Item Details

Chimney Rock and the Ontology of Skyscapes: How Astronomy, Trade, and Pilgrimage Transformed Chimney Rock

Issue: Vol 1 No. 1 (2015)

Journal: Journal of Skyscape Archaeology

Subject Areas:

DOI: 10.1558/jsa.v1i1.26954


Because of its architectural style and excellent masonry, the Great House of Chimney Rock in southwestern Colorado has been identified as one of some 225 outliers of the Chaco Regional System. Located just below the spectacular double rock towers, the Great House is set in a dramatic and unique skyscape containing a number of sight-lines to extremes of the Sun and Moon. Once considered important as a calendrical station, which communicated astronomical information southward to Chaco Canyon, the Great House may have been primarily important as a place for viewing the juxtaposition of the gods of earth and sky, a theophany similar to that of darśan of India. This paper proposes that the initial identification of a number of skyscapes as horizon calendars and calendrical stations should be reconsidered in the perspective of animism and alternate ontologies. Construction of the Great House may have been initiated by the local community and accomplished with the help of masons from its closest neighbour the Great House of Salmon. The area appears to have become a pilgrimage centre in its own right, not under hegemonic control of the powerful elites of Chaco Canyon. Rejection of the Chacoan influence is indicated by the construction by the local community of a structure that restricted entry to the area of the Great House. The decline of Chimney Rock as a pilgrimage centre sometime after 1093 AD was accompanied by the abandonment of the Salmon Great House, the breakup up of a trade network, and out-migration to the Taos Pueblo.

Author: J. McKim Malville

View Original Web Page

References :

Adams, R. K. 1980. “Salmon Ruin: Site Chronology and Formation Processes”. In Investigation at the Salmon Site: The Structure of Chacoan Society in the Northern Southwest, edited by C. Irwin-Williams and P. Shelley, 197–238. Portales: Eastern New New Mexico University.

Alberti, B. and T. Bray, 2009. “Animating Archaeology: Of Subject, Objects and Alternative Ontologies”. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 19 (3): 337–343.

Alberti, B., S. Fowles, M. Holbraad, Y. Marshall and C. Whitmore, 2011. “Worlds Otherwise: Archaeology, Anthropology, and Ontological Difference”. Current Anthropology 52 (6): 896–912.

Alberti, B. and Y. Marshall, 2009. “Animating Archaeology: Local Theories and Conceptually Open-ended Methodologies”. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 19 (3): 344–356.

Ashmore, W., 2007. “Building Social History at Pueblo Bonito: Footnotes to a Biography of Place”. In The Architecture of Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, edited by S. H. Lekson, 179–198. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press.

Baker, L. L. 2006. “Preservation at Salmon Pueblo”. In Thirty-Five Years of Archaeological Research at Salmon Ruins, New Mexico: Volume One: Introduction, Architecture, Chronology, and Conclusions, edited by P. Reed 297–326. Tucson, NM: Center for Desert Archaeology and Bloomfield, NM: Salmon Ruins Museum.

Baker, L. L., 2008. “Salmon Ruins: Architecture and Development of a Chacoan Satellite on the San Juan River”. In Chaco’s Northern Prodigies: Salmon, Aztec, and the Ascendancy of the Middle San Juan Region after AD 1100, edited by P. Reed, 29–41. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press.

Bauer, B. and C. Stanish, 2001. Ritual and Pilgrimage in the Ancient Andes: The Islands of the Sun and Moon. Austin: The University of Texas Press.

Bray, T., 2009. “An Archaeological Perspective on the Andean Concept of Camaquen: Thinking Through the Late Pre-Columbian Ofrendas and Huacas”. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 19 (3): 357–366.

Brown, G. M., T. C. Windes and P. McKenna, 2008. “Animas Anamnesis, Aztec Ruins or Anasazi Capital?” In Chaco’s Northern Prodigies, Salmon, Aztec, and the Ascendancy of the Middle San Juan Region after AD 1100, edited by P. Reed, 231–250. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press.

Chuipka, J. and J. Fetterman, 2013. “Examining Orthodoxy in the Upper San Juan Region of the Northern Southwest”. Kiva 78 (4): 449–476.

Coleman, S. and J. Elsner, 1995. Pilgrimage: Past and Present in the World Religions. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

DuBois, R. L., 2008. Geomagnetic Results, Secular Variation, and Archaeomagnetic Chronology, United States and Mesoamerica, including Archaeomagnetic Data and Time Assignments. Special Publication 2008-2, Oklahoma Geological Survey. Norman: The University of Oklahoma.

Durkheim, E., 1965 [1912]. The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. Joseph Ward Swain, trans. New York: Free Press.

Eade, J. and M. J. Sallnow, 1991. Contesting the Sacred: The Anthropology of Christian Pilgrimage. London: Routledge.

Eck, D. L., 1981. Darśan, Seeing the Divine Image in India. Chambersburg, PA: Anima Books.

