Thursday, September 12, 2013

History mystery: Pueblo Bonito, A settlement lost in the desert -2

Religion and ritual were the common bonds of the people of each pueblo. The central courtyard of Pueblo Bonito had several large semi-subterranean ceremonial chambers, or kivas, for use by the community as a whole – the biggest is almost 20m (66ft) across. Each contains a brick bench which runs all the way round the room, surrounding a central hearth. The inhabitants lived in rooms which measured about 5m by 4m (16ft by 13ft). Roofs consisted of two strong cross beams, supporting a series of wooden logs which were covered in matting made of willow bark and branches. The whole roof was then covered with adobe. The construction of the pueblo was a mammoth undertaking: the timbers had to be carried to the canyon from 80km (50 miles) away. The rooms at the bottom of the complex opened onto the central courtyard, but those at the top had no doors or windows and were reached by a ladder through a hole in the roof. They were probably used as granaries. Above them stretched the flat roofs on which the inhabitants worked. The building was insulated from extremes of hot and cold by the thickness of the walls. Floors wee covered with willow-bark and the beds with furs. The inhabitants depended on agriculture. They planted maze, beans, and pumpkins, and over the years they developed special irrigation techniques to cope with their dry, hot climate. Rainwater and cliff run-off was stored in cisterns and distributed by countless small channels which ran across the fields. They would crush the daily ration of maize into flour using a flat millstone, or metate, and a stone pounder. Then they made small biscuits – like Mexican tortillas of today – which they baked on fires and stuffed with meat, beans, or nuts.

The Pueblo Bonito Indians were an industrious people. Most of the daily work was done on the roofs of the settlement. The men were particularly skilled at weaving bags, belts and blankets on looms. The women made huge cotton ponchos and fashioned sandals from the leaves of the yucca plant. Perhaps the most impressive legacy of the Pueblo Bonito Indians is their elaborate pottery. Unusual among ancient societies, all the potters seem to have been women. Bowls, pitchers and ladles were their specialty, and these were decorated with geometric patterns. They made blankets from the feathers of the turkeys they kept, and from the parrots and macaws they imported from the south. Attracted by the people’s skills, merchants traveled to Pueblo Bonito from the heartlands of Mexico to the south to sell birds, and from the Pacific coast to sell seashells. In return, they took back sculpted ornaments. But the most highly prized treasures were the Indians’ turquoise beads and mosaics. One necklace, found in an Anasazi tomb, was made of 2500 tiny turquoise beads, each one lovingly smoothed on sandstone tablets and drilled with a sharpened flint. Rainfall was always a critical factor influencing settlement in the American south-west. Around 1130 a period of drought began that lasted 50 or so years. The people of Pueblo Bonito and Chaco Canyon began to move to other regions, such as Mesa Verde in Colorado. Another long period of drought in the 13th century finally set the seal on the Anasszi’s decline. By the beginning of the 14th century, their great communal dwellings were abandoned. Their inhabitants settled on the more fertile plateaus where their descendants, Pueblo Indian tribes such as the Zunis and the Hopis, still live today. The original villages disappeared under a covering of sand and were consigned to centuries of oblivion.

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