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Great Houses, Shrines, and High Places: Intervisibility in the Chacoan World

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017

Ruth M. Van Dyke*
Affiliation:
Department of Anthropology, Binghamton University–SUNY, Binghamton, NY 13902
R. Kyle Bocinsky
Affiliation:
Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, 23390 Road K, Cortez, CO 81321 and Department of Anthropology, Washington State University, Pullman, WA 99164-4910 (bocinsky@wsu.edu)
Thomas C. Windes
Affiliation:
Department of Anthropology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131 (windes@unm.edu)
Tucker J. Robinson
Affiliation:
Dolores, CO 81323 (tuck.robinson@gmail.com)

Abstract

Phenomenological archaeologists and GIS scholars have turned much attention to visibility—who can see whom, and what can be seen—across ancient landscapes. Visible connections can be relatively easy to identify, but they present challenges to interpretation. Ancient peoples created intervisible connections among sites for purposes that included surveillance, defense, symbolism, shared identity, and communication. In the American Southwest, many high places are intervisible by virtue of the elevated topography and the open skies. The Chaco phenomenon, centered in northwestern New Mexico between A.D. 850 and 1140, presents an ideal situation for visibility research. In this study, we use GIS-generated viewsheds and viewnets to investigate intervisible connections among great houses, shrines, and related features across the Chacoan landscape. We demonstrate that a Chacoan shrine network, likely established during the mid-eleventh century, facilitated intervisibility between outlier communities and Chaco Canyon. It is most likely that the Chacoans created this network to enable meaningful connections for communication and identity. We conclude that the boundaries of the Chaco phenomenon are defined in some sense by intervisibility.

Arqueólogos fenomenológicos y académicos que trabajan con SIG han puesto su atención en la visibilidad—quién puede ver a quién y qué se puede ver—a través de antiguos paisajes. Las conexiones visibles pueden ser relativamente fáciles de identificar, pero presentan desafíos a la interpretación. Los antiguos habitantes crearon conexiones intervisibles entre los sitios confines que incluyen la vigilancia, defensa, simbolismo, identidad compartida y la comunicación. En el suroeste de Estados Unidos, muchos lugares altos son intervisibles en virtud de su topografía elevada y los cielos abiertos. El fenómeno del Chaco, centrado en el noroeste de Nuevo México entre los años 850–1140 d.C., presenta una situación ideal para la investigación de la visibilidad. En este estudio, utilizamos cuencas y redes visuales generadas mediante SIG para investigar las conexiones intervisibles entre grandes casas, altares y estructuras relacionadas a través del paisaje del Chaco. Se demuestra que una red de altares de Chaco, probablemente establecida a mediados del siglo XI d.C., facilitó la intervisibilidad entre las comunidades atípicas y el Cañón del Chaco. Lo más probable es que los habitantes del Chaco crearan esta red para permitir conexiones significativas para la comunicación y la identidad. Concluimos que los límites del fenómeno Chaco se definen en algún sentido por la intervisibilidad.

Type
Articles
Copyright
Copyright © 2016 by the Society for American Archaeology.

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