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NONFICTION : PEOPLE OF CHACO, A CANYON AND ITS CULTURE by Kendrick Frazier (Norton: $19.95; 224 pp.).

December 28, 1986|Hartman Lomawaima

In the American Southwest, there exists an ancient memorial to architectural and agricultural engineering excellence called Chaco. To many of today's Rio Grande and Western Pueblo Indians, Chaco is considered the home of their prehistoric predecessors. To scores of modern archeologists, Chaco remains an enigma. In this volume, Kendrick Frazier has combined scientific and ethnographic data with Native American oral history to develop a concise account of this national monument in northern New Mexico.

Earliest evidence of human occupation in the Southwest has been dated at 12,000 years ago. It is estimated that the Chaco area was first inhabited about 7,000 years ago. However, it wasn't until AD 700 that the people began to erect permanent village settlements. Between AD 900 and AD 1130, a number of dwellings or "Great Houses" had been built. These Great Houses rose several stories high and contained hundreds of rooms. "No other apartment house of comparable size was known in America or in the Old World until the Spanish Flats were erected in 1882 at 59th Street and Seventh Avenue, New York City," is how a 1920 National Geographic article described one of the Great Houses.

Frazier takes the reader on a journey from what he imagines prehistoric life in Chaco was like to the ethnographic present. His profiles of some of the archeologists who worked in the area are certain to be of interest to young students of the field.

Frazier's writing clearly shows that he (along with archeologists, biologists, astronomers and ecologists) is in awe of what was created at Chaco and what is yet to be learned from sifting through the remains. He also shows a high degree of respect for the modern-day Native Americans and sees them as an often overlooked resource in the scientific interpretation of archeological sites like Chaco.

The Maxwell Museum of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico has organized a fine traveling exhibit on Chaco that is titled, "The Chaco Phenomenon." The exhibit is now at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History in Albuquerque (closing Jan. 31, 1987).

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