In the desolate expanse of northwestern New Mexico, great houses of up to 700 rooms stretched across nine miles of canyon floor. An exotic trade economy dealt in turquoise, chocolate, seashells, and scarlet macaws. Society lived and died by ceremonies, rituals, agriculture, and rain. That was Chaco, the monster complex of the Ancient Pueblo Indians from AD 900-1500.
Abandoned now and crumbling back into the earth, what stories does it have left to tell? Maybe at one point a group of traveling merchants arrived from Mexico with their pouches of turquoise and squawking macaws - and surprise! - a girl from their village had covered the great distance too, mere steps behind. The girl accepts some cornbread from a local boy (that Chacoan hospitality). The merchants make their deals and pull her back home by the ear. And the boy keeps in touch across the expanse of Mesoamerica with pens, postcards, and the United States Postal Service.
The stones will never tell.
Nevertheless, while the Pueblo civilization was building and trading in what is now the American Southwest, what other miracles and tragedies were unfolding on the world stage?
- Chinese issue first paper money (AD 1024)
- Pope Urban II calls for the First Crusade (AD 1095)
- Cambodia's Angkor Wat is built (AD 1140)
- Tahitians sail to Hawaii and enslave the local inhabitants (AD 1200)
- Genghis Khan establishes the largest known land empire (AD 1206)
- The Magna Carta is drafted (AD 1215)
- Italians invent eyeglasses (AD 1285)
- The Bubonic Plague kills a third of Europe (AD 1346)
- Joan of Arc is burned at the stake (AD 1431)
- Gutenberg invents the printing press (AD 1455)
- Columbus lands in the Bahamas (AD 1492)
A series of crushing droughts ultimately disbanded the Chaco civilization. Water was scarce, the rate of deforestation was unsustainable, the population declined, and the people migrated south, east and west. By the 15th century, they were succeeded by the Utes, Shoshone, Apache, and Navajo.