustav Heye Center | New York, NY


Pueblo Indians

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Pueblo Indians, North American Indian peoples known for living in compact permanent settlements known as pueblos. Representative of the Southwest Indian culture area, most live in northeastern Arizona and northwestern New Mexico. Early 21st-century population estimates indicated approximately 75,000 individuals of Pueblo descent.

Pueblo peoples are thought to be the descendants of the prehistoric Ancestral Pueblo (Anasazi) culture. Just as there was considerable regional diversity among the Ancestral Puebloans, there is similar diversity, both cultural and linguistic, among the contemporary Pueblo peoples. Contemporary Puebloans are customarily described as belonging to either the eastern or the western division. The eastern Pueblo villages are in New Mexico along the Rio Grande and comprise groups who speak Tanoan and Keresan languages. Tanoan languages such as Tewa are distantly related to Uto-Aztecan, but Keresan has no known affinities. The western Pueblo villages include the Hopi villages of northern Arizona and the Zuni, Acoma, and Laguna villages, all in western New Mexico. Of the western Pueblo peoples, Acoma and Laguna speak Keresan the Zuni speak Zuni, a language of Penutian affiliation and the Hopi, with one exception, speak Hopi, a Uto-Aztecan language. The exception is the village of Hano, composed of Tewa refugees from the Rio Grande.

Each of the 70 or more Pueblo villages extant before Spanish colonization was politically autonomous, governed by a council composed of the heads of religious societies. Those societies were centred in the kivas, subterranean ceremonial chambers that also functioned as private clubs and lounging rooms for men. Traditionally, Pueblo peoples were farmers, with the types of farming and associated traditions of property ownership varying among the groups. Along the Rio Grande and its tributaries, corn (maize) and cotton were cultivated in irrigated fields in river bottoms. Among the western Puebloans, especially the Hopi, farming was less reliable because there were few permanent water sources. Traditionally, women did most of the farming, but as hunting diminished in importance, men also became responsible for agricultural work. Many of the Rio Grande Puebloans had special hunting societies that hunted deer and antelope in the mountains, and easterly Puebloans such as the Taos and Picuris sometimes sent hunters to the Plains for bison. Among all Pueblo peoples, communal rabbit hunts were held, and women gathered wild plants to eat.

In 1539 a Franciscan friar, Marcos de Niza, claimed the Pueblo region for Spain. Explorer Francisco Vázquez de Coronado followed in 1540, quickly and brutally pacifying all indigenous resistance. In 1680 a Tewa man, Popé, led the Pueblo Rebellion against the Spanish. The colonizers retreated from the region for several years but completed a reconquest in 1691. Subsequently, most villages adapted to colonial rule through syncretism, adopting and incorporating those aspects of the dominant culture necessary for survival under its regime, while maintaining the basic fabric of traditional culture. Historical examples of Pueblo syncretism include the addition of sheep and shepherding to the agricultural economy and the adoption of some Christian religious practices.

Contemporary Pueblo peoples continue to use syncretic strategies they have adopted a variety of modern convenience products, yet they extensively retain their traditional kinship systems, religions, and crafts. Social life centres on the village, which is also the primary political unit. Kinship plays a fundamental role in social and religious life in 21st-century Pueblo communities it may delimit an individual’s potential marriage partners and often determines eligibility for membership in religious societies and a wide variety of social and economic obligations. Kinship is typically reckoned through the lineage, a group that shares a common ancestor several lineages together form a clan. Early 20th-century kinship studies indicated that some pueblos may have had more than 30 clans at one time, which were often grouped into two larger units, or moieties. The clans of the eastern Pueblos are organized into complementary moieties, known respectively as the Summer people and the Winter people (Tanoans) or as the Turquoise people and the Squash people. These groups alternate responsibility for pueblo activities, and their secret societies deal primarily with curing rituals. In contrast, the western Puebloans are organized into several matrilineal lineages and clans secret societies, each controlled by a particular clan, perform a calendrical cycle of rituals to ensure rain and tribal welfare. Many Pueblo peoples continue to practice the kachina (katsina) religion, a complex belief system in which hundreds of divine beings act as intermediaries between humans and God.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica This article was most recently revised and updated by Jeff Wallenfeldt, Manager, Geography and History.


