When we finally hurled ourselves over the rimrock to the top of the little mesa, the ruins of the old city of Puyé spread before us. Amid purple blooms of cholla cactus, piñon pines and sagebrush, two watchtowers rose above the narrow spine of the mesa top, guarding the crumbling walls of houses that once sheltered more than 1,500 people. I was immediately struck by the defensive nature of the site: an acropolis set high above the corn, squash and bean fields in the valley below; a city fortified against the inevitable outbreaks turbulence and violence unleashed by periods of prolonged scarcity.
The ground sparkled with potsherds, the shattered remnants of exquisitely crafted bowls and jars, all featuring dazzling polychromatic glazes. Some had been used to haul water up the cliffs of the mesa, an arduous and risky daily ordeal that surely would only have been undertaken during a time of extreme environmental and cultural stress. How did the people end up here? Where did they come from? What were they fleeing?“
They came here after the lights went out at Chaco,” Elijah tells me. He’s referring to the great houses of Chaco Canyon, now besieged by big oil. Chaco, the imperial city of the Anasazi, was ruled for four hundred years by a stern hierarchy of astronomer-priests until it was swiftly abandoned around 1250 AD.
“Why did they leave?” I asked.
“Something bad happened, after the waters ran out.” He won’t go any further and I don’t press him.
Source: Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone