around at any of the more remote sites at Chaco Canyon and you’ll
see broken pieces of ancient pottery scattered on the ground. Evidence
suggests that in Chaco Canyon, clay pots replaced baskets for culinary
and utility use between AD 400 and AD 750. Heavy and fragile, clay
pots would have been favored by a more settled society, as opposed
to a nomadic one, and their use would be consistent with growing dependence
on agriculture and the building of permanent structures.
The carbon-containing pigments used to decorate pottery can be used
to find its age, as can organic matter in the clay itself. Thanks
to carbon-14 radiometric
dating, researchers can learn the age of pottery to within plus
or minus 150 years.
in living things in fixed concentrations, carbon-14
dwindles slowly after an organism dies. The half-life of carbon-14
is 5730 years, meaning that after 5730 years, half of it has decayed
into carbon-12. Carbon-14 is then
a kind of clock; measuring the amount that remains in an organic sample
gives an estimate of its age.
The age, composition, and design of pottery can reveal much. Distinct
styles of pottery are associated with distinct cultures and distinct
time periods. Chaco Canyon is famous for its black-on-white pottery,
but red-on-black pottery, popular in areas to the north and west,
was apparently obtained by trade.
artifacts confirm that Chacoans engaged in a vast network of trade
with other regions. Among these exotic artifacts: shells from the
Pacific coast and the remains of birds—scarlet macaws—from
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