Legendary ‘Tree of Life’ in New Mexico’s Historical Previous May Not Be What We Thought

Loading ....

For a whole lot of years, it lay undisturbed. Then, nearly a century in the past, archaeologists found it: a single pine tree, buried amidst the grandest of all the good homes of Chaco tradition.


Pueblo Bonito (Stunning City), in New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon, has lengthy been thought of the cultural hub of the Ancestral Puebloans who dwelled right here for hundreds of years, founding the location over 1,000 years in the past, earlier than abandoning it about 1126 CE.

After they departed, the villagers left behind a wondrous legacy of huge constructions that after stood as much as 5 storeys excessive, stuffed with a whole lot of rooms, and cultural artefacts, together with pottery, musical devices, and instruments to be used in historic rituals.

Additionally they left one thing else behind: the lone log of a ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa), measuring 6 metres (20 ft) lengthy, which archaeologists could not make sense of after they stumbled upon it throughout a dig in 1924.

A contemporary reconstruction of what Pueblo Bonito might need regarded like. (Nationwide Park Service)

“On the south finish of the West Court docket we unexpectedly found the stays of a big pine that had stood there, alive and inexperienced, when Pueblo Bonito was inhabited,” the researchers later wrote of the discover.

“Its decayed trunk lay on the final utilised pavement, and its nice, snaglike roots preclude the opportunity of its ever having been moved.”


This vivid description – and the assumptions inherent inside it – have ever since resonated all through archaeological and anthropological literature, making a wealthy legend round this seemingly distinctive pine, alone within the in any other case treeless atmosphere of Pueblo Bonito.

Inside these narratives, the pine has been characterised as a ‘tree of life’ or ‘world tree’ imbued with cosmological significance, notions of delivery symbolism, or different mysterious speculations about its objective (together with that it is likely to be an enormous sun-dial).

“It’s apt that the world tree ought to be considered because the centre of the Universe, for it’s relative to this axis that sacred time, the heavenly rhythm mirrored by the play of sunshine and shadow, turns into the geometry and symmetry of a sacred place,” one examine noticed.

In rebuttal, a brand new examine led by tree-ring skilled Christopher Guiterman from the College of Arizona suggests among the extra fanciful concepts round this majestic pine “haven’t been rigorously examined”, and affords another clarification for the tree’s backstory.

“Based mostly on converging strains of proof – documentary data, strontium isotopes, and tree-ring provenance testing – we current a brand new origin for the Plaza Tree,” the authors write of their paper.

“It didn’t develop in Pueblo Bonito and even close by in Chaco Canyon.”

008 plaza tree 4Cross-section of a pattern taken from the Pueblo Bonito plaza tree. (Christopher Guiterman)

In keeping with the proof Guiterman’s workforce discovered, together with comparisons of tree rings in a pattern from the Plaza Tree with samples from timber in close by areas, the well-known pine didn’t ever lay its roots in Pueblo Bonito.

“We’ve got this unbelievable database from 100-plus years of tree-ring science,” says Guiterman.


“Bushes from the San Juan Mountains, the Jemez Mountains or the Chuska Mountains – all of them have their very own type of flavour, their very own peculiar signature.”

By analysing these signatures, together with over proof up to now the tree, the workforce concludes that the city’s majestic pine lived for about 250 years (till concerning the early 1100s) within the Chuska Mountains, about 50 kilometres (30 miles) west of Chaco Canyon.

Sooner or later round then – which is tough to know for certain, for the reason that outer layers of the log have been misplaced to decay – the tree died, both from pure causes or from being felled. Then, it was transported to Pueblo Bonito, the place the workforce says it might need been meant for firewood, used as a bench, or erected as a standing pole.

008 plaza tree 4Pueblo Bonito as it’s at the moment. (Thomas Swetnam)

“It may have toppled or been left standing to ultimately collapse onto the plaza,” the researchers clarify. “Lastly, it was buried by windblown sand over the centuries.”

Whereas not totally discounting the chance that the tree might need served as a gnomon (the a part of a sundial that casts a shadow), the workforce says their “mundane” explanations are much more doubtless than it being a logo of ‘delivery’ or ‘life’ in Pueblo Bonito, given we now comprehend it was a lifeless, imported tree, and never the lone remnant of a mysterious Chaco forest for which no different proof survives.

Precisely why these historic villagers felt the necessity to transport the large log such a fantastic distance stays a compelling query, however the workforce is assured the remainder of this mysterious legend can lastly be put to relaxation.

“If a marker of something, the Plaza Tree of Pueblo Bonito displays the ultimate fluorescence or decline of Pueblo Bonito,” the workforce says, “moderately than its starting.”

The findings are reported in American Antiquity.





Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *