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Chaco Canyon’s ancient civilization continues to puzzle

A rash of studies try to piece together an early American society

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7:00am, May 17, 2017
Pueblo del Arroyo

IN NEW LIGHT  Recent research suggests that the ancient Chaco society of the U.S. Southwest was founded by locals and run by a female lineage for hundreds of years. The best-known Chaco structures are great houses, massive, multilevel buildings represented here by the remains of Pueblo del Arroyo.

Chaco Canyon is a land of extremes. Summer heat scorches the desert canyon, which is sandwiched between sandstone cliffs nearly two kilometers above sea level in New Mexico’s northwestern corner. Bitter cold sweeps in for winter. Temperatures can swing as many as 28 degrees Celsius during the course of a day. Through it all, Chaco Canyon maintains a desolate beauty and a craggy pride as home to one of ancient America’s most enigmatic civilizations.

Scientists have struggled to understand Chaco society since its first excavations in the late 1800s. Who first settled Chaco Canyon around 1,200 years ago is still a mystery. Many researchers suspect that it took a few hundred years for a fledgling city-state run by an elite social class to emerge. Political and cultural ties between the ancient society and Chaco-style communities outside the canyon also perplex. Then there’s the puzzle of how people survived from about 800 to around 1300 on the rough, parched

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