J. McKim Malville

I. Ritual Landscape:

  The first well-developed ideological model for Chaco is due to Fritz (1978, 1987), who argued that fundamental relationships between individuals and the divine are encoded in the Chacoan landscape. He`proposed a principle of "symbolic resonance" between realms of different geometrical scales such that experiences of a particular pattern at one scale can invoke previous experiences and meaning at other scales. An important implication of symbolic resonance is that of holism such that the entire system of meaning is implied by experiences at any level. Within the Chacoan system, three dominant spatial levels of meaning are the kiva, the great house, and the landscape of roads and outliers. Within each of these levels there are fundamental axes, geometrical symmetries, and patterns of movement which resonate with the other levels whereby meaning may thereby be transferred upward and downward. The strong north-south axiality and geometric symmetries of the kiva, including the sipapu, hearth, southern alcove, floor vaults, roof beams, and niches, may be repeated at larger scales. The north road, the north-south alignments of Pueblo Alto and Tsin Kletzin, and symmetries involving Pueblo Bonito, Chetro Ketl, and the stone circles are examples of the parallelism between kiva and landscape. Fritz suggests that spatial symmetries of social units, such as moieties, form another dimension of ideology embedded in the landscape. In a comparison between Chaco and Vijayanagara in South India, Fritz and colleagues (Fritz and Malville 1993; Malville and Fritz 1993) underscore the importance of north-south axiality, which may symbolize the axis mundi as well as an avenue to the place of origin, which is a theme also developed by Marshall (1991).

  Stein and colleagues (Stein and Fowler 1996; Stein and Lekson 1992; Fowler and Stein 1992) argue that the great houses of the Canyon are elements of a large ritual landscape, which functioned in the ideological, not the residential, realm. Ideology rather than politics glued the Chaco system together. They suggest that Pueblo Bonito was a ritual center, not primarily a residential pueblo, and that Chaco Canyon was never a proto-urban center of culture. Elaborate and complex geometries in the landscapes around Pueblo Bonito and Aztec suggest ritual movement and the embedding of meaning in the landscape (Stein and McKenna 1988; Stein and Ford 1991).

  Sofaer and colleagues (Sofaer et al 1989; Sofaer 1997) measured the axes, diagonals, and spatial interconnections of fourteen great houses. They propose that a system-wide cosmology-ideology influenced location and orientation of the great houses and suggest that minor and major standstills of the moon as well as solstitial and cardinal directions were utilized in their design.

II. Pilgrimage:

  When strong evidence for redistributive exchange failed to appear in the archaeological record, Judge (1984) began to emphasize consumption over redistribution as an explanatory phenomenon and suggested that great houses were built to accommodate periodic influxes of pilgrims who walked into the Canyon to participate in organized ritual. Such festivals served to regulate exchange and resource equilibrium among outliers, substituting voluntary participation for political coercion by an elite bureaucracy. Compensation for ritual services could have been construction labor on the great houses and roads. The North Road provided a means of access to the Canyon by pilgrims from lands north of the San Juan river. The system began to falter when ritual apparently no longer succeeded during the period of reduced summer moisture in 1080-1090 and the focus of the pilgrimage system was transferred northward to Aztec ("ritual retirement": Stein and Fowler 1966).

  Drawing upon the pilgrimage traditions of the historic and modern Pueblos, Marshall (1991) argues that the roads were primarily cosmological features of a pilgrimage tradition. He identifies eastward facing herraduras, earth-work platforms, aureolas, short road sections, and parallel roads as ritual aspects of pilgrimage (see also Roney 1993). Marshall and collegues (1991; Sofaer et al 1989) depart from the Judge model by suggesting that neither the north or south roads functioned as routes for visitors to enter the Canyon but served exclusively as avenues for ritual processions. Pilgrims moved along the north and south roads to visit respectively the symbolic sipapu of Kutz canyon and a "platform to the firmament" on the summit of Hosta Butte, "the zenith and nadir" of the earth. Chaco Canyon served as the symbolic "middle place" of their cosmology.

  Pilgrimage requires an accurate calendar which can only be achieved by careful observations of the sun and moon. Esoteric knowledge of cycles of the sun and moon, including the dates of eclipses seasons, provided ritual authority for priestly elites who had the responsibility for establishing auspicious dates of pilgrimage festivals (Malville and Judge 1993). Pilgrimage festivals around the world are characterized by a pageantry of procession which would account for the width of the roads, especially near the great houses (Malville and Malville 1994, 1996). Other commonalities of pilgrimage traditions are mementoes of the visit and movement around the center. In the case of Chaco, mementoes of pilgrimage could have been worked turquoise from the Chaco workshops. A pilgrimage route in the Canyon could have included stairways that enabled visitors to circulate from Pueblo Alto to Tsin Kletsin and back. The accurate north-south alignment of these two great houses is suggestive of an intended ritual geometry.

 For a detailed pilgrimage model, see MALVILLE

III. Theocracy, Revitalization, and Connections in Time:

  Bradley (1993) proposes that the Chacoan polity may have functioned as a theocracy, which dispatched missionaries into indigenous populations. The great houses of the outliers, which were primarily residences of such missionaries, acquired ritual authority by mimicking the style of those in Chaco Canyon. The Chimney Rock Pueblo may have been established by such missionaries (Eddy 1977). Smaller sites functioned as visitas consisting of a great kiva and associated ritual features such as roads and earthworks, which were serviced by missionaries but were not their permanent residences. At another level, communities may have "bought into" the Chaco system, maintaining local customs, beliefs, and organizations but applying a religious veneer to demonstrate ideological affiliation with Chaco.

  Bradley (1996) suggests that D-shaped buildings built north of the San Juan reveal a nostalgia for an earlier grandeur of Chaco. Reuse of Chacoan outliers Wallace, Salmon, and Aztec West may have been similar attempts to establish spiritual and ritual connections to the past. Such revitalization began in the early 13th century with a repopulation of abandoned areas. Bradley suggests that the emergence of a "charismatic visionary prophet" may have inspired and led that revitalization, meant to "recapture past values and traditions."

  Roads connecting non-contemporaneous structures, "roads through time" such the North Road between the Totah district (Aztec and Salmon) and Chaco Canyon may have been symbolic connections to ancestral communities and their ideologies (Adler 1994; Fowler and Stein 1992; Mahoney et al. 1995; Lekson 1996)


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Stein, John R. and Stephen. H. Lekson. 1992. "Anasazi ritual landscapes," in Anasazi Regional Organization and the Chaco System. Edited by D. E. Doyel, pp. 87-100. Anthropological Paper No. 5. Albuquerque: Maxwell Museum of Anthropology.

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