R. Gwinn Vivian and Margaret Anderson. 2002. Chaco Canyon. Oxford University Press, Oxford, England.
Chaco Canyon is one of the loveliest places in the North American continent. The 11th century AD sandstone ruins in northwestern New Mexico lie in a hot sharp-edged valley, a vividly human-adapted desert environment, with a clear bright star-lit sky after dark. I remember the first time I ever saw Chaco, some 20 years ago now, as a student. We were very lucky; our faculty advisor pulled some strings and we got a tour of the canyon by the resident expert, R. Gwinn Vivian. It was an amazing experience; Vivian brought the canyon to life, clambering over the rock face like an acrobat to point out the cut stone stairsteps, painting a vivid picture of prehistoric life as he imagined it. I had forgotten this entirely until I opened my mail this summer and found Chaco Canyon, a book for middle school students, co-written by the very same resident expert.
This lively little book is the first of many, I certainly hope, in the new Digging for the Past series from Oxford University Press, edited by the untiring Brian Fagan. Specifically framed for middle school students, Chaco Canyon contains informative sidebars on dendrochronology, pottery, and construction methods used by the Chacoans, as well as several historic and present-day photographs. Glimpses of Vivian's childhood spent, as the son of archaeologist Gordon Vivian, living in Chaco Canyon and of the lives of the Chacoan people expressed in pottery and rock art enhance the text. Additional volumes in the series cover the world, and include Cahokia, Tenochtitlan, Lords of Sipan in Peru, Stonehenge, the Acropolis in Athens, the Palace of Minos at Knossos, the Valley of the Kings, the Great Zimbabwe, Nineveh, and the Royal Tomb of Qin Shi Huangdi (of the terracotta soldiers fame).