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Religious Transformation in the Late Pre-Hispanic Pueblo World. ed. / Donna M Glowacki Scott Van Keuren. Vol. 9780816599721 University of Arizona Press, 2012. p. 221-238.

Research output : Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceeding › Chapter

T2 - Lessons from Ancestral Pueblo History

N2 - Religion may be uniquely human. It might even be that which makes human beings human (Rappaport 1979:229-230). But to what extent do religions or religious ideologies constitute human history? Answering that question is a task for archaeologists, but they often seem uncertain about their beliefs about, well, beliefs. Fortunately, uncertainty in the study of religions or, more precisely, the relationship between humanity, history, and religious practices, rituals, places, ideologies, or cosmologies is as it should be. Any understanding of religion necessitates gaining some perspective on the matter. One does this by first stepping outside the role of believer and then by unpacking that which is asserted to be religion by those who would define it. Archaeologists often do the former, but they seldom do the latter. This volume does the latter, and here I attempt to clarify why it matters to the larger historical and anthropological project. Importantly, neither the volume nor this essay begins with a rigid definition of Ancestral Pueblo religion (see Parsons 1939), although most analysts would undoubtedly agree that Pueblo religious practices were "animistic," not unlike those of many people worldwide (Bird-David 1999). That is, many if not all Pueblo peoples probably recognized that spirits or powers might inhabit certain people, places, things, nonhuman creatures, and any number of earthly or atmospheric phenomena (see also Ingold 2007). This is an ontological truism almost as basic as the statement above that people are inherently religious. But it matters with respect to understanding the history of the later Pueblo world because various kinds of numinous experiences or cosmic events might have held greater significance to Pueblos than they do in the Western world today (Walker 2008). Indeed, the trends and events of the late thirteenth century hinge on understanding why this is (see Van Keuren and Glowacki, this volume). Reviewing the chapters in this book leads one to an important conclusion: the central issues of and major transformations in indigenous and later colonial history in the Southwest are fully explicable only in religious terms. Most significantly, the authors of these chapters interrogate Ancestral Pueblo rituality and religiosity (by which I mean the ritual and religious dimensions of past practices and experiences) rather than delineate Pueblo religion. By doing so, the authors in effect enable Ancestral Pueblo people to define religion for themselves. As a result, we all learn some lessons about human history (if not humanity generally) from the later Pueblo people of North America. These include the following: religion is multidimensional performance it has an extended or networked character and it is transferred or transmitted in ways that radically alter history.

AB - Religion may be uniquely human. It might even be that which makes human beings human (Rappaport 1979:229-230). But to what extent do religions or religious ideologies constitute human history? Answering that question is a task for archaeologists, but they often seem uncertain about their beliefs about, well, beliefs. Fortunately, uncertainty in the study of religions or, more precisely, the relationship between humanity, history, and religious practices, rituals, places, ideologies, or cosmologies is as it should be. Any understanding of religion necessitates gaining some perspective on the matter. One does this by first stepping outside the role of believer and then by unpacking that which is asserted to be religion by those who would define it. Archaeologists often do the former, but they seldom do the latter. This volume does the latter, and here I attempt to clarify why it matters to the larger historical and anthropological project. Importantly, neither the volume nor this essay begins with a rigid definition of Ancestral Pueblo religion (see Parsons 1939), although most analysts would undoubtedly agree that Pueblo religious practices were "animistic," not unlike those of many people worldwide (Bird-David 1999). That is, many if not all Pueblo peoples probably recognized that spirits or powers might inhabit certain people, places, things, nonhuman creatures, and any number of earthly or atmospheric phenomena (see also Ingold 2007). This is an ontological truism almost as basic as the statement above that people are inherently religious. But it matters with respect to understanding the history of the later Pueblo world because various kinds of numinous experiences or cosmic events might have held greater significance to Pueblos than they do in the Western world today (Walker 2008). Indeed, the trends and events of the late thirteenth century hinge on understanding why this is (see Van Keuren and Glowacki, this volume). Reviewing the chapters in this book leads one to an important conclusion: the central issues of and major transformations in indigenous and later colonial history in the Southwest are fully explicable only in religious terms. Most significantly, the authors of these chapters interrogate Ancestral Pueblo rituality and religiosity (by which I mean the ritual and religious dimensions of past practices and experiences) rather than delineate Pueblo religion. By doing so, the authors in effect enable Ancestral Pueblo people to define religion for themselves. As a result, we all learn some lessons about human history (if not humanity generally) from the later Pueblo people of North America. These include the following: religion is multidimensional performance it has an extended or networked character and it is transferred or transmitted in ways that radically alter history.


