The Chaco Collection
The Chaco Collection contains approximately one million artifacts from over 120 sites in Chaco Canyon and the surrounding region. Because most of the artifacts were systematically collected and documented, the collections are extremely valuable for scientific studies.
The Archive documents over 100 years of excavation in Chaco Canyon, and contains approximately 300 linear feet of records, 30,000 photographs, 7,000 color slides, 600 glass lantern slides, 2,000 maps, 1,000 manuscripts, and field notes, reports, and other written records.
The objects in this exhibit represent the range of materials in the Chaco Collection. They give us insight into the remarkable achievements of the Chacoan culture, and help us connect more directly to the past.
Chaco Culture National Historical Park
A Presidential Proclamation created Chaco Canyon National Monument in 1907 to preserve and protect the "extensive prehistoric communal or pueblo ruins . . . of extraordinary interest because of their number and their great size and because of the innumerable and valuable relics of a prehistoric people which they contain."
Expanded and designated a National Historical Park in 1980, Chaco Culture National Historical Park was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List of Cultural Properties in 1987, in recognition of its worldwide cultural importance. Chaco Canyon's spectacular architecture, seen at the great structures at Pueblo Bonito, Pueblo Alto, Chetro Ketl, and the Great Kiva at Casa Rinconada continues to enthrall visitors.
What is Chaco?
American Indian peoples have continuously occupied the Colorado Plateau of the Southwest for over 10,000 years. From about AD 1000 - 1150, Chacoan culture presided over much of the Four Corners region. The Chacoan people created an urban center of spectacular public architecture by employing formal design, astronomical alignments, geometry, unique masonry, landscaping, and engineering techniques that allowed multi-storied construction for the first time in the American Southwest.
The people built monumental public and ceremonial buildings in the canyon. The buildings were massive, multi-storied masonry structures of rooms, kivas, terraces, and plazas. The largest building-Pueblo Bonito-is estimated to have contained over 600 rooms and rose four, possibly five, stories high. Hundreds of miles of formal roads radiated out from the canyon and linked Chaco to distant communities.
The cultural phenomenon centered in Chaco Canyon was the achievement of a group of people archaeologists call the Chaco Anasazi. Today, their descendants are members of 20 Indian tribes in New Mexico and Arizona. The accomplishments of the ancient people of Chaco Canyon are part of the history and traditions of the modern-day Pueblo tribes of New Mexico, the Hopi of Arizona, and the Navajo.
For over a century, researchers have carried out extensive excavations, studies, and surveys in Chaco Canyon. From 1969-1985, the National Park Service conducted a multidisciplinary research undertaking, known as the Chaco Project, to better understand the Chacoan people. Over 3,600 prehistoric and historic sites were identified. A comprehensive excavation program was established to investigate the entire span of human history in Chaco Canyon.
Excavations were designed to answer a series of questions, such as, when were these sites built? How long were they occupied? How did the people make a living? What did they eat? What products did they make? What kind of community life did they participate in? To help answer these questions, artifacts such as ceramic vessels, stone projectile points, bone tools, construction beams, ornaments, fauna, soil, and pollen samples were collected. Today, scholars continue to use these collections to better understand the Chacoan world.
After a century of research, there is now an enormous body of knowledge about Chaco, gained from archaeology, architecture, ethnography, geology, history, physical anthropology, and, more recently and importantly, the oral history of the descendants of the people of Chaco. The objects - everyday and exotic - made by the people of Chaco help tell part of the story about this fascinating culture.