Chaco is an example of a prehistoric or protohistoric culture that is remarkable for its monumental public and ceremonial buildings and its distinctive architecture. The cultural sites of Chaco Culture National Historical Park They are part of the history and traditions of the Hopi, the Pueblo peoples of New Mexico, and the Navajo, who continue to respect and honour them. Chaco Canyon is the area with the highest concentration of archaeological sites of the whole zone.
For over 2,000 years, Pueblo peoples occupied a vast region of the south-western United States. In Chaco Canyon, a major centre of the ancestral Pueblo culture between 850 and 1250, many different clans and peoples created a community for ceremonials, trade, administrative and political activity in the prehistoric Four Corners area. In addition to the Chaco Culture National Historical Park, the World Heritage property includes the Aztec Ruins National Monument and several smaller Chaco sites.
The Anasazi, sedentary farmers as they were, occupied the greater part of the south-west of what is now the United States. Within this culture the Chacos appear as an autonomous group. This society is characterized by a very elaborate ground occupation system which includes a constellation of towns surrounded by satellite villages and linked by a road network, so characteristic of Chaco culture.
The zenith was from around 1020 to 1110. The highly organized reconstruction of old living places, such as Pueblo Bonito and Penasco Blanco, demonstrates their skill in the use of building techniques in a difficult environment. The Chaco people combined pre-planned architectural designs, astronomical alignments, geometry, landscaping and engineering to create an ancient urban centre of spectacular public architecture. Chaco was connected to over 150 communities throughout the region by engineered roads and a shared vision of the world.
At the same time it illustrates the increasing complexity of the Chaco social structure: circular kivas having an essentially religious role appeared on a regular basis in the middle of an increasingly differentiated unitary dwelling. More and more roads were built and the signs of extensive trading became more manifest (imports of ceramics and lithic materials, including turquoise). This phase was followed by a period of rapid decadence about 1110. From 1140 to 1200, the Chaco population died out and the pueblos were abandoned.
After 1250, the people migrated from the area, moving south, east and west to join relatives living on the Hopi Mesas, along the Rio Grande, and around Zuñi Mountain. The region remained practically uninhabited until the 17th century, when it was taken over by Navajo Indians.