Eddy, F. W., 1977. Archaeological Investigations at Chimney Rock Mesa 1970–1972. Memoirs of the Colorado Archaeological Society 1. Boulder, CO: US Forest Service and the University of Colorado.

Eliade, M., 1958. Patterns in Comparative Religion. New York: New American Library.

Fairchild G., J. M. Malville and N. J. Malville, 2007. “Chimney Rock as a Ceremonial Center and Port-of-Trade within the Chaco System”. In Viewing the Sky Through Past and Present Cultures: Selected Papers from the Oxford VII Conference on Archaeoastronomy, edited by T. Bostwick and B. Bates. Pueblo Grande Museum Anthropological Papers 15: 259–274. Phoenix: City of Phoenix Parks Recreation and Library.

Fowles, S. M., 2013. An Archaeology of Doings: Secularism and the Study of Pueblo Religion. Santa Fe, NM: School for Advanced Research Press.

Havel, R. M., 1993. Final Report of the Re-Excavation of the Site 5AA84, The Guard House in the High Mesa Group of the Chimney Rock Archaeological Area. Unpublished document on file at the Colorado Historical Society, Denver.

Henare, A., M. Holbraad and S. Wastell, 2007. Thinking through Things. London: Routledge.

Irwin-Williams, C., ed., 1972. “The Structure of Chacoan Society in the Northern Southwest: Investigations at the Salmon Site – 1972”. Special Issue, Eastern New Mexico University Contributions in Anthropology 4 (3).

Irwin-Williams, C. and P. H. Shelley, 1980. Investigations at the Salmon Site: The Structure of Chacoan Society in the Northern Southwest. Portales: Eastern New Mexico University.

Jeançon, J. A., 1922. Archaeological Research in the Northeastern San Juan Basin of Colorado During the Summer of 1921. Denver: The State Historical Society of Colorado and the University of Denver.

Judge, W. J., 1989. “Chaco Canyon-San Juan Basin”. In Dynamics of Southwestern Prehistory, edited by L. S. Cordell and G. J. Gumerman, 901–906. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Judge, W. J. and J. M. Malville, 2004. “Calendrical Knowledge and Ritual Power”. In Chimney Rock: The Ultimate Outlier, edited by J. M. Malville, 151–162. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

Kantner, J., 2004. “Great House Communities and the Chaco World”. In In Search of Chaco: New Approaches to an Archaeological Enigma, edited by D. G. Noble, 71–77. Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press.

Kantner, J. and N. Mahoney, 2000. “Chacoan Archaeology and Great House Communities”. In Great House Communities across the Chacoan Landscape, edited by J. Kantner and N. Mahoney, 1–15. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press.

Lekson, S. H., 2006a. “Chaco Matters”. In The Archaeology of Chaco Canyon, edited by S. H. Lekson, 3–44. Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research.

Lekson, S. H., 2006b. “Lords of the Great House: Pueblo Bonito as a Palace”. In Palaces and Power in the Americas, edited by J. J. Christie and P. J. Sarro, 99–114. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Lekson, S. H., 2011. “Chimney Rock and Chaco: Across the Wide San Juan” [online]. Accessed January 2015,

Lekson, S. H. 2015. The Chaco Meridian: One Thousand Years of Political and Religious Power in the Ancient Southwest Second Edition. Lantham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

Malville, J. M., 2004. Chimney Rock: The Ultimate Outlier. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

Malville, J. M., 2008a. “Astronomy and the Search for Meaning in the Mesa Verde Cosmos”. In A Century of Archaeological Research at Mesa Verde National Park, edited by L. Towle, 157–164. Mesa Verde National Park, CO: Mesa Verde Museum Association.

Malville, J. M., 2008b. Prehistoric Astronomy in the Southwest. Revised ed. Boulder, CO: Johnson Press.

Malville, J. M., 2014. “The Enigmas of Fajada Butte”. In Astronomy and Ceremony in the Prehistoric Southwest: Revisited, edited by G. E. Munson, T. W. Bostwick and T. Hull. Maxwell Museum of Anthropology, Anthropological Papers 9: 29–42. Albuquerque, NM: University of Albuquerque.

Malville, J. M., 2015. “Machu Picchu”. In Handbook of Archaeoastronomy and Ethnoastronomy, edited by C. L. N. Ruggles, 878–891. New York: Springer.

Malville, J. M., F. W. Eddy and C. Ambruster, 1991. “Moonrise at Chimney Rock”. Archaeoastronomy (Supplement to the Journal for the History of Astronomy) 16: S34–S50.

Malville, J. M. and N. Malville, 2001a. “Pilgrimage and Astronomy in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico”. In Pilgrimage Studies: The Power of Sacred Places, edited by D. P. Dubey, 206–241. Allahabad, India: Society of Pilgrimage Studies.

Malville, J. M. and N. Malville, 2001b. “Pilgrimage and Periodic Festivals as Processes of Social Integration in Chaco Canyon”. Kiva 66 (3): 327–344.

