To the ancient Pueblo people, turquoise gemstones were a precious commodity. They used it to make exquisite ritual masks with turquoise mosaic on wood, shell, and bone. They made turquoise jewelry, pottery and fabrics, trading them with neighboring and distant communities for a wide variety of goods including exotic items such as seashells, copper bells, parrots and macaws.
The Pueblo tribe are an ancient race related to the Aztecs. Ancient Pueblo Petroglyphs (rock drawings, or stone carvings) can be found in Chaco Canyon, and are a testament to their ancient civilization. They were excellent stone masons who first lived in Cliff Houses. They moved from these dwellings and began to build their houses beneath the overhanging cliffs. Traditionally, Puebloans were farmers and herdsmen who live in villages. They were also highly skilled in basket-work, weaving, pottery and carving. The Pueblo people are noted for their highly developed ceremonial customs and rituals, and their blankets and earthenware are decorated with religious symbolism.
They valued jewelry and wore Turquoise jewelry and silver ornaments. Below to the left is an updated version of what some of this jewelry may have looked like -- a wonderful creation of Christine from BraidedSouls on Etsy. Also below to the right is a contemporary piece by Pula Calabaza, featured in the NativeJewelryStore on Etsy.
One thousand years ago these Puebloans lived an inter-connected community, the sacred heart of which now lies in ruins at the Chaco Canyon floor in New Mexico. The road system that connects it to distant outlier pueblos is unique. Nothing like it exists elsewhere in North America. Mapping out the roadways shifted the world’s view of these Southwest American ruins, with Chaco Canyon now considered to be comparable to Peru’s ancient ruins and Machu Picchu.
The roads themselves were overbuilt Many of the roads are 30 feet wide; secondary roads are 15 feet wide. Why such wide roads when the Chaco people did not have carts or other vehicles? Other findings in the area include periodic large-scale breakage of vessels, a dearth of burials, and even a cache of 10,000 turquoise beads stringing one niche at the bottom of a circular, roofless kiva.
With these clues, archaeologists have concluded that Chaco Canyon was not built for the practicality of people’s lives, but rather for ceremonial purposes. Within the maze of hand-hewn Great Houses found in the canyon, there are thousands of 60-foot-long logs, some up to three feet in diameter -- all hauled by the Ancestral Puebloans a distance of more than 50 miles.
The area was a center of ancestral Pueblo culture between 850 and 1250, serving as a focus for ceremonials, trade and political activity for the prehistoric Four Corners area. The massive multi-storied buildings are oriented to solar, lunar, and cardinal directions; there was a high level of community social organization; and they achieved a complex and wide-ranging commerce. Only recently, new research has revealed that the Pueblo people’s source of turquoise for was much more far-reaching than previously believed.
Over the years, archaeologists have found more than 200,000 turquoise pieces at various sites in the Chaco Canyon. According to Sharon Hull, an anthropologist at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada, the gems were very important to the Puebloan culture, and akin to modern-day diamonds. Initially, scientists believed the gems came from the nearest turquoise deposit more than 200 kilometers away — the Cerrillos Hills Mining District near present-day Santa Fe. However, new research reveals that the Pueblo people acquired their turquoise using a large trade network spanning several states, including Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and southeastern California.
The history of this culture is truly amazing; if you ever get a chance to visit Chaco Canyon or Mesa Verde, a similar site, don't miss it. It is humbling to look at their schientific, architectural, engineering and artistic achievements. Knowing many modern-day Puebloans, I am constantly amazed by their rich history and legacy -- and always strive to learn more.
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