DER Documentary

The Chaco Legacy

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From the Odyssey series
by Graham Chedd
Executive Producer, Michael Ambrosino
color, 59 min, 1980

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In 1849, a U.S. Army expedition in New Mexico came upon the first monumental stone ruins ever discovered in North America. By the 1920s, excavations had revealed the remains of a remarkable community, constructed entirely of mortarless masonry, which flourished nine hundred years ago in the Chaco Canyon. The community, Pueblo Bonito, was in fact a township, which included 800 living and storage rooms, as well as several large kiva: underground, circular ceremonial chambers. Archaeologists have traced the growth of Pueblo Bonito, on the basis of masonry techniques, pottery designs, and tree-ring dates, and have concluded that the settlement grew rapidly within a few hundred years.

Pueblo Bonito was not an isolated community in the desert. It was one of about a dozen equally impressive stone townships that once prospered on the northern side of Chaco Canyon. Around this center, archaeologists have suggested, more than seventy outlying settlements were linked through an extensive network of roads. The entire Chacoan area may have extended over 40,000 square miles in the San Juan Basin. This film explores the implications of these findings, and hypothesizes the reasons for the spectacular growth of this new kind of society, in which sophisticated irrigation systems, the uncertain environment, and widespread trading networks were all important factors.

The Chacoans built their civilization in a fragile environment (perhaps in part because of it), and eventually, their technology may have been pushed beyond its limits. Around 1150 A.D., a climatic change in which a rainfall decrease may have occurred, fatally disrupted the delicate balance of the Chacoans with their desert homeland. Their splendid cities were suddenly abandoned, totally deserted by the early thirteenth century. The inhabitants left no traces; it is thought that they must have returned to smaller, more dispersed settlements, similar to those from which their ancestors had come, several centuries before the demise of Chaco civilization.

About the Odyssey series
In an attempt to cut the often esoteric ice of anthropology, PBS released in 1980 the first season of ODYSSEY, a newly-created series of anthropological documentaries, with a second season in 1981. The entire series was produced by Public Broadcasting Associates of Boston, with major funding by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Additional funding was provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Polaroid. Michael Ambrosino is the Executive Producer of the series.

Film Festivals, Screenings, Awards
American Film Festival Finalist

Related Resources:
Sipapu – Anasazi Information Resource

Other films in the Odyssey series:
The Ancient Mariners
Ben's Mill
Dadi's Family
Franz Boas
The Incas
Little Injustices
Maasai Women
Margaret Mead: Taking Note
Maya Lords of the Jungle
Myths and the Moundbuilders
N!ai, The Story of a !Kung Woman
Ongka's Big Moka
On the Cowboy Trail
Other People's Garbage
Seeking the First Americans
The Three Worlds of Bali

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