There are universal interpretations of ancient ruins, and the most commonly heard are those based on the intelligent speculations of archaeologists and historians. However with no written language and unclear motives of the people who lived there, the speculation has no real ground. Everyone has their own ideas about Mesa Verde, but oral traditions passed through generations tell the truest story. Our guide at Mesa Verde, a wise young man of Anasasi decent, told this would be your typical corn, beans and squash tour of a Native American site. He stressed the idea that we should not be tourists of history but instead we should be critical thinkers of history, investigating and finding our own interpretations of a place like Mesa Verde. As for myself, I saw Mesa Verde as a place of shelter and peace, where the Anasasi were protected from the Spanish and warrior indians in a place deeply connected to the Earth and creator spirit, physically built into a spectacular limestone alcove.
From the oral traditions passed down to our guide, he told us that the Anasasi that lived in Mesa Verde were a farming people engaged heavily in far reaching trade in the Southwest, including places like Chaco Canyon, a central post in the trade network I wrote about 4 posts ago (See Chaco Culture: Archaeoastronomy & Ancient Architecture). In Mesa Verde they grew corn, squash and beans (yada yada..), but most interestingly they grew potatoes brought all the way from Peru! This means that the trade network of the Anasasi led them all the way to South America for Potato seeds and other trade goods. For a good read about potatoes in Peru see my post entitled Parque De La Papa about the Sacred Valley in Peru, where over 3600 varieties of potatoes are grown. The kind and peace loving Anasasi were exceptional at trading but more importantly at making the very most out of their environment as possible.
The Anasasi way of life was simple- give and receive, but never take without contributing back. A lack of contribution would lead to being seen and treated as an outcast and otherwise useless member of the group, uninterested in the greater good of the people. In a smaller group of people this system works. It is the same simple system of reciprocity that the Inca in Peru lived by, the very same people the Anasasi traded with for potato seeds. Perhaps they traded ideals and morals along with goods from their home. Today, the contemporary way of life is much different than their traditional ways because their world was flipped upside down through generations of hardship brought on by European conquest. A similar story applies to essentially all Native American people. A new group of pale faced strangers that believe the Earth belongs to man, when according to Native values man belongs to the Earth, takes over over the land once revered and respected by those who were here first, and the country has suffered for it culturally, environmentally, and socioeconomically.
The Anasasi and Inca were doing it right: living harmoniously of the principal of reciprocity in a world where if you didn’t contribute you didn’t eat. It seems as though we are becoming a country that breeds self interested, privacy loving, mass consuming, non-contributing nothings that care about nothing and nobody at all, where kids don’t know how to have real life conversations because they text more than they speak. We can learn from the past and live compassionately and generously, but only when we teach young people that life isn’t about toys and money, it is about connecting with and helping your fellow beings on this great big planet floating through space. We should also teach them that life isn’t about quotes about life.