Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Architecture of the Southwest

Van Dyke, Ruth M.
2004 Memory, Meaning, and Masonry: The Late Bonito Chacoan Landscape. American Antiquity 69:413-431.

The article discusses the architecture of the Late Benito phase AD 1100 - 1140 of Chaco Canyon of the northwest part of present-day New Mexico. The Late Benito phase followed the Classic Bonito Phase (AD 1020 - 1100) which was a time when Chaco was at its height, a ritual center with material wealth and a complex sociopolitical structure. Because of climate change and new political centers such as Aztec, the Late Benito phase was a time of less prosperity. Van Dyke claims that Chaco leaders wanted to instill support from the people so they built new Great Houses. The author says that because these new Great Houses used some of the same stylistic elements from the Classic Bonito phase, their architecture invoked social memory. This social memory linked the leaders of the Late Benito phase to the abundance and power that Chaco had in the Classic Benito phase. Thus, Chaco was able to hold on to their status of being a “Center Place.”
Van Dyke states that due to sacred geography, Chaco Canyon served as a Center Place. The Great North Road and the South Road, the longest roads of Chaco, run directly north and south 50 km from Chaco. In addition, there are archaeoastronomical structures at Chaco such as Sun Dagger that follow astronomical alignments. Symbolically, these aspects make Chaco Canyon a spatial and temporal center. Ethnography of contemporary Pueblos shows that Pueblo peoples place an emphasis on dualism, balance, spatial divisions and that the center place where the six sacred directions (the cardinal directions, the zenith, and the nadir) meet. Van Dyke claims that the architects manipulated the architecture, landscape, and astronomical alignments to make Chaco a center place.
Van Dyke focuses on six Great Houses: Casa Chiquita, Headquarters Site A, Kin Klesto, New Alto, Tsin Kletsin, and Wijiji. They continue the Classic Benito style of architecture by using core-and-veneer masonry; however, incorporate elements of the McElmo style, a style of the Late Benito phase, as well. Wijiji is a transitional piece between the Classical and Late Benito phases because of the layout. The other five consist of McElmo units in which rectangular rooms are arranged around an enclosed kiva. Apart from the new Great Houses, modifications were made at Penasco Blanco, Pueblo Bonito, Chetro Ketl, Pueblo Alto, and Pueblo del Arroyo that incorporated McElmo style masonry. Late Benito Great Houses had second parallel walls that added mass to the architecture that was planned by the architects in order to symbolize their power or strength. Also, the place of the Great Houses on the land had symbolic meaning. Tsin Kletsin was placed due south of Pueblo Alto and in respect to New Alto, their positions create a new north-south axis that is based on the Classic Benito phase but, according to Van Dyke, establishes Late Benito phase builders as new and more powerful than leaders of the previous time period. Tsin Kletsin and New alto are very visible because of their elevation, thus they represent the vertical direction. Casa Chiquita, Kin Kletso, Headquarters Site A, and Wijiji represent the low direction because of their lower elevation.
According to Van Dyke, the Late Bonito leaders wished to re-establish Chaco as a center place so they used social memory to reiterate Classic Benito style and used their own unique style to establish themselves as a new power. Their architecture reflected elements of the Chaco culture that were significant, such as duality and and a center place, in order to bolster confidence in the leaders of the new time period. Van Dyke’s article is important because it seeks to explain stylistic changes in the architecture and the significance of aspects of the Great Houses such as their location. Because Chaco Canyon is one of the most monumental places of the Southwest, it is vital to understand the reasons behind why its architecture was created in the way it was, and thus we are able to understand more about the culture that created it.


Snygg, John and Tom Windes.
1998 Long, Wide Roads and Great Kiva Roofs. Kiva 64: 7-25.

One of the exceptional characteristics of Chaco Canyon is the the extensive number of roads that are both far-reaching and wide that run north, west and south of Chaco. The roads were created by clearing loose rock as well as vegetation. Nearer to the sites, some roads have short walls and ramps. The purpose for the roads presented by the authors is to transport timber needed for the great kivas. The climate of the area was not much different than present-day conditions and thus timber was transported from up to 75 km away from Chaco where the elevation was sufficient to grow the tree species used for architecture.
The authors focus on the largest Chaco great kivas Chetro Ketl I and II and Casa Rinconda. These were built between AD 1050 and 1080 and were of high quality as evidenced by the masonry walls. These great kiva roofs were supported by columns that were very large. At Casa Rinconda, the timber used was up to 61 cm in diameter. At Chetro Ketl I and II, the diameter was more than 67 cm. The size of these great kivas required larger timber than what used in earlier times. In order to carry massive timber to the sites, a number of workers would each to have carry part the timber. Although it has been suggested that roads were not necessary for timber carrying, the authors conclude that they would be needed because carriers would not be able to choose their foot placement as they walked if they were packed tightly together. Therefore, wide roads were necessary to transport the timber. Snygg and Windes state that the wide roads, up to 8 to 12 m, would have been built around AD 1030 due evidenced by the ceramic dates on the North Road. Also, usage of roads was during the period of AD 1050-1100. Thus it can be assumed that wide roads were created to transport massive timber needed for great kivas.
The authors acknowledge that there were more roads than necessary to transport the timber needed for the great kivas. They suggest that either many outlier communities were called upon to build the roads, that these outlier communities could have needed the roads for construction of their own kivas, or that the roads have a ritual purpose as well. Snygg and Windes also point out that the roads are very straight and this atypicality could be because turning with large timber is difficult.
Chaco’s wide and extensive roads are an interesting anomaly. Understanding the roads are useful in understanding more about the culture that created them and thus is a vital undertaking.

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