The Anasazi of Chaco Canyon: Why?

One of the most fascinating finds during the Pueblo Bonito excavations in Chaco Canyon was a collection of larger cylinder shaped mugs. An analysis of the residue that remained in these mugs revealed nearly thousand-year old chocolate! The vessels were unique, confined to a single room, and obviously for special or ceremonial use. They are tall, elongated, and cylindrical, usually with ornate designs. This lends credence to the theory of Pueblo Bonito as the most important center, as cocoa would have been rare and exotic, and was not found anywhere else in the canyon. The presence of cocoa, whose nearest tree is 1200 miles away in Mexico, combined with scarlet macaw skeletons, copper bells, and seashells from the Pacific Ocean, is clear evidence of a wide-ranging trade network.

The choice of location for Pueblo Bonito is an odd one, having been built right at the base of the northern cliff wall, under an unstable geographical feature aptly called “Threatening Rock”. This huge section of looming cliff sat on a less than sturdy shale surface. It was obviously a concern for the Chacoans, as they supported it with braces in hopes of keeping it from tumbling down upon them. Interestingly, as Pueblo Bonito grew, the expansion was to the east, even closer to Threatening Rock.

“Given the obvious danger should the rock fall, it is possible that the builders deliberately chose to expand the site in this direction because they knew that the structure would eventually be crushed—in other words, was Pueblo Bonito was intended to be a monumental sacrifice? [like] large-scale ritual destruction similar to pottery?” (Marshall 12).

On January 21, 1941, “Threatening Rock” fulfilled its threat, destroying the northeastern section of Pueblo Bonito, doing more damage in an instant than a thousand years of time and the elements.