Sunday, June 3, 2012

May 22, 2012. Aztec Ruins In Aztec, New Mexico.

In the northwest corner of New Mexico,
just north of Aztec on US 516,
is one of the largest and best preserved
Ancestral Pueblo ruins in the Southwest.
The misnomer, Aztec,
was applied by early settlers who incorrectly 
inferred the builders' identity.

The largest of these sandstone pueblos,
the West Ruin,
was built about 1110
and contained nearly 450 rooms,
some of which remain intact.
Several smaller structures adjoin the main ruin.
The Ancestral Pueblo people built an extensive community
of ceremonial structures, earthworks,
roadways, multi-storied building,
and smaller residences.
Then a regional center
for ceremony, trade, and administration,
now Aztec Ruins National Monument
remains alive in the histories and traditions
of modern Pueblo, Hopi, and Navajo people.

Mr. Hawthorne takes off.

This place is sacred.

Grinding stones.
Mr. Hawthorne flat out refused
to help me carry this one back to the truck.
He can be so intractable at times.

I watched this lizard grapple with the worm
for quite some time.
Wish I could have gotten closer.

The worm was putting up quite a fight;
the lizard was determined.

I had already picked out the perfect place to put this.
I could actually see myself,
in a colorful serape,
hunched over,
grinding blue corn in my well-worn metate.

 Pirated off Google Images.

From the late 1000s - 1200s, 
ancestral Pueblo people at Aztec
planned and built a settlement
that included large public buildings,
smaller structures, earthworks, and ceremonial buildings.

These structures were not built 
by central Mexico Aztec Indians.
They were built by Ancestral Puebloans 
who lived here centuries before the Aztec
civilization prospered.
Anglo settlers named the place Aztec,
inspired by popular histories
about Cortez's conquest of Mexico.
Scholars once thought the Aztecs
had migrated to Mexico
from the southwestern U.S.,
causing early settlers to
 believe the Aztecs built these monumental ruins
along the Animas River.

The first recorded visitor at Aztec Ruins
was Dr. John S. Newberry,
a geologist, who in 1859,
 found the West Ruin
in a fair state of preservation.

Walls were 25 feet high in places
and many rooms were undisturbed.
From the amount of rubble,
Newberry concluded a fairly large population
had once lived here.
Newberry recorded much of the site
before it was looted over the next 50 years.

In 1878, anthropologist Lewis H. Morgan
investigated the site,
estimating that a quarter of the site's stones
had been carted away by settlers
for building material.

In the early 1880s,
a local teacher and his students explored the ruins
and found things the earlier visitors had missed,
including a burial room and well-preserved artifacts.
Objects starting disappearing as looters broke into rooms
which had been undisturbed for centuries.
The site became relatively safe from looting
in 1889, when the West Ruin passed into private ownership.

The American Museum of Natural History
began sponsoring excavations in 1916.
Twenty-five year old Earl H. Morris
headed the first dig at Aztec.
Morris spent the next seven years 
excavating and stabilizing the ruins.
In the 1930s,
he supervised the excavation
and reconstruction of the Great Kiva.

Congress designated this valuable site,
covering 320 acres,
Aztec Ruins National Monument in 1923.

Here's another lizard

Archeologists have determined
that the creators of these striking buildings
were the ancestors of people of many southwestern tribes.
The builders here and at other places 
throughout the Southwest were called "Anasazi"
for many years.
Archeologists had adopted that word,
meaning "ancient ones,"
from the Navajo language and popularized it.
Most Pueblo people today prefer that we use the term
"Ancestral Puebloans" to refer to their ancestors.

About 2000 years ago, nomadic people 
throughout parts of New Mexico, Arizona,
 Colorado, and Utah
began to live year round in villages and cultivate crops.
They became accomplished farmers,
 traders, artisans,and architects.
Although there were many regional differences in
architecture, pottery styles, and other characteristics,
these Ancestral Puebloans shared a similar way of life
which made it possible for them to cope with the
challenging high desert environment.

Excavation of the West Ruin in the early 1900s
revealed thousands of well-preserved artifacts
which provide glimpses into the history of life here.
A remarkable variety of food remains,
stone and wood tools, fiber sandals and mats,
pottery, feather and cotton clothing,
and jewelry made of turquoise, obsidian, and shell,
were discovered, revealing much about
the Ancestral Puebloan peoples' use of
local resources and trade with others.

Here's one of several ceremonial kivas
in the area.

 A large, semi-subterranean building,
the Great Kiva,
dominates the plaza.

 The builders carried sandstone blocks by hand
from quarries several miles away.
Stone hammers, mauls, and stones 
were used to break and dress the sandstone,
which, in this particular area, 
is difficult to fracture into level surfaces.

 Some walls contained unusual horizontal bands of green stone.
It is thought that the outer walls 
were probably plastered in mud,
obscuring any decorative stonework underneath,
but protecting the structure from the eroding forces
of rain and snow.

Early exploration focused on the West Ruin.

 The north wall