Saturday, July 19, 2014

Aztec Ruins National Monument

Aztec Ruins National Monument is located in the Four Corners area of New Mexico, north east of Farmington at a town called, appropriately enough, Aztec. These ruins are from the Ancient Puebloans also known as Anasazi. They were mistakenly called Aztec ruins by the early white settlers in the area. They are very reminiscent of the Chaco Canyon area and are thought to have been constructed and occupied by the same group of people. They were constructed beween 1085 and 1120 and abandoned by 1275. These ruins are near the banks of the Animas River at an elevation of about 5700 feet.

The ruins were excavated by an archaeologist, Earl Morris, from the American Natural History Museum, beginning in about 1916. The main excavation was of what is now called the West Ruin. This was a Chaco styled great house, very reminiscent of Chaco Canyon's Pueblo Bonito. I believe it was three stories high and had 400 rooms and 12 kivas. It, like Pueblo Bonito, was laid out in the form of a 'D'. A map of the Aztec ruins is shown below.

Three photos below show some of the West Ruin. The walls are up to three feet thick and were built by carefully building two walls and filling in between them with rocks and other rubble.

The first photo below shows a sort of matching v shaped deterioration of these walls. The next one shows a different view and the last one is a wider view of part of the west ruin. Notice the larger kiva in front of the ruin.

The photo below looks through two windows. These types of photos, looking through multiple doors or windows, are some of my favorites.

The next two photos show corner doors or windows. The construction experts tell us that this type of construction is weak and thus a no-no. These seem to go against that--they have been there about 900-1000 years.

The photo below seems to show a deliberate attempt on the part of the mason or architect to give some decoration to this exterior wall with the two sets of rows of dark rocks. The second photo shows the attention to detail around the end of a beam. The third photo shows careful dressing of the stones to produce a straight edge on a corner.

The three photos above show roof/ceiling details from original construction. The bottom one seems to have survived a fire.

The photo below shows an original mat in a window/door opening as seen from the opposite door.

The photo above is one of my favorites. It looks to me like these doors go on forever. They are doors going from room to room in the Great House. I tried to correct it for vertical/horizontal but gave up; as you can see which door lintel do you pick for the true horizontal? There are similar places at Chaco Canyon.

The photo below shows part of a kiva in front of the Great House.  It has not been restored.

The Chacoan people at times built large kivas, the exact purpose of which is not known. It is thought that the small kivas found in a Great House may have belonged to one clan or family group while the great kivas belonged to the community as a whole. They may have been used for community meetings as well as for religious rites/services where all of the community could attend. Speculation, of course. Earl Morris returned to Aztec in 1934 after his initial excavations and renovated a great kiva. The exterior of this renovation is shown in the photo below.

The reconstruction was based on what was found at the site.  Four pillars held up the roof. The pillars were made of alternating horizontal bands of wood and stone, placed on flat pieces of limestone.

Below are two photos of the interior taken facing each other. The diameter is 50 feet. The entrance is from either of the two antechambers. The windows around the walls enter into small rooms; no known other great kiva has such a feature. On the floor is a fire pit and two vaults. It is not known what the vaults were used for.

The photo below is of the great kiva at Chaco Canyon, know as Casa Rinconada. It has been excavated and stabilized but not reconstructed. It has a diameter of 64 feet. You can see the two vaults and the fire pit just like the ones at Aztec. The underground tunnel coming up in the center of the floor is apparently unique to Casa Rinconada and its purpose is unknown.

Finally, Aztec in the fall of the year is great with the cottonwoods in full autumn splendor. Here is an example.

For more on Anasazi ruins see the following posts by the author:Betatakin Ruin, 6/22/14
Hovenweep National Monument 5/26/14
Mesa Verde 5/25/12
Canyon de Chelly 11/16/11
Chaco Canyon 11/20/10