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Chaco Culture National Historical Park Natural Resource Records

Identifier: Coll 0200

Scope and Contents

Scope and Contents:

This collection contains records that capture and speak to the understanding and interpretation of the Natural Resources of the park. Included in this collection are records associated with research projects, studies, reports, data, park-wide annual inventories and counts, and other related documentation.


  • 1923-2011 (Bulk Dates: 1940-1999)


Biographical / Historical


Chaco Culture National Historical Park preserves one of America's most significant and fascinating cultural and historic areas. Chaco Canyon was a major center of ancestral Puebloan culture between AD 850 and 1250. It was a hub of ceremony, trade, and administration for the prehistoric Four Corners area - unlike anything before or since. The first sighting of these ruins in modern history was by an expedition led by Lieutenant James H. Simpson whose guide led them to the ruins of Pueblo Pintado. His enthusiastic report stirred little interest back home in Washington D. C. It was not until 1877 that a second exploration of the area that William Henry Jackson visited and photographed the ruins. Soon other visitors arrived at Chaco Canyon, notably the Mindeleff brothers of the American Bureau of Ethnology, and the Hyde Exploration Expedition, with Richard Wetherill, the explorer of Mesa Verde, and a student, George Pepper, a student from the Peabody Museum of Harvard University. Wetherill and Pepper did the first excavations at Pueblo Bonito, and Wetherill claimed a homestead in 1901 that included, among others, Pueblo Bonito and Chetro Ketl. By this time the self-trained Wetherill had become anathema to scholars trained in institutions, and eastern academics began to rally around an attempt to stop what they felt was wanton pot hunting and looting of antiquities in the American West. Land Office Agent S. J. Holsinger was assigned to investigate the activities of the Hyde expedition, and in addition to mapping the area, noting other significant structures, irrigation ditches and ancient roadways, he developed a personal animosity toward Wetherill. Holsinger’s research contributed towards passage of the American Antiquities Act in 1906, and in 1907 Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed Chaco Canyon National Monument. Wetherill then relinquished his claim. In 1921 Neil Judd, Curator of Archeology at the United States National Museum, in conjunction with the National Geographic Society, began the first federally authorized excavations on Chaco Canyon, focusing on Pueblo Bonito. Using technically sophisticated methods such as stratigraphy and dendochronology (the study of the age of tree rings), they focused less on collecting objects than answering questions about the meaning and purpose of the ruins. In 1929, Edward Hewett led a team from the Museum of New Mexico, the School of American Research, and the University of New Mexico. This excavation led to further refinements such as those of Florence Hawley Ellis in dendochronology and Gordon Vivian, an archeologist from Arizona State Museum, working with the National Park Service. By the mid 1930s researchers had learned much about the culture of Chaco Canyon, but it was becoming apparent that the approach using multi-agency teams had its drawbacks, mainly inter-agency squabbling about who could do what and by 1947 it was decided that one agency, the National Park Service, would be the head. Gordon Vivian was named head of archeology, and excavations of additional structures were expanded. CHCU 109791 15 The Chaco Center was established in 1971 by the National Park Service in conjunction with the University of New Mexico, first under Robert Lister and then James Judge as Directors. Its goal was to achieve a comprehensive view of the archeological sites, irrigation systems, road, petroglyphs, etc. New techniques such as remote sensing, photogrammetry, and thermography have aided in these studies of the outlier road system and the extensive network of canals and irrigation ditches. Despite the extensive work done in Chaco Canyon many fundamental questions remain to be answered, for example: the essential purpose of the Chaco network, and why it was abandoned. Research work will continue, but some answers may never be found. Information taken from: Strutin, Michele. Chaco: A Cultural Legacy, Tucson, Arizona: Southwest Parks & Monuments Association, 1994.


16 Linear Feet

Language of Materials




Arranged in 7 series, with 10 subseries: Series 001: Environmental Inventory and Monitoring Subseries 001.01: Environmental Assessment Projects Subseries 001.02: Environmental Monitoring Proposals and Reports Subseries 001.03: Night Skies

Series 002: Climatology and Air Quality

Series 003: Geology Subseries 003.01: Aerial Photography Subseries 003.02: Soil Studies Subseries 003.04: Structural and Interpretive

Series 004: Vegetation Subseries 004.01: Species Studies Subseries 004.02: Plant Mapping and Inventory

Series 005: Water/Hydrology

Series 006: Zoology

Series 007: Paleontology


Provenance: Found in collections at Chaco Culture National Historical Park
Finding Aid for Chaco Culture National Historical Park Natural Resource Records
Coll 0200
Ana-Elisa Arredondo, National Park Service Intermountain Region Museum Services Program Tucson, Arizona
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the NPS Chaco Culture NHP Repository

Hibben Center
Hibben Center Rm 306 - MSC01 1050
450 University Blvd NE
Albuquerque NM 87106 USA