Songs of the Vanished Ones

It occurs to me … all too frequently these days … that something is desperately wrong with the human condition as it currently stands/exists.  I mean, here WE are (the gleaming City On The Hill), more than forty years beyond our first manned lunar landing, also nearly seventy years beyond when ‘we’ leveled two “foreign” cities with the first (and last, so far) nuclear weapons ever used for purposes of mass murder; here we are, awaiting election 2012 even as we listen to a cluster of wingnuts who are anxious to bomb Iran, anxious to oust our nigger president … who’s clearly NOT A CITIZEN and is probably NOT EVEN HUMAN, really, and CERTAINLY not a CHRISTIAN!!! … and here we are, awaiting the recognition that FETUSES ARE PEOPLE! along with the eternal HALT of ABORTION and  the notion that EVERY SPERM IS SACRED including those which are VIAGRA-INDUCED … wait … no?? oh … hmmm … ummm … (sorry, I get carried away sometimes — by reality, as it’s called in some circles. Hiya, Rush.).

In any case and as usual, current events serve mainly to tweak my interest in history.  And lo the ever-enduring fact that (surprise surprise) the current idiocy readily shows itself to be naught but one more link in a very long chain of … well, etc. Etc. Perhaps humans are, i.o.w. and in terms of global impact, ‘tentative’(?) I suspect other creatures ‘out there’ in the wild are … umm … praying(?) for roughly that … and if so I must confess that my sympathies lie with them … again. Etc. Ad infinitum.

Anyway, following are some explorations of what has gone before and what, if one believes the news, is repeating. Again. Following x-number of ‘agains’ already gone before. Etc. [*sigh*] Dare we ever listen?

The Vanished Ones

The voices of the Vanished Ones still speak
Through missives born of dust and scribed in stone;
Available to all who care to seek
Their enigmatic wisdom – practiced – gone.
They understood the message in the winds,
In waters issued forth by rain and creek;
And too, in governance of thinking minds
Which found, in night-time sky, the means to seek
And so to know the times to glean, to sow.
They learned the paradox, the consequence
Of bounty’s wrath; with Nature thus a foe,
Their cities turned to dust.  There’s no defense
Of aftermath which overuse portends:
Diminishment of resource – Means – the Ends.

Image Casa Grande, The Great House; Gila River Valley, Arizona, circa 1985

Who were they?  Where did they go?  Why did they leave?

The great pre-Columbian civilizations which once prospered in what is now the American Southwest were, according to the archaeological records left behind, examples of those rare pinnacles of achievement which can only be reached by a people who set their collective mind to intimately explore the world and universe of which they are an intricate part.  For reasons still poorly understood, the high civilizations – Salado/Hohokam of the desert, Mogollon, and Sinagua/Anasazi of the plateaus and high deserts – disappeared from view somewhere around 1400-1450 C.E., Common Era, a century before Columbus demonstrated to the Europeans that the earth was not flat and with an abrupt edge, but rather was a smoothly curved sphere.  Some speculate their disappearance was due to protracted drought, or to overuse of available resource.  Others maintain that they’re still here, but in the different form of the more modern and demarcated tribes which still inhabit the region.  It’s likely all are correct, each in part.

There are evidences which suggest that the ancient cultures in the Southwest were aware of (possibly even, in re Hohokam, derivative of) and traded with cultures to the south in Mesoamerica: Maya, Aztec, and others.  Perhaps it was from the Maya that the Hohokam and Anasazi learned how to study the heavens, to understand the movement of the stars, the moon, the sun – or perhaps they made such discoveries on their own accord?  We’ll probably never know for certain, but no matter the source or method, it’s fair to note that the Casa Grande – the Great House –  situated near Arizona’s Rio Gila and as described by Frs. Kino and Font, and Messrs. Bernal and Manje, et. al., stands to this day, a relic of an antiquity that was already vanished and in ruin when Kino first arrived in the late seventeenth century, and as he explored New Spain’s northern lands, the Pimeria Alta.  The outer reaches of this Land of the Upper Pimas remained a mysterious terra incognita to all European eyes save those of Coronado’s treasure-seekers and of Kino’s Jesuit Padres which followed to Christianize indigenous heathen.

As of this day the significance of the Hohokam Great House is still not completely understood.  Suffice to say that its layout – on a true N-S-E-W directional plane, also its dimensional proportions together with the precise placement,  in its thick caliche-adobe walls, of portals for heavenly observation  – each and all point to the likelihood that the Casa Grande was far more than an ‘apartment’ or dwelling, and was rather an astronomical observatory which served to mark the equinoxes, solstices, the motions of the moon, perhaps even the wanderings of the constellations across the night sky.

Similarly, at the Anasazi complex of cities today embraced in New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon National Historic Park, the geographical layouts and orientations of villages and individual “temples” were set so as to perfectly track and mark the periodicity of the lunar orbit across its entire eighteen-and-one-half-year cycle.  And the so-called Sinagua/Anasazi complexes in present day Arizona at Walnut Canyon, Wupatki, Hom’olovi, Canyon de Chelley, Betatakin/Keet Seel (Navajo Nat. Mon.), and Old Oraibi and the Hopi Mesas, resp., can be seen as if to represent an earthly reflection of the relative placement of the stars in the constellation we call Orion.  One can only ponder the accomplishments and knowledge of peoples such as these who were – obviously and in a great many ways – grandly superior in intellectual accomplishment to their peers in Europe; peers who were, concurrently, wandering through their own religious (hence intellectual) Dark Ages.

