The centerpiece of that park is Frijoles Canyon, former home to the Ancestral Pueblo people.
Never heard of that place or those people?
That’s not surprising, I suppose. They disappeared from their canyon and assimilated into other tribes and cultures back in the 16th century.
But here’s the thing: when they finally left it was after 400 YEARS in that canyon. They had occupied their little corner of the world from about 1150 to 1550. Four centuries!
Take a second and think about that.
Or maybe compare it to the history of the United States of America.
Let’s see: 1776 until 2018 is 242 years. All the elapsed time from the days of George Washington and Benjamin Franklin to now is just a little over half the number of years the Ancestral Pueblo people occupied their canyon.
And now that I have started reading and studying about the history of the world again—I was just 15 the first time and did not have what you would call a mature perspective on everything that had happened in the previous 30,000 years — I see that the 400 year culture of the Ancestral Pueblo people is just a hiccup on the great timeline of history.
They were doing incredible things in the ancient cultures of Egypt and Greece and Mesopotamia for THOUSANDS of years. Thousands! Never mind what was going on and for how long in China and India.
Modern world history references do a much better — and more objective — job of explaining ancient cultures than did my fat, gray World History textbook in 1962.
But, as I said, I think my day in Frijoles Canyon last year sparked my interest in learning about how we got from life in the original hostile world to where we are today.
At Bandelier National Monument, I could see the actual dwellings of the people who had occupied Frijoles Canyon for those four centuries. Some were carved right into the canyon walls while others were constructed on the canyon floor in elaborate communal living structures.
On the February day I was there, the sky was New Mexico blue and the sun was brilliant. The canyon walls blocked the breeze, and it was easy to envision the Ancestral Pueblo families living there nearly 600 years ago.
As with the rest of the world at that time, they were no longer a hunter-gather culture. They stayed put. They were farmers, cultivating corn and beans and squash which they supplemented with meat from wild game and turkeys they had domesticated.
Colorful artwork—created nearly six centuries ago, mind you—can still be seen on the walls of their cliffside homes.
That canyon was not only their community, it was pretty much their whole world. For 400 years!
And, as my recent studies have reminded me, that’s the way it was all over the world for centuries. There were no countries or political entities. Each community was its own “state.”
It was not idyllic or perfect. There were droughts and crop failures and invasions by outsiders who did horrible things to them.
But my point is simply how long these ancient societies existed. Hundreds of years for the Ancestral Pueblo people and the Incans and Aztecs and Romans; thousands of years for the Egyptians and Persians and Chinese and others.
It has been wonderfully thought-provoking and humbling for me to be reminded of all this.
There is much more, of course, and from time to time in coming months I will be sharing more of my adult journey through world history.
Jim Busek is a free-lance writer who lives in Norwalk. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected] hotmail.com.