In a corner of northeastern New Mexico, thousand-year-old shards of pottery are scattered in the dust between sage and piñon. Protected by law, but there for the seeing if you’re lucky.
The sweep of desert in Chaco Canyon looks abandoned, almost uninhabitable, but people have lived here for twelve thousand years. Archeologists have found fire rings, tools, implements, bones left by Clovis-era big game hunters, and early and late Basketmakers.
Puebloan ancestors — dubbed by Utes and Navajo as Anasazi, or “enemy ancient ones,” — built moon-shaped compounds, complete with underground kivas, the earliest around 500 B.C. After the trees were cut down, they hauled in logs from hundreds of miles away. A lively trade in turquoise sprang up. Huge buildings were constructed.
The ancient Puebloans probably lived in Chaco Canyon for two or three times as long as the United States has been in existence. They aligned buildings with solar and lunar cycles, engineered irrigation systems, decorated pottery with geometric designs.
Eventually the population dwindled, probably because of drought, or perhaps war, or some other calamity we may never know about. What happened is the subject of fierce debate. In any event, the last of the great Puebloan houses were sealed up and abandoned around 1400 A.D.
Utes, Shoshone moved in, followed by Apache and Navajo. Today the modern Navajo Nation is just west.
I found one of those gray and white pottery shards. Picked it up. Thought about slipping it in my pocket. Put it back.
What good would it do me, collecting dust on a shelf? It was a place holder, a marker to remind me and whoever finds it next, that we aren’t here for long. Our cleverness is a marvel, but weather, landscape, time are still our hosts.
For more on this week’s WordPress Photo challenge: Time