Deeper Insights: Chaco Canyon Trip Aids Comparison Of Ancient Cultures

Feb. 6, 2019


The twisting, turning landscape of northern New Mexico may first appear to have little in common with other places, particularly Rapa Nui (known popularly as Easter Island). Yet for the students of Dr. Terry Hunt’s Honors Seminar, the contrasts are eclipsed by the similarities. As a recent field trip revealed, “Research and Changing Perspectives on Rapa Nui (Easter Island)” contains lessons about surviving in challenging environments by both adapting and transforming them. Far from popular tales of “eco-side” committed by their inhabitants, their stories are far more complex. According to Dr. Hunt, now dean of the Honors College, “Chaco Canyon is one of the most well-preserved and largest of ancient Puebloan sites in the world: It is comprised of multiple great houses and pueblos. I wanted students to engage with history and be curious about what life was like for those who had lived there 1,000 years before.”


Honors student Savannah Perno took every opportunity to glean knowledge and insight from her instructor, an internationally acclaimed archaeologist. “I was surprised by how much scientific analysis had been done at the sites. I was not aware of all of the applications of environmental science techniques (dendrochronology, carbon dating included) that are used in archaeology.” While many of the “when” and “how” questions spurred by Chaco Canyon have been confidently answered by researchers, the “why” of the site’s location remains the subject of debate. In the same way, parallel inquiries about Rapa Nui are being rethought with new data being unearthed as well as revealed through drone imaging. Dr. Hunt is largely responsible for a series of non-destructive research projects, mobilizing Honors College students equipped with drone cameras and satellite imagery. As recently as May, a University of Arizona team journeyed to Chile to gather, study and reflect on the history of a remote culture.


With the ability to explore across academic and professional disciplines, the Honors College team found Chaco Canyon is not only an important Puebloan research destination but also a place to reflect on their place in history. Something made more powerful in the long shadows of late afternoon, with an illusive breeze that seemed to carry the sounds of the past to patient seminar students.

Photography by Dean Terry Hunt & Aviva Doery.