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No. 97: Jan-Feb 1995

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Whence the 200,000 logs of chaco canyon?

Previously (SF#46), we introduced you to one of the many mysteries of New Mexico's Chaco Canyon; namely, the unknown source of the huge numbers of logs required to roof the many structures in this fantastic complex. (Pueblo Bonito alone contains some 600 rooms!) As many as 200,000 pine and fir trees had to be cut down and transported as much as 50 miles, for no sizable trees grow near Chaco Canyon today. There is no consensus as to where all these trees were felled.

S. Durand, an archeologist from Eastern New Mexico University, Portales, has developed a technique for identifying the sources of logs. He tries to match trace elements in the Chaco Canyon logs with those in living trees in today's forests. The different bedrocks underlying the various forests supply different quantities of such trace elements as barium and manganese.

Preliminary results suggest that the early building period in Chaco Canyon, circa 900 AD, employed trees from many different sites. During the peak building period a century later, all logs used carried the same concentrations of trace elements and, therefore, probably came from the same forest. Durand's next step is to locate this forest and figure out how the builders of Chaco Canyon, the Anasazi, managed to tote the logs, some weighing 600 pounds, 50 miles or more.

(Mestel, Rosie; "Where Did Desert Builders Get Their Wood?" New Scientist, p. 10, August 6, 1994.)

From Science Frontiers #97, JAN-FEB 1995. 1995-2000 William R. Corliss