Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Scientist Tries to Connect Migration Dots of Ancient Southwest

CASAS GRANDES, Mexico — From the sky, the Mound of the Cross at Paquimé, a 14th-century ruin in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, looks like a compass rose — the roundish emblem indicating the cardinal directions on a map. About 30 feet in diameter and molded from compacted earth and rock taken near the banks of the Casas Grandes River, the crisscross arms point to four circular platforms. They might as well be labeled N, S, E and W.

Steve Lekson, shown at Chimney Rock, Colo., has a theory tying Casas Grandes to Chaco Canyon and Aztec Ruins.
“It’s a hell of a long way from here to Chaco,” says Steve Lekson, an archaeologist from the University of Colorado, as he sights along the north-south spoke of the cross. Follow his gaze 400 miles north and you reach Chaco Canyon in northwestern New Mexico, a major cultural center occupied from about A.D. 900 to A.D. 1150 by the pueblo people known as Anasazi. Despite the distance, Dr. Lekson believes the two sites were linked by an ancient pattern of migration and a common set of religious beliefs.

But don’t stop at Chaco. Continue about 60 miles northward along the same straight line and you come to another Anasazi center called Aztec Ruins. For Dr. Lekson the alignment must be more than a coincidence.

A decade ago in “The Chaco Meridian: Centers of Political Power in the Ancient Southwest,” he argued that for centuries the Anasazi leaders, reckoning by the stars, aligned their principal settlements along this north-south axis — the 108th meridian of longitude. In an article this year for Archaeology magazine, he added two older ruins to the trajectory: Shabik’eschee, south of Chaco, and Sacred Ridge, north of Aztec. Each in its time was the regional focus of economic and political power, and each lies along the meridian. As one site was abandoned, because of drought, violence, environmental degradation — the reasons are obscure — the leaders led an exodus to a new location: sometimes north, sometimes south, but hewing as closely as they could to the 108th meridian.

“I think the reason is ideological,” Dr. Lekson said on a recent visit to Paquimé. “The cultural response to something not working is to move north, and when that doesn’t work you move south. And then you move north again and then you move south again, and then you finally say the hell with it, I’m out of here, and you go down to Chihuahua.”

For many of Dr. Lekson’s colleagues that is an awfully big leap. With all the ambiguities involved in interpreting patterns of dirt and rock — the Anasazi left no written history — archaeologists have been more comfortable focusing on a particular culture or a particular ruin. Dr. Lekson is constantly reaching — some say overreaching — to make connections between isolated islands of thought. Scheduled for publication this summer, his new book, “A History of the Ancient Southwest,” will go even further, offering a kind of unified theory of the Native American population movements that have puzzled Southwest archaeologists for many years.

“Steve has definitely been the one who has dragged us kicking and screaming into ‘big picture’ archaeology,” said William D. Lipe, emeritus professor of archaeology at Washington State University. “In many ways, Steve’s ideas and publications have driven much of the intellectual agenda for Southwestern archaeology over the last 20 or more years.” That does not mean, Dr. Lipe added, that he buys the idea of the Chaco meridian.

On a walk around Paquimé, Dr. Lekson points out his evidence. Casas Grandes, the Spanish name for the ruins, means “big houses,” and the multistory structures remind him of the palatial “great houses” at Chaco and Aztec. Inside the structures, people moved from room to room through T-shaped passages like those at Anasazi sites. At the House of the Pillars, a row of three colonnades formed a grand entranceway. “No one around here had colonnades except at Chaco,” Dr. Lekson says. A coincidence or a connection?

Paquimé also hints at other influences. Ball courts, used for ceremonial games, are typical of those found in southern Mexico and Central America. Effigy mounds, in which dirt was shaped to form birds and other figures, resemble those built long ago by Native Americans in the Ohio Valley. A long sinuous row of mud and stone called the Mound of the Serpent seems to undulate like a snake.

