Presentation #105.03 in the session Daytime and Dark Sky Heritage in American Southwestern Archaeoastronomy.
An ever-present challenge in cultural astronomy is the attempt to identify meaning and intentionality in cultures that have ontologies incommensurate with those originating in western European Enlightenment thinking. For example, why were 15 Great Houses built in such a resource poor location as Chaco Canyon? For approximately a century it was the center of the Chaco Regional system which covered some 30.000 sq miles. The origin stories of Zuni and Hopi provide one clue that the canyon may have been understood as a place of origin, a sipapu, the passageway through which Puebloan ancestors ascended from worlds below. Non-functional stairways built in the canyon walls suggest ritual ascent out of the canyon. As viewed from the Great Kiva 29SJ1253 in the Fajada Gap, the December solstice sun rises over Fajada Butte. This unexcavated Great Kiva is the second largest in the canyon and was situated such that someone emerging from its dark interior would have seen the sunrise over the summit of Fajada butte, possibly the clearest demonstration of ritual visual astronomy in the Canyon. There are hints of a road leading to the base of the butte. A complex series of carved steps and scaffolding provided access to the summit of the butte, which provides another suggestion of ritual ascent. Other questions involve the ontological nature of Great Houses themselves. Were Puebloan structures such as these alive and agenic and, perhaps, more important than their inhabitants? A major cultural transformation occurred during the last decade of the 11th century. The drought of 1090-1100 CE may have shattered belief in the efficacy of its great festivals; the approximately 300 yearlong matrimonial dynasty in Pueblo Bonito ended; ethnic conflict may have resulted in the reorientation of Pueblo Bonito; and a total solar eclipse occurred on 11 July 1097. By 1140 the leaders left the canyon and moved northward. But the canyon and its magnificent buildings were not totally abandoned. Its legacy of astronomy spread throughout the region, and the sacred places of the canyon continued to be visited.