Malville, J. M. and A. M. Munro, 2010. “Cultural Identity, Continuity, and Astronomy in Chaco Canyon”. Archaeoastronomy 23: 62–81.

Marshall, B. and L. Baker, 2014. “A Proposed Solar/Lunar Observation Station at Salmon Pueblo”. In Astronomy and Ceremony in the Prehistoric Southwest: Revisited, edited by G. E. Munson, T. W. Bostwick, and T. Hull. Maxwell Museum of Anthropology, Anthropological Papers 9: 101–108. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico.

Morinis, A., 1992. “Introduction: The Territory of the Anthropology of Pilgrimage”. In Sacred Journeys: The Anthropology of Pilgrimage, edited by A. Morinis, 1–28. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Munro, A. M., 2011. The Astronomical Context of the Archaeology and Architecture of the Chacoan Culture. PhD Diss., Centre for Astronomy, James Cook University.

Munro, A. M. and J. M. Malville, 2011. “Ancestors and the Sun: Astronomy, Architecture and Culture at Chaco Canyon”. In Archaeoastronomy and Ethnoastronomy: Building Bridges Between Cultures, edited by C. L. N. Ruggles. Proceedings of the International Astronomical Union 7, Symposium S278: 255–264. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Olsen, B., M. Shanks, T. Webmore and C. Witmore, 2012. Archaeology: The Discipline of Things. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Parker, D., 2004. “Changing Settlement Patterns”. In Chimney Rock: The Ultimate Outlier, edited by J. M. Malville, 51–60. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

Parsons, E. C., 1939. Pueblo Indian Religion. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Reed, P. F., 2008. “Salmon Pueblo as a Ritual and Residential Chacoan Great House”. In Chaco’s Northern Prodigies: Salmon, Aztec, and the ascendancy of the Middle San Juan Region after AD 1100, edited by P. Reed, 42–64. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press.

Sachs, M., 1974. Ideas of the Theory of Relativity: General Implications from Physics to Problems of Society. Jerusalem: Israel Universities Press.

Seibel, S., 2013. “New Rock-Art Discoveries on Fajada Butte, Chaco Culture National Historical Park”. Paper presented at the Congress of the International Federation of Rock Art Organizations, Albuquerque, New Mexico, May 26–31.

Sillar, B., 2009. “The Social Agency of Things? Animism and Materiality in the Andes”. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 19 (3): 367–377.

Snelling, J., 1990. The Sacred Mountain. London: East-West Publications.

Sofaer, A., 2008. Chaco Astronomy: An Ancient American Cosmology. Santa Fe, NM: Ocean Tree Books.

Stanley, J. M., 1992. “The Great Maharastrian Pilgrimage: Pandharpur and Alandi”. In Sacred Journeys: The Anthropology of Pilgrimage, edited by A. Morinis, 65–87. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Stevenson, M. C., 1904. “The Zuni Indians: Their Mythology, Esoteric Fraternities, and Ceremonies”. In Twenty-third Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology for the Years 1901–1902, 3–634. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.

Sullivan, M., 2004 “Clusters of Clay: The Feather Holders of Chimney Rock”. In Chimney Rock: The Ultimate Outlier, edited by J. M. Malville, 61–77. Lanham, MD: Lexington books.

Swentzell, R., 1997. “An Understated Sacredness”. In Anasazi Architecture and American Design, edited by B. H. Morrow and V. B. Price, 186–189. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

Todd, B. K., 2012. “Chimney Rock, an Eleventh Century Chacoan Great House: Export, Emulation, or Something Else?” PhD Diss., University of Colorado.

Turner, V., 1979. The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure. Chicago: Aldine Publishing Company.

Turner, V. and E. Turner, 1978. Image and Pilgrimage in Christian Culture: Anthropological Perspectives. New York: Columbia University Press.

Tyler, H., 1964. Pueblo Gods and Myths. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Van Dyke, R. M., 2007. The Chaco Experience: Landscape and Ideology at the Center Place. Santa Fe, NM: School for Advanced Research Press.

Webster, L. D., 1983. An Archaeological Survey of the West Rim of the Piedra River. Durango, CO: USDA Forest Service, San Juan National Forest.

Windes, T. C., 1978. Stone Circles of Chaco Canyon. Reports of the Chaco Center 5. Albuquerque, NM: Division of Chaco Research, National Park Service.

Young, M. J., 2005. “Astronomy in Pueblo and Navajo World Views”. In Songs from the Sky: Indigenous Astronomical and Cosmological Traditions of the World, edited by V. D. Chamberlain, J. B. Carlson, M. J. Young and C. L. N. Ruggles, 49–64. Bognor Regis, UK: Ocarina Books.

Ziegler, G. and J. M. Malville, 2013. Machu Picchu’s Sacred Sisters, Choquequirao and Llactapata: Astronomy, Symbolism, and Sacred Geometry in the Inca Heartland. Boulder, CO: Johnson Books.