Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Chimney Rock (left) and Companion Rock
(right), Colorado. Photo: 2009, Peter Faris.

Companion Rock (left) and Chimney Rock
(right), Colorado. Photo: 2002, Peter Faris.

High on a ridge above southwestern Colorado are the rock towers of Chimney Rock (on the left) and Companion Rock (on the right) at Chimney Rock Archaeological Area. On July 28, 2009, I published a post about a pecked rock from Chimney Rock which incorporates what have been identified as fossil trackways. Chimney Rock is itself a fascinating location with a fascinating story behind it. Archaeoastronomers have recorded a number of astronomical connections here, including a lunar alignment that takes place on the 18.6-year lunar standstill cycle.
Chacoan great house at Chimney Rock
Archaeological Area, Colorado. Photo:
2002, Peter Faris.

That this was an important location in prehistory is indicated by the presence of a Chacoan great house located a little below the top of the bluff. It has been suggested that this was built to house priests from Chaco Canyon who had moved here because of the astronomical alignments, and who dominated the ancestral pueblo inhabitants of the area through their religious monopoly and perhaps military power as well.

University of Colorado astronomer J. McKim Malville obtained tree-ring dates from the Chimney Rock pueblo that showed that the two major episodes of construction there clustered around two northern lunar standstills that occurred around AD 1076 and AD 1093. Malville has proposed that Chacoans had noticed this effect at Chimney Rock at the earlier lunar standstill in AD 1057. That sighting would have been only three years after the Crab nebula supernova of AD 1054 which according to Malville might have first stimulated Chacoan focus on astronomical phenomena. He believes that they built the Chimney Rock pueblo primarily for astronomical observations and their related ceremonies.
Poqangawhoya, eldest twin war god.

Palongahoya, younger twin war god.

According to mythology these towers serve as the homes of the Hopi Twin War Gods (Poqangwhoya and Palongahoya), and through history (and probably prehistory) they have been ceremonially called forth by their people whenever needed. Park interpretive staff members tell of an occasion in 1941, just after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, when a group of Hopi elders and religious leaders showed up at Chimney Rock and performed the rites to call the Twin War Gods forth to assist the United States during World War II. These twin gods are also important to the Navajo people who know them as Monster Slayer and Born-for-Water.

Offering at Chimney Rock, Colorado.
Photo: 2002, Peter Faris.

During the prehistoric Pueblo period this location was near the northern border of their sphere of influence. During the Chacoan period it was also a northeastern colony of Chaco Canyon as can be seen from the construction of Chacoan style masonry. Later, after the coming of the Navajo this was part of the area known as Dinetah, the Navajo homeland.

Both the Ancestral Pueblo peoples and the Navajos had mythology concerning the significance of Twin Heroes who killed monsters and made this world safe for their people. Their continuing relevance is attested to by the offerings that still appear tied to trees in the forest near the ridge that bears the twin pinnacles and the ruin.

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