Pilgrimage and Astronomy at Chaco Canyon, New Mexico

John McKim Malville
Department of Astrophysical, Planetary, and Atmospheric Sciences
University of Colorado at Boulder
Nancy Jean Malville
Department of Anthropology
University of Colorado at Boulder

( ) Chaco Canyon appears to have served as the center of a regional system which contained as many as 130 outlying communities and covered as much as 200,000 km2. In the archaeological record, the distinguishing characteristics of the regional system include great houses, great kivas, and an extensive network of roads.

( ) Sections of the roads are wider and straighter than can be justified purely for transportation of goods or construction material and may have been built primarily for the movement of people at the times of festivals. This paper considers the possibility that pilgrimage was the raison d'etre of the Chacoan regional system. The system may have been held together not by political power, military force, economic interdependence, or even a common language, but by a shared tradition of voluntary pilgrimage.

( ) Features of Hindu pilgrimage, tirthayatra, are used to develop a model of Chacoan pilgrimage that contains major characteristics of Hindu pilgrimage, e.g., movement, calendar, ritual mandala, darshan, prasad, mementos, and social integration. This approach does not imply cultural connections but explores provocative parallels and analogies between these two independent cultures.

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