Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (MALS)


Liberal Studies

First Advisor

Dale Willman

Second Advisor

Hope Benedict


This paper is an environmental history of the Ancestral Puebloan People of Chaco Canyon in northwestern New Mexico from 850 - 1 1 40 of the Common Era (CE), a period also known as the Bonito Phase. Environmental history explores the relationship between people and their landscape over time. To capture as complete a narrative as possible, this paper is written from three perspectives - the natural history of the desert southwest, how the Ancestral Puebloans adapted to these environmental conditions, and a discussion of how the Ancestral Puebloan religious cosmology assisted them in adapting to these conditions, enabling them to survive and thrive in the southwest. A first step in understanding the adaptive strategies of the Ancestral Puebloans is to explore how the sacred and the profane were intertwined in their day to day existence. Farming techniques, trading networks, astronomical observation and religious ceremony were all interconnected in a complex societal framework that ensured the survival of the people. Their farming techniques were adapted to local environmental conditions. They established strong social networks based on both the trade of practical goods such as com, and the sharing of ceremonial paraphernalia and knowledge. These bonds provided a way for the disparate Ancestral Puebloan groups to unify, ensuring that subsistence activities, such as the planting schedule, were aligned with the proper season. Their astronomical knowledge, coupled with a strong ceremonial construct allowed them to develop an agricultural calendar which would help ensure crop surpluses which could be shared within outlying communities. Their religious cosmology, rooted in sound ecological practices, recognized that when the local environment was no longer conducive to farming, it was necessary to migrate and begin anew. Ultimately, the religious cosmology of the Ancestral Puebloan People, which was likely centered at Chaco Canyon, was an adaptive practice which unified a variety of peoples to ensure their survival and success in the desert southwest.