Thursday, July 11, 2013

Great Sites: Aztec Ruins National Monument, Introduction

Aztec ruins in New Mexico?  Were the Aztec ruins really built by the Aztecs?  No, the Aztec ruins in northern New Mexico were built by the Ancestral Puebloan people, but early settlers thought they must be Aztec buildings and the name stuck.
Courtney Miller
Aztec Ruins National Monument

This week I want to share my recent visit to Aztec Ruins National Monument with you.  It is an amazing archaeological site, a friendly and easily accessible National Monument, and an important historical landmark with a wonderful story.  Aztec Ruins National Monument is located on Ruins Road about ½ mile north of New Mexico Highway 516, in the City of Aztec, New Mexico near Farmington and Durango, Colorado.

As stated on the Park's website ( )“Pueblo people describe this site as part of their migration journey. Today you can follow their ancient passageways to a distant time. Explore a 900-year old ancestral Pueblo Great House of over 400 masonry rooms. Look up and see original timbers holding up the roof. Search for the fingerprints of ancient workers in the mortar. Listen for an echo of ritual drums in the reconstructed Great Kiva.”

Aztec Ruins National Monument is open 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. most of the year and 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day. The park is closed Thanksgiving, December 25th, and January 1st.

The restored Great Kiva, pictured to the left, sits in the courtyard of the Great House.  It wasn’t really a House so much as a community.  Ancestral Pueblo people at Aztec planned and built it but were greatly influenced by The Chaco Culture 55 miles to the south.  At first Aztec may have supported Chaco Activities.  Later it may have been a center in its own right when Chaco‘s regional influence waned after 1100.

In addition to the Great Kiva, Chacoan-style Great Houses also had many smaller kivas used by kinship groups.  Pictured above is a typical "keyhole"  kiva. Note the six stone pilasters used to support the cribbed roof.  A square hole in the center of the roof allowed guests to enter and smoke to escape.

The niche in the south wall gave the kiva a “key-hole” shape and provided  a vent to the outside.  The users would sit on the benches around the firepit near  the center.  Across the firepit opposite the “niche” there would have been a small hole in the floor called a Sipapu.  It is covered by back fill here.  This honored the ancestors who ascended from the underworld. 
Next to the keyhole kiva is another one that is not typical.  This one does not have the niche, just the vent.  All the kivas were slightly different which was probably reflective of a different kinship group.
Aztec’s population ebbed at times but persisted through cycles of drought and cultural changes in large part thanks to the Animas river that flowed year-round.  It  still flows just beyond the visitor center.

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