When the Conquistadores arrived in Mexico; when Hernán Cortes located the Aztec capital at Tenochtitlan in 1519; when Bishop Diego de Landa, the second bishop of Yucatan, burned, in 1562, eight centuries worth of accumulated knowledge (“obviously” the work of the Devil) inscribed in Mayan codices at Chichen Itza; and when, eventually, Coronado led his band of Spaniards north into Arizona and New Mexico in search of the Seven Cities of Cibola – the result was the introduction of the Old World brand of Catholic-Christian darkness to the New World, to the remnants of what were once civilizations far more advanced than anything that had been seen in Europe since the demise of the Golden Age of Greece.

To some, the European invasion suggested that North America was suddenly on the verge of becoming civilized – European-style, of course, the Heathen were surely not evidence of attainment in the Christian ‘spiritual’ notions of civilization, of culture.  The task was not an easy one, and by necessity carried forth across the ensuing centuries, and in fact persists and continues through the present day.  Where once stood tall  those great and grand ancient American civilizations, today remain only collections of relics in various museums, or mysterious stoneworks, or glyphs, pottery, and ruins.  The peoples who are descended from the Vanished Ones – including Hopi, Zuni, Ute, Pima, Tohono O’odham, all alongside and intermingled with Navajo and Apache whose forbears were Athapascan – are, today, emerging from the imposed European darkness much as butterflies break free of pupation, and ever-more evident are signs of recognition of that ancient Identity which remains, by fiat and by genetic force, forever tied to a great and grand intellectual history.

Physical remnants of the Hohokam are few, largely confined to the still-standing ruins at Casa Grande National Monument and at Pueblo Grande in Phoenix; most of the balance of their once profuse cities and villages in the river valleys of central Arizona are gone forever, destroyed by the newcomers, the Europeans.  It is somehow refreshing to note, however, that near the Salt River, near the center of what is now the sprawling Greater Phoenix Metroplex, several modern irrigation canals follow the original pathways engineered and built by the Hohokam.  There also remains an air of mystery which veils the senses and asks the question: What does the precise lunar-periodic longitudinally-specific spacing between the Pyramid of the Sun in the Mayan city of Teotihuacan and the Hohokam city called Pueblo Grande portend?  Coincidence?  Perhaps.  Or perhaps not – perhaps the ancient ones had a general understanding and knowledge of earth’s relationship to the heavens that would easily have baffled their European counterparts, and might even prove puzzling to today’s students of both astronomy *and* philosophy?

I suppose we can only ever wonder, speculate.  One thing is sure, the Vanished Ones are gone and not available for interview other than through their inanimate works, their ruined and crumbling cities, their glyphic encryptions, and whichever other remnants of their once-grand presence an investigator might uncover.

Today, all across the American Southwest the chances are good that even the casual visitor will randomly stumble upon a remnant of the Vanished Ones.   Whether it be a metaté half-buried in sand or decomposed granite, or an occasional random petroglyph, sometimes an entire rock face quite literally covered with petroglyphs, or even a stone tool – an axehead, perhaps; the remnants are pervasive.  Hikers who wander up or down remote canyons may often see small ruins built into caves high up on cliff faces, and sometimes potsherds are as common to the soil as are small pebbles and stones.

The Ancient ones lived well in the deserts and mountains of the Southwest.  They were farmers, also hunters and gatherers.  Their cliff dwellings and pueblos were built to be defensible, and to take advantage of whichever small perks the local climate might offer, be it water, or capture of the warmth from the winter sun while avoiding the hot summer sun.  They learned how to survive in a harsh and otherwise inhospitable land, even to thrive.  There is evidence of substantial trade with other cultures who lived on seasides which were at least hundreds of miles distant.  The Hohokam built ball courts modeled on those found in Mesoamerica, and basket-weaving and pottery-making were accomplished arts.

Astronomy was central to the civilizations, of critical importance in the practical matter of agriculture, and very likely in the more esoteric realm of religion and spirituality, and even medicine, as well.  One wonders what the Shamans said when, in the summer of 1054 C.E. the Crab Nebula supernova suddenly appeared in the sky as a star so bright it was even visible during the daytime.  Or what the reaction was when, a few years later, Halley’s Comet passed overhead in the night skies – and did the Shamans already know the comet would pass by, then disappear, then reappear again on its trek outbound to the furthest reaches of the Solar System?  And what of eclipses both of sun and moon – were they predictable by the Shamans?  If so, how were the predictions used?

The Ancients lived well and apparently enjoyed a comfortable life, a knowledgeable existence in an intellectually advanced culture.  Then suddenly, for no immediately discernible reason, they left.  Their remnants persist, at least in weathered part, for all to visit, to see, to study.  Their voices are silenced, but still they can be heard – in the Wind which forever carries that Song, the Song of that younger world, the Song of The Vanished Ones.

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About frugalchariot

How Frugal is the Chariot That bears the Human soul. (Emily Dickinson)
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