Eleventh-century shift in timber procurement areas for the great houses of Chaco Canyon

Christopher H. Guiterman, Thomas W. Swetnam, Jeffrey S. Dean

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


An enduring mystery from the great houses of Chaco Canyon is the origin of more than 240,000 construction timbers. We evaluate probable timber procurement areas for seven great houses by applying tree-ring width-based sourcing to a set of 170 timbers. To our knowledge, this is the first use of tree rings to assess timber origins in the southwestern United States. We found that the Chuska and Zuni Mountains (>75 km distant) were the most likely sources, accounting for 70% of timbers. Most notably, procurement areas changed through time. Before 1020 Common Era (CE) nearly all timbers originated from the Zunis (a previously unrecognized source), but by 1060 CE the Chuskas eclipsed the Zuni area in total wood imports. This shift occurred at the onset of Chaco florescence in the 11th century, a time with substantial expansion of existing great houses and the addition of seven new great houses in the Chaco Core area. It also coincides with the proliferation of Chuskan stone tools and pottery in the archaeological record of Chaco Canyon, further underscoring the link between land use and occupation in the Chuska area and the peak of great house construction. Our findings, based on the most temporally specific and replicated evidence of Chacoan resource procurement obtained to date, corroborate the long-standing but recently challenged interpretation that large numbers of timbers were harvested and transported from distant mountain ranges to build the great houses at Chaco Canyon.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1186-1190
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number5
StatePublished - Feb 2 2016


  • Ancestral Puebloans
  • Archaeology
  • Dendrochronology
  • Human-environment interactions
  • Timber origins

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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