Between 900 and 1150 CE, Chaco Canyon was home to an accomplished and highly organized people. It lies in north-western New Mexico, not far south of Farmington. In our day it’s a national historical park because of the archaeological remains to be found there. Jared Diamond gives a chapter of his book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive, to the Chaco Canyon culture.
Now Diamond is an impressive bloke, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction and twice winner of the Science Book Prize. He might not think much of my mining his work for tie-ins to a pulp writer’s fantasy story, but just the same, Chaco Canyon is part of REH’s fabulous southwest and its history. It’s also hard to resist as a place of origin for that mysterious person Ghost Man (“Old Garfield’s Heart”). Whether alive or dead as normal people understand the terms, Ghost Man was around the southwest for hundreds of years. He knew the conquistador Francisco Coronado in the mid-sixteenth century, and made an appearance in the Texas oil boom days of the twentieth, to take back the borrowed heart of an ancient god. He may have been far older than that.
Suppose that while he was mortal flesh and blood, he belonged to what we call the Anasazi culture. To quote Diamond, “The Anasazi did manage to construct in stone the largest and tallest buildings erected in North America until the Chicago steel girder skyscrapers of the 1880s.” Their heyday began around 600 CE and lasted – perhaps – until 1200. They passed at about the time Genghis Khan was conquering Asia.
The first farmers to inhabit Chaco Canyon lived in underground pit houses. After a hundred years they were – independently – developing architecture in stone. They had the numbers, the social organization and the techniques finally to create stone buildings five or six stories high, with hundreds of rooms. The roof supports were made of logs five yards long and weighing as much as seven hundred pounds. The living apartments were built around open plazas and large underground chambers called kivas, which seem to have developed from the primitive pit houses and to have been used for worship and magical ceremonies. They may be circular or square. Usual features are a bench around the wall, a central fireplace, a vent in the wall, and a small hole (“shipap”) in the floor. The shipap to the Pueblo peoples is a symbol of the passage through which the first human beings left the Underworld and reached the upper earth.
The greater kivas in Chaco Canyon were built between 1000 and 1100 CE – the latter date roughly the time of the First Crusade in Europe. Besides having considerable accomplishments in architecture, the people of Chaco Canyon observed the movements of celestial bodies and kept records of them. In the center of the canyon, on Fajada Butte, they carved a “Sun Dagger” on which a band of sunlight passing between two slabs fell precisely at the time of the Winter Solstice. The Summer Solstice is marked by a groove in the wall of the Great Kiva. The Anasazi of Chaco Canyon also recorded the unique occurrence of a supernova in the year 1054 CE. The light of that colossal conflagration had been travelling through space for four thousand years before it reached the Earth. It first became visible on July 10th, 1054, and its radiance was so bright – even after dispersing so widely — that it could be seen with the naked eye at midday, six times brighter than Venus. It stayed visible for 23 days. The remains of that exploding star are known to us today as the Crab Nebula, in the constellation Taurus. If it had been a hundred light-years away from us instead of four thousand, earthly life would have been devastated. Probably no human beings would have survived.
Below the West Mesa of Chaco Canyon, the Anasazi left what appears a definite record of the supernova, a panel containing three large symbols – a large star, a crescent moon, and a handprint. Just below these symbols, in a separate panel, is a depiction of what appears to be a comet – three concentric circles, with great red flames trailing from it. That very probably records an appearance of Halley’s Comet, since there was one, only a few years after the supernova.
I’m assuming that Ghost Man lived then and was the foremost priest-magician of his people. His supernatural and natural knowledge would have included movements of the heavenly bodies. Perhaps it was even Ghost Man who painted the depictions of the supernova and comet on the rocks below West Mesa. Perhaps he even performed the ceremonies that allowed him to evade the ordinary human limitations of life, death and time while the supernova blazed in the sky. He doesn’t seem unlike the Pictish wizard Gonar, the white-bearded ancient who aided Bran Mak Morn against the Romans. Bran says with only partial irony to the Gaelic prince Cormac of Connacht (“Kings of the Night”) “He claims direct descent from that Gonar who was a wizard in the days of Brule the Spear-slayer who was the first of my line. No man knows how old he is–sometimes I think he is the original Gonar himself!”
If he really was, then he’d have survived tens of thousands of years and two world-wide cataclysms, the one that destroyed Atlantis and Lemuria, and the one that ended the Hyborian Age. Ghost man’s eight or nine hundred years would have been picayune compared with that. His powers and knowledge might have been comparable with Gonar’s, though – and he certainly was sufficiently close to the red man’s ancient gods to have been able to borrow the heart of one on request.
If Ghost Man was originally a priest of the Anasazi, in Chaco Canyon, then his culture passed away circa 1200 CE. What caused its decline is a bit outside the topic of these posts, but it appears to have suffered from environmental problems combined with the usual unfair distribution that always arises when a society turns into an empire. Chaco Canyon became the centre of a mini-empire, not a huge one like Rome’s, but its problems of transport and communication were comparable after a while. Warfare, rivalry over water sources, even cannibalism, occurred before the end. Ghost Man presumably left before then, seeing the writing on the wall, and took his wisdom to less advanced peoples. Read the rest of this entry »
Read the rest of this entry »