Saturday, March 19, 2005

A Report on Aztec Ruins National Monument

About halfway between the well-known cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde and the beautiful and impressive ruins of Chaco Canyon in central New Mexico, the underappreciated but fascinating Ancestral Puebloan structures strangely known as Aztec Ruins look out over the Animas River. My family and I visited them this week as we sped through the Southwest, and I found them to be outstanding.

The ruins have been designated a World Heritage Site, and I concur that the designation is aptly applied in this case. The main ruin, the West Ruin, underwent major excavation and stabilization beginning in 1916 and another reconstruction period in the 1930’s. The lead archaeologist on the reconstruction and excavation of Aztec Ruins, Earl H. Morris, was both praised for his work at Aztec Ruins and criticized for his aggressive reconstruction. Opponents claim he may have misrepresented some architectural features of the Great Kiva during his reconstruction, but I have to insist that, although it may be a product of a little creative license employed by Morris, it sure has the look and feel of a religious sanctuary.

The West Ruin is said to have included nearly 400 rooms rising to three stories. It was built in a U-shape and surrounds a courtyard that includes two large kivas—one of them the Great Kiva mentioned above. My family had the privilege of scampering through a few of the rooms in the main structure and then descending into the Great Kiva.
Even my girls enjoyed the exploration despite the cold temperatures that accompanied our visit.

The West Ruin and its Great Kiva are outstanding examples of Ancestral Puebloan architecture and building, but I discovered that the West Ruin is just the only part of the complex open to the public. The site itself is much larger and the ruined mounds can be seen by looking to the east from the plaza area of the West Ruin. In fact, the Great Kiva of the East Ruin is thought to be even larger than the Great Kiva of the West Ruin.

As a final thought on this ruin, I want to say that I am usually against aggressive reconstruction efforts. I have felt for years that the INAH program in Mexico is geared to providing a tourist experience rather than maintaining archaeological integrity. That being said, I liked Aztec Ruins. I felt that the reconstruction was aggressive but not outlandish. I would recommend a visit to the site and its wonderful little museum.

You can see Aztec Ruins National Monument at


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2:36 PM  
Anonymous Guitar Master said...

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3:05 PM  

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