Another Important Site Built by Ancestral Puebloans

Before the building of the Taos Pueblo, the Ancestral Puebloans were constructing irrigation canals and astronomically aligned monuments, for which they would later become famous. Chaco Canyon is one such example of this emerging social complexity, which makes the Ancestral Puebloans and their descendants who built towns such as Taos Pueblo interesting for the development of civilization in North America.

Archaeological evidence shows that Chaco Canyon was a site of ritual feasting. At the center of many Ancestral Puebloan settlements were “great houses” which appear to have religious significance. Each of these great houses was connected by ritual paths - all of which led to Chaco Canyon. Archaeologists who study this site believe it was the home for a ritual elite who exerted enough influence over the population to allow for the construction of monumental sites such as the Chaco complex, which is aligned with sun rise and set on the spring and autumn equinoxes. This would have taken a lot of time and studying by the Chacoan priests.

A digital model of ancient Pueblo Bonito (Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, United States) before it was abandoned. ( Public Domain )

This all shows that the culture of the Ancestral Puebloans was advanced and perhaps on the verge of becoming a true civilization on par with ancient Egypt or the Mesoamerican cultures further south (which we know had notable influence on the cultures of the American Southwest.) The desert civilization did not come to full bloom, however, and it collapsed after severe droughts in the 12th and 13th centuries. The culture nonetheless lives on in one form at Taos Pueblo.

Top Image: Taos Pueblo. New Mexico, USA. Source: Elisa.rolle/ CC BY SA 3.0


Ancestral Puebloans - History

History Adventures: Life During Ancestral Pueblo Times

Los Alamos History Museum News:

Get outside and get creative with your elementary school child this week with History Adventures. This week’s theme is storytelling in history and connects with our plateau’s rich Ancestral Pueblo history.

The Los Alamos History Museum is sharing fun, hands-on activities and adventures every week this month with History Adventures at www.LosAlamosHistory.org/Childrens_Programs .

This week, learn about life during Ancestral Pueblo times hundreds of years ago with an exploration of an Ancestral Pueblo site in downtown Los Alamos or a visit to Bandelier National Monument. Stories passed down through generations are an important way we learn about the past, and kids will reflect on the stories they already know about history and how we learn and share history.

They’ll also have a chance to be a historian and learn new history by interviewing a friend or family member about their past. Everything you need to get started is in the free History Adventures pdf activity packet.

There are five different themes to explore, with a new theme each week in June. Every week there will be an outdoor adventure, a hands-on activity that lets kids make history, and a photo challenge to spark kids’ creativity. We’ll share updates each week in June with information about that week’s History Adventures theme.

All the activities are available now, so if you’re excited and want to try them sooner, go at your own pace! We’d love to see the connections you make with history—share photos from your family’s History Adventures and tag us @LosAlamosHistory on Facebook or Instagram.


Ancestral Puebloans - History

Ancestral Pueblo mug
ca. AD 1200
Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde, Colorado
Clay, paint
13 x 9.5 x 10 cm
Hebert Bra Me Collection
6/7156

Ancestral Pueblo pottery was built using thin coils of clay and smoothed probably using a gourd scraper. Beginning about AD 500, Ancestral Puebloans painted black designs on vessels they added white slip as background by about AD 700. Utility ware was left unpainted. Hemispheric bowls and globular jars were the most common forms made.

