The Anasazi Indians

The Anasazi culture emerged, in the south western USA, long before the whites arrived and left a great amount of archaeological evidence. That can be seen now in the territory of the Four Corners, crossed by the modern borders of the four states of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado.

The main center of this culture was in the Chaco Canyon where many masonry villages still exist, known as Casas Grandes with several kivas, sacred meeting places where the natives gathered together to celebrate their rites. The Anasazi culture, born around the time of Jesus Christ, slowly developed to originate the so called Chacoan Phenomenon, showing the apex for this population between 1050 and 1125 A.D. Around that time the Anasazi built several roads, sometimes reaching 9 meters across. These reached beyond 300 km out of Chaco Canyon, probably their capital, connecting villages and especially prominent ritual sites through long straight stretches. Notable among these roads due to its length was the Great North Road that stretched out for more than 20 km pointing exactly southwards.

The migrations

At a later time raids by the Atapasca, namely Navajos and Apaches, forced this population to seek refuge into many rock sheltered villages that still can be seen for example at Cliff Palace in the Mesa Verde, and in many places along the Canyon de Chelly and other areas. Finally, around 1125 in the Chaco area, a dreadful famine repeatedly showed up, forcing people to partially move out northwards to the area of the Aztec Ruins, Solomon Ruins and other places in New Mexico far north. Here too things were difficult and new famines pushed the Anasazi people to migrate again, from the Aztec area, around 1275, to reach, at least part of them, after a very long march, the placed called Casas Grandes, in today's Mexico, more than 620 km south of the Chaco Canyon.

Main descendants of this population are now the Hopis living in Arizona, together with the Zunis, Acomas and Pueblos of the New Mexico, now secluded into the Indian reservations.

New intepretations by archaeologists

A few months ago the American archaeologist Stephen H. Lekson published a very interesting note in the American magazine Archaeology (Vol.50 N.1, JanFeb 1997) about these ancient migrations. By comparing the time when the Chaco Canyon culture was ended with the initial development of the same culture in the Aztec settlement and later at Casas Grandes in Mexico, the scientists found the two dates in close sequence, as if the population, or at least part of it, had moved, one stage after the other, from one place to the next ending up after a very long march in Mexico, at Casas grandes. But the most striking thing is that all the villages Aztec Ruins, Solomon Ruins, Chaco Canyon and Casas Grandes, are all perfectly aligned on the same meridian number 108. This is most unlikely by chance being instead much more credible an intentional fact.

An astronomy problem

The author has been puzzled mainly by this problem: how could the ancient Anasazi follow such a precise alignment along a meridian for more than 600 km? What tools did they use? More precisely we have to rule out that they used a compass, while moving from Chaco Canyon, first northwards and then southwards. No such instrument was known in America at that time, and furthermore, even though we admit they could have this possibility, the significant errors due to this instrument would have prevented such a precise placing of the four villages: Chaco Canyon, Solomon Ruins, Aztec Ruins to the north and Casas Grandes to the south. Undoubtedly they must have used some astronomical observation based on the position of the celestial North Pole, because the gnomon, that uses the Sun, was also unknown to these people.

It is easy to imagine an alignment to the pole, however we should consider that, at the time of the Anasazi migrations, the Polar star, due to the precession of the equinoxes, was rather far apart from the North pole and could not be a suitable base for such a precise and long alignment. Which then could have been their method? Unfortunately we have no documents whatsoever to answer the question; we can only try to imagine some very simple method likely to be consistent with the culture of those people.

A possible solution

To define the North pole, the Anasazi, very skilled observers of the sky (the first sketch of the 1054 supernova can be just found in the Chaco Canyon), might have used a simple trellis of twigs, a kind of wooden net, firmly placed on a raised position, while an observer would carefully take sight from a pointed pole towards the trellis placed northwards. By following for a few hours the circular path of the Polaris against the wooden trellis, the Ansazi astronomers could cut some marks on the twigs corresponding to the path followed by the star around the North pole. After this was done, it has been very easy to define the center of this circle, i.e. the North pole and it wasn't difficult to place it among the stars around it to record its precise position, although no star indicated the celestial pole.

To build the new road along the meridian, a team of explorers, after lighting a fire on the starting point, moved southwards in the night as far as possible still in sight of the fire. From there they must have moved to the place where they could see the fire exactly aligned with the celestial pole, which they knew how to find, to be exactly on the same meridian of the starting point. In the following nights repeating the same steps for a short distance at a time on a rough ground and by long stretches on a clear ground they might have covered a very long distance safely keeping along the same meridian.

This very simple method might have allowed the Anasazi to align at different times the four great villages exactly in the direction north south. But why such a precision? And to which aim the varoius places have been orientated along this direction? Not an easy question; however for sure the answer is connected to the cosmic view of this population which had used this particular orientation several times.

At Pueblo Bonito for example we can find in the city plan several alignments all pointing along the meridian.

To keep track of the North pole position the Anasazi may have used a simple device similar to the Chinese pi, shown on the picture.

All this if true may proove a precise and continous observation of the sky by these natives, and could indicate a world view strongly based on the natural and celestial phenomena.


Chaco Canyon national monument Chaco Canyon site map
Gallery of southwestern lands:Kin Kletso, Chaco Canyon, San Juan Mark Justice Hinton - Chaco Canyon

Author: G.Romano

1997 Studio CaLion srl