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Life without War

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Life without War

Can we learn from the ancients?
Gregg  Braden
Gregg Braden More by this author
Sep 29, 2012 at 10:00 AM

It was a late-August morning in the high desert of the Four Corners area of northern New Mexico. I had happened upon the Native American elder on the trail earlier that morning. For reasons that neither of us questioned, we had both been drawn to the same ancient ceremonial site, on the same day, at the same time. Together we made our way along the dusty, packed-sand trail that paralleled the pink-and-yellow cliffs rising from the valley floor. We had both come to learn from the past—he from his ancestors through their voices in the caves; and me from the temples, drawings, and clues they had left behind.

“There were no wars here,” the man said to me as we stopped along a small rise to catch our breath. “The people who lived here had no need for war.”

“Really?” I asked. “How do we know that?”

“This is one of the great mysteries that scientists see when they dig here,” he replied. “Over 4,000 people lived in this valley, in these buildings,” he continued, as he swept his open arms across the valley that lay behind and in front of us. “But they lived peacefully. There were no weapons found here. Not one. There are no signs of war. None. There are no mass graves, no ashes, no burial sites.” He concluded: “Our ancestors did not need them because they had learned another way.”

I listened carefully to what my Native American friend was telling me. What he did not know, and could not have known, was that the information he was sharing with me that morning was precisely why I’d come to this place.

The site was Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, a place unlike any other in the world. Chaco Canyon is a mystery for a number of reasons. While there are a multitude of theories that attempt to make sense of what remains there, the truth is that no one knows much about the Chacoans. No one really knows where they went or why they disappeared. And we can’t know for certain, because they left no written records . . . at least none written in a form we recognize today.

What we do know is that in one of the most isolated and hostile places in North America, a mysterious people arrived seemingly from nowhere and built homes, communities, and ceremonial centers on a scale unseen before that time—or since—for reasons that are unclear to this day. As if he could read my mind, my Native American friend answered my next question before I could even ask it. I was wondering why anyone would choose this place to build such a vast complex. Why here of all places?

“They built here because of what lies beneath this site,” he said. “Chaco is not the first place to exist here. It’s only the most recent. It’s built on top of what was here before, which is built on top of what was here before that . . .”

It’s not that I didn’t believe him, but I had to ask anyway: “How do we know that for certain? How do we really know that something was here before this ancient temple came into existence?”

For my friend, the answer was easy. “The ancestors tell us,” he said.

In their stories, they keep the memory of their ancestors alive. And their ancestors tell of the ancient ones, those who lived in Chaco Canyon before the “Chacoans.”

As the rays of the late-summer sun cast their long shadows across the valley, the question that kept coming to me was why there was no evidence of mass burials, weapons, or struggle. Did the inhabitants know something then that we’ve forgotten today? Did they find a way to live and work together that did not require the warfare that we take for granted in our civilization?

About Author
Gregg  Braden
A New York Times best-selling author and 2015 Templeton Award nominee, Gregg Braden is internationally renowned as a pioneer in bridging scie Continue reading