A. Brockway's Ancient Southwest

Since August 2001 I have been visiting, more or less systematically, the ruined dwellings of peoples whom archeologists named Anaszi, Mogollon, Hohokam, Sinagua, Salado, and Mimbres. These peoples inhabited what is now Chihuahua, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and Arizona during a period roughly between 700 and 1500 of the common era. In many cases, the ruins are conserved in National Monuments maintained by the US Park Service. In almost every case present-day tribal peoples—who most likely are descendents of the ancient builders and, in any case, consider themselves to be so—hold these ruins to be sacred and visitors are requested to honor them as such.

What follows is a travel report. But more than "Hey! Look! Here's where I went!" I'm trying to make something of an effort to understand the why and how of the cultures and their relationships to one another. At the same time, a travel report is a travel report and not a history, anthropology, or archaeology text.

I sent the first of the "Reports" that follow to a few friends with no intention of adding them to "ARB Doorway" but, as I began to put more effort into them, I concluded that others might also be interested. When I complete additional "Reports," I intend to send email notifications of their presence here. Should you wish to be added to the notification list, just send me an email to that effect.

As I visited these ruins and read about what is known of the people who constructed them, it was frequently brought home to me that words such as "ancient" and "prehistoric" are relative indeed. Writing and history are intimately connected. Thus Akhenaten, the "heretic pharoah" of Egypt's New Kingdom in the 2nd millennium BCE, can be said to have become an "historical" figure when it became possible to read and understand the written records of his reign. But the people who deserted their complex structures in the 13th to 15th centuries CE have no name of their own, no story save that in the stones and clay they left behind—plus songs and epics sung and told by their centuries-removed descendents. They are "prehistoric." The "historical" period in the American southwest only begins about 1542 with the written reports of Coronado's expedition into New Mexico. On the other hand, modern native peoples are concerned that a definition of history in terms of written records may result in denigration of their own rich oral histories.

Pueblo Bonito, Chaco Canyon (New Mexico)

A travel report is not the place to address such obvious questions as "where did these people come from?" even though the pueblo peoples did not "just appear" at the time they started building the structures that attract tourists like me. So—without speculating on the validity, for example, of the long-standing thesis that the predecessors of New World populations came from Siberia over the Bering Land Bridge before the end of the last ice age (see Adovasio 2002)—I will limit reflection on what came before the pueblo cultures to the classic (and simplistic) progression from hunter-gathering to more settled agricultural existence. After all, I couldn't take pictures of the Bering Land Bridge! And pictures, in large measure, are what a modern travel report is all about.

But what sort of political structure did they have? Where and how did they practice their religion? Why did the people abandon the buildings, the cities, they worked so hard to build? Where did they go? Those are questions that can't be avoided and do have answers—many of them—which will emerge as we look at the various ruins. So let's do just that. To begin, click the pictograph-style icon (from Chaco Canyon, where the little fellow lives) and go to Pueblo Bonito.