Mugs are a hallmark of the Mesa Verde region, where they were made from about AD 1150 to 1300 only a few have been found at sites outside Mesa Verde and the northern San Juan River area. Mugs may have been personal artifacts. They have been recovered from burial contexts and found in household debris. Most have worn surfaces that suggest regular use. Some mugs fit more comfortably in either the right or left hand each has a unique design.

Infinity of Nations: Art and History in the Collections of the National Museum of the American Indian
Ongoing

The National Museum of the American Indian | George Gustav Heye Center | New York, NY


Ancestral Puebloans Survived Droughts by Collecting Water From Icy Lava Tubes

Between 150 and 950 A.D., five serious droughts struck the area that is now New Mexico. Each time this happened, new research published in the journal Scientific Reports reveals, the region’s inhabitants lit ice blocks found in lava tubes—cavernous, cylindrical passages formed by rivulets of flowing lava—on fire to collect drinking water.

For the study, researchers extracted an ice core from a frigid lava tube buried almost 50 feet underground at El Malpais National Monument.

“We started seeing these dark areas,” lead author Bogdan Onac, a geoscientist at the University of South Florida, tells Isaac Schultz of Atlas Obscura. “I said, ‘Wait a minute. Something is going on—why is it black here?’”

The dark marks turned out to be bands of soot and charcoal. Using radiocarbon dating, the team found that the bands corresponded with years that scientists knew droughts had occurred.

Kenny Bowekaty, an archaeologist and tour guide who is a member of the Ashiwi people of the Pueblo of Zuni, tells E&E News’ Jacob Wallace that ancestral Puebloans probably used the icy corridors for religious purposes, in addition to gathering water and storing animals they hunted.

“Ice to the Ashiwi people is still a resource of life,” Bowekaty, who was not involved in the new study, says. “There’s a lot of compounded uses for what would have been considered ice caves.”

He adds that the Ashiwi continued making religious pilgrimages to the ice tubes until the early 1900s. More recently, though, melting ice has forced them to restrict travel to the caves.

Climate change threatens the region's ancient ice blocks. Already, the specimen studied by the team has shrunk from around 35,000 cubic feet to less than 1,800. (Scientific Reports)

Per Science News’ Rachel Fritts, the research team traveled to the site in 2017 with the intention of studying ice cores to learn about ancient climates. The shape of the tubes, carved out in the landscape by long-ago lava flows, helps keep ice frozen by pushing hotter air up and out of the cave and making cooler, denser air sink. Atlas Obscura notes that the National Science Foundation, the National Park Service and the Western National Parks Association backed the project in an attempt to document secrets held in the ice before they’re lost to climate change. The ice block studied by the team has already shrunk from around 35,000 cubic feet to less than 1,800.

Based on pottery shards found near cave entrances and ancient road networks that cross the area, researchers had previously suspected that ancient people harvested water from the caves. But this is the first time scientists have been able to connect water collection to periods of droughts. In addition to charcoal pieces, the team found a pottery shard dated to 1097 A.D.—likely evidence of the use of vessels to collect water.

People have resided in the El Malpais area for more than 10,000 years, with the largest ancient populations living there between 950 and 1350 A.D., according to the National Park Service. During that era, the region was connected to the Chaco system, a political, economic and religious culture centered about 80 miles north. The ancestral Puebloans of El Malpais built complicated multi-story buildings in the Chaco style. Around 1250, the local communities appear to have dispersed, with people resettling in the pueblos of Acoma to the east and Zuni to the west. The Zuni-Acoma Trail, a more than 1,000-year-old highway in the area, cuts through the lava flows of El Malpais.

“This study demonstrates the ingenuity of indigenous people who used the area,” Barbara Mills, an anthropological archaeologist at the University of Arizona who was not involved in the study, tells Science News. “It also shows how knowledge about the trails, caves and harvesting practices was passed down over many centuries, even millennia.”

