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Analysis: Chaco Culture NHP teaches lessons about perils of entrenched conservatism

During the eighth century, a new kind of civilization arose in New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon. It started a social movement that swept across what is now the U.S. Southwest, transforming people’s beliefs about how to live, worship and farm. For the next six centuries, Ancestral Puebloan peoples built their communities in imitation of the ones at Chaco, celebrating its culture. But as generations passed, that culture became a rigid tradition, representing a history that some people wanted to escape. As the 14th century drew to a close, the entire Chaco population abandoned the canyon, never to return.

For archaeologists, the Chaco phenomenon offers a chance to understand the rise and fall of a cultural ideal. Though this ideal may have originated between the walls of Chaco Canyon, its power reached far beyond. When conditions changed, it appears that the Puebloan people survived only by letting go of tradition.


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