“This thing runs north and south,” Dr. Lekson says. “I love it.” He points toward a prominent hill on the horizon called Cerro de Moctezuma. Barely visible on its summit are the remains of a centuries-old stone watchtower. Nearby, he says, is another snakelike mound running north and south.

“It’s not as easy to see,” he says. “You have to believe it.”

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Tension Roils Peru After Deadly Amazon Clashes

YURIMAGUAS, Peru (Reuters) - Indigenous protesters and Peru's army refused to back down and a truce looked distant on Saturday, after two battles in the Amazon jungle killed some 50 people in the worst crisis of President Alan Garcia's term.

Protesters said 30 of their own died and the government said 22 members of the security forces perished in two days of clashes over Garcia's drive to bring foreign companies to the rainforest to open mines and drill for oil.

The bloodshed has prompted widespread calls for Garcia's prime minister to quit, underscored divisions between elites in Lima and the rural poor and threatened to derail the government's push to further open Peru to foreign investors.

Garcia lashed out at the protesters, saying they had attacked their own country, acted like terrorists and may have been incited by foreigners. A fierce critic of leftist leaders elsewhere in Latin America, Garcia did not say who he meant.

The army imposed curfews, but thousands of Indians with wooden spears vowed to dig in at blockades along remote Amazon highways and keep protesting if government forces did not halt efforts to break up their demonstrations.

"We are fighting because we fear our land will be taken away," said Denis Tangoa 38, a protester at one blockade.

About 10 police officers kidnapped by protesters were killed and nearly two dozen were freed when troops moved in to end a hostage crisis, National Police Chief Miguel Hidalgo told Peru's RPP radio on Saturday. Several hostages were reported missing.


In a clash on Friday, 11 police died when they broke up a roadblock, about 870 miles north of Lima along a stretch of highway known as "Devil's Curve" the government said.

At least thirty protesters were killed, according to Champion Nonimgo from AIDESEP, Peru's leading indigenous rights group. "We are talking about more than 30 indigenous deaths so far," Nonimgo said.

The government put the number of protesters killed in Friday's clash at nine.

Garcia blamed leftist opponents for the violence and his office issued a statement saying protesters had "carefully planned an attack against Peru" and used "methods identical those of the Shining Path."

The Shining Path was a brutal insurgency that waged war against the state in the 1980s and 1990s, until
its leaders were caught and holdouts went into cocaine trafficking.

"Shame on those politicians who can't win elections so they get together irrational groups to do what they did," said Garcia.

Indigenous tribes, worried they will lose control over natural resources, have protested since April seeking to force Congress to repeal new laws that encourage foreign mining and energy companies to invest billions of dollars in the rain forest.

"We are not going to give up until they reverse these laws that will damage us. They want to take away our lands and forest and make our traditions disappear," said Luis Huansi, a leader of the Shawi tribe at a roadblock between the towns of Tarapoto and Yurimaguas.

Men, women and children from the subsistence farming region had occupied the highway. Some were dressed in long red tunics, wore headbands and carried wooden spears. Families have set up tents of plastic sheeting along the roadside.


Though Garcia is a favorite of investors, his approval rating is 30 percent and he is especially unpopular in the Amazon, where development has lagged.

Critics say he has not done enough to reduce the poverty rate from 36 percent and that economic boom times failed to reach the poor before the current downturn.

They also fault Garcia's policies favoring free markets and foreign investment as mainly benefiting urban elites.

Garcia claims he will cut poverty faster than a new wave of leftist presidents that he often trades barbs with: Bolivia's Evo Morales and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez. But he has yet to win support from the poor.

Indigenous groups oppose laws passed last year as Garcia moved to bring Peru's regulatory framework into compliance with a free-trade agreement with the United States.

Tribes said Garcia's allies acted in bad faith when they blocked a motion in Congress on Thursday to open debate on a law they want overturned. Violence erupted the next day.