About Livia Gershon

Livia Gershon is a freelance journalist based in New Hampshire. She has written for JSTOR Daily, the Daily Beast, the Boston Globe, HuffPost, and Vice, among others.


The great houses of Chaco Canyon

I drove north from Acoma, seeking out more back story. Two hours on — the last half of it on a rutted, severely wash-boarded dirt road — I spied Fajada Butte, the towering landform at the head of a long, shallow sandstone canyon called Chaco, now the Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

First occupied in 800, Chaco was where the Pueblo culture reached its greatest heights until, tree rings tell us, it was abandoned in the mid-13th century. The park contains the largest collection of pre-Columbian ruins in the United States and is a Unesco World Heritage site.

While most American Indians were hunters and gatherers, the Puebloans were also accomplished tillers of the soil, irrigating the wild desert in this canyon with captured rainwater. Staying in one place for long periods is a large part of what allowed this civilization to evolve to such a magnificent apogee in a harsh desert landscape.

I toured Pueblo Bonito with Clif Taylor, a knowledgeable Park Service volunteer who has spent 12 seasons here. Mr. Taylor is a fount of information, yet is only able to scratch the surface on a two-hour tour. He too is taken with the mystery of this place. For centuries it was home to thousands of people and “over a few decades it virtually emptied out,” he said.

Pueblo Bonito is the largest and grandest of the 12 “great houses” at Chaco, with some 600 rooms and 40 kivas, which are large round ceremonial rooms dug into the Earth and lined with stone masonry.


Ancestral Puebloans - History

Heat-oxidized yellow titanium case

High performance escapement with &ldquotriple pare-chute&rdquo protection

Patented spherical moonphase

Floating lugs maximize comfort on wrist

How The Native American Ancestral Puebloans Kept Track Of Time

If you’ve been lucky enough to travel to the “four corners” area of the southwestern United States (where U.S. states Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico “meet”), then you may have seen or even visited some of the cliff dwellings built by ancient Native Americans that were erroneously called Anasazi for thousands of years, and now go by the term Ancestral Puebloans.

The Ancestral Puebloans were nomads until about 300 AD when corn arrived in North America via trade with Mexican tribes. The advent of corn crops changed the Ancestral Puebloans’ lifestyle, and the previously nomadic clan settled down thanks to the seasonal rhythms attached to the harvest. That took place in the early Middle Ages by about 1300 AD there were approximately 50,000 people living in the area.

Mesa Verde National Park’s Cliff Palace, an almost fully intact cave-set village built by the ancient Ancestral Puebloans

Language nerd side note: the name Anasazi is an exonym from the Navajo language and translates to “ancient enemies” or “ancestors of our enemies.” The Navajo now occupying parts of the area as well as modern-day descendants of the Ancestral Puebloans prefer not to be called by that name.

“Puebloans” comes from the word pueblo – a small Native American community – in which the Ancestral Puebloans lived. Interestingly, the word “pueblo” itself comes from Spanish and means “village.”

As the Ancestral Puebloans had no written language, everything that is known about them has either been handed down orally by descendants or surmised by combining the oral traditions with the few petroglyphs remaining in the cliff dwellings primarily found in Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde.

Petroglyphs in Mesa Verde National Park left behind by ancient Ancestral Puebloans

The cosmic order of the universe

Based on their agricultural lifestyle and the fact that they would periodically perform religious rituals, it seems that the tribe placed importance on divining the time – at least to within a few days. This is worth looking a bit closer into as the Ancestral Puebloans did not appear to have specific dates or calendars etched into stone like the Mayans, for example (see The World’s Biggest Man-Made Calendar: El Castillo At Chichén Itzá).

Thus, it is a little bit harder to tell if and how Ancestral Puebloans kept track of time. However, a few possibilities and examples have been discovered. At Chaco Canyon, for example, archaeologists found evidence of archaeoastronomy (the study of how past peoples understood phenomena in the sky) – in particular the Sun Dagger petroglyph at Fajada Butte.

