April 20, 2014

Chaco Canyon Roads

Chaco Canyon Roads by Allen W. Manning

By Allen W. Manning

The road to discovery is often bumpy and long, none could better describe the path taken into Chaco Canyon for our first day of investigation and discovery.  But it is not the current well used road into the canyon I find interesting.

Not easily visible to the amature or untrained eye (that would be me) are the thousand-year-old roads, most straight and smooth for miles that carried ancient commerce and people through the canyon.
It was once said in Europe that all roads lead to Rome, well Chaco is the Rome of the North American continent.

In John Kantner’s paper “Chaco Road” he elaborates on research into the wide and rather straight system of roadways thus far found emanating from Chaco.

“Chaco roads are notoriously wide, with most ranging 8-10 m in width, but there is considerable variability. Nials (1983) notes that the larger, well-defined roads located near major sites average 9 m in width, while isolated ‘spur’ roads tend to measure half this.

“A single roadway can be much wider near an architectural site, but then narrow to a mere two meters and exhibit few distinguishable features in remote areas where the terrain is more restrictive.

“Determining the depth of Chaco roads has also proven to be difficult. Many suspected roads exhibit significant amounts of gullying, while border elements such as large berms exaggerate the actual depth below ground level. In fact, the majority of suspected roadways have no topographic expression at all, either because they were never excavated into the surface during road construction or because natural processes have destroyed them (Nials 1983:6-15).  Less frequent are roads that were excavated to hard-packed soil to form a roadbed; these range 10-50 cm in depth (Vivian 1995:17).  A few road segments were actually excavated into sandstone bedrock, apparently in order to delineate the road.”

Much of what has been found leads to more questions. How and why did a society with no known beast of burden other than bipedal humanoids without the advent of the wheel create and use such a detailed road system.

It is believed that many of the roads were constructed around 1000 AD near the end of then occupation of Chaco Canyon. But dating the roads is difficult and most rely on discarded pottery found along the paths, possible broken trade good vessels left by passing travelers.

 Much that is known comes from supposition and few hard evidential markers. Elaborate stone walls tightly constructed, overplayed with plaster and ornamented with paintings adorned not only the housing cities, but also may have covered the sides of the roadways. Several structures along each side of the miles of straight road are marked by mounds, masonry walls and markers.

Could the builders purpose for the roads be any different than our own modern needs? How did they transport more than 600,000 timbers from more than 100 miles away to construct these 12 cities and why here? This bumpy and unexplained path of discovery continues to lead researchers down dark alleys and into blind corners. But they, we still seek the answers of the Anasazi.

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