Study: Commoners may have catered food for elite Chaco priests

By Staff

Jim Scott/University of Colorado at Boulder Chimney Rock in southwest Colorado.

Commoners living in the valley beneath Chimney Rock near Pagosa Springs, Colo., may have prepared catered meals for elite Chaco priests who lived closer to the rock's summit, according to University of Colorado archaeologists.

The findings, released in late July, suggest the priests were dining on elk and deer, unlike the workers who built community structures near the site and ate smaller game, said CU-Boulder Professor Steve Lekson, who directed the excavation.

Lekson said Chimney Rock was an "outlier" of the brawny Chaco Canyon culture, which was centered 90 miles away in northern New Mexico, and ruled the Southwest with a heavy hand from A.D. 850 to 1150. He said the group's elite leadership was likely tended to through a complex social, economic and political network.

"While our analysis has only begun, there might have been two different groups at Chimney Rock-those that built it and the elites that inhabited it," said Lekson, curator of anthropology at the CU Museum of Natural History. "It looks like the elites were calling the shots."

Seated at 7,600 feet above the San Juan Basin, Chimney Rock is perhaps the most dramatic of the scores of Chaco outliers in the Southwest. The site is marked by a pair of twin rock spires, and harbors a Chacoan-like "great house" and great kiva that some archaeologists believe workers built as part of a lunar observatory.