Like other native tribes, the Ancestral Puebloans’ ritual dates were determined by high religious officials, who ensured that rituals and ceremonies took place at the correct times. The cosmic order of the universe was not only regulated in the Ancestral Puebloan world, it was taken as the law.

Mesa Verde National Park’s Cliff Palace, an almost fully intact cave village built by the ancient Ancestral Puebloans

The Ancestral Puebloans believed that both sacred time (for religious purposes or ceremonies) and secular time (“everyday,” non-religious time) was regulated by the sun, moon, and stars. And they believed it to be crucial that their events take place at the correct moment, with the sun, moon, and stars in the right positions. Such cycles were important to help regulate timing.

Time was indeed sacred, with the basic principles of astronomy used to determine the so-called “ritual calendar.”

Telling the seasonal time

One way they determined the time was simply to look at the height of the sun above the horizon and base estimates on that – much like early navigators did. This meant that the Ancestral Puebloans probably did not keep track of the exact hours and minutes.

In fact, during a recent trip to Mesa Verde, Ranger Dave Hursey – who guided my family and I through some of the cliff dwellings at Cliff Palace and Balcony House – pointed out that the long shadows cast by the mesas’ tall cliffs would have made sundials moot.

Ranger Dave Hursey explaining aspects of daily life at Mesa Verde National Park’s Cliff Palace, a village built by the ancient Ancestral Puebloans

Determining the time by looking at the sun over the horizon would usually have been performed by a so-called sun priest. This could be relatively accurate depending on what the tribe needed the time for however, these observations were not especially precise when it came to specific times of the day. This did work fine for telling the season, though, the Ancestral Puebloans’ most important time cycle.

Knowing the season was vital because the tribe needed to know when to plant crops in order to avoid them drying out, thereby ensuring their success. Water was and remains extremely scarce in this part of the world, and the correct crop timing ensured the tribe’s survival. The area has very short harvest seasons due to its extreme altitude.

The Ancestral Puebloans kept track of “months” using calendar sticks.

More precise time

The Ancestral Puebloans fortunately had another way of telling the time for other circumstances when a more precise interpretation was necessary. One example would be to find the correct period of time for a celebration.

The cliff dwellings built within shallow caves generally faced south so as to maximize sunlight and thus warmth in the winter.

Mesa Verde’s Balcony House, however, faces eastward. This was so because some of its 40 rooms were used for astronomy purposes.

Balcony House in Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado: this is one of the rare cliff dwellings that faces east instead of south for purposes of astronomy

The openings in eastward-facing walls of buildings allowed sunlight to shine through onto the opposite wall around the time of sunrise. On the opposite wall, markings or symbols correlating to the solar cycle indicated the season and even what time of the day it was.

The previously mentioned Sun Dagger petroglyph is a carved spiral solar calendar located at Chaco Canyon that is used with sunlight to relate the time. When the sun shines directly down the middle of the spiral, it is exactly 11:11.

Rooms 8 and 21 at Mesa Verde’s Balcony House also show such light play at the times of solstice and equinox, which was important for ascertaining harvest times and so on. However, no spiral “clock” markings have been found to date at Mesa Verde.

Room 21 of Balcony House in Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado: the long wooden beam was used as a sort of gnomon for astronomically ascertaining the solstice and equinox

Looking at the photo above, we see a long wooden beam ranging out above Room 21 at Mesa Verde’s Balcony House. This long beam acts as a type of gnomon (the rod in a sundial that casts a shadow) during the solstice or equinox sun, which shone on a basin inside Room 21. The short beams also visible in the photo are used to support the upper story structures of the dwellings and have nothing to do with astronomy.

Judging by this strategy of timekeeping, we can conclude that the Ancestral Puebloans were fairly advanced in their timekeeping abilities – due, of course, to the fact that time was so important to their rituals (sanity) and basic everyday needs (food).

I’d like to thank Ranger Dave for his patient answers at Mesa Verde as well as Sabrina Doerr for her help in researching this topic.


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