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Chaco Trade Routes

Many trails and roads led visitors in and out of Chaco Canyon from great distance that included Meso America (now Mexico), the Gulf of California, and probably from the Pacific Coast (now California). Goods passed from one village to the next not always the same trader making the entire trek.

This is how a trade network develops across vast distances a California trader may carry a steatite bowl from Catalina Island inland to the Mojave villages where he trades for cotton not grown along the coast. The Mojave woman may trade the steatite bowl to a guest visiting from the Gulf of California who takes it home to his wife. She in turn sells the steatite bowl to a local woman who has an excess of shell beads. Then she may send her brother to what is now the Arizona adobe city near Phoenix with shell beads from the Gulf of California. Then another trader from Anasazi territory, what is now New Mexico, may bring turquoise to trade for those shells and then on his return, stop in Chaco Canyon to trade the shells for exquisitely carved turquoise that the Chacoans are famous for creating. Then that turquoise may be traded to someone visiting from what is now Mexico who brings north parrot feathers to trade for the turquoise. On the next trip east the New Mexican trader takes the parrot feathers with him to Chaco to trade for more turquoise. And so the good moved around the Southwest.

Proof of this trade network is the presence of non-local items at the ruin sites. For example, it is estimated that only 20% of the pottery used at Chaco Canyon was made there all of the rest was imported from other tribes. Scientists know this because only 20% of the pottery found is in the local Cibola black-on-white style.

Example of Black on White Cibola Pottery

Jewelry found at Pueblo Bonito

Quantities of jewelry have been found in Chaco Canyon more than at other Southwestern sites. But the materials used in the jewelry were not local the shells came from the Gulf of California or the Pacific, the turquoise came from mines further east in New Mexico.


And the imagery of tropical parrots, and the fact they were kept in many pueblos as ceremonial harbingers of rain, demonstrates that trade with the tropical forests of Mexico took place. Copper bells, made of a metal from Mexico, have also been found in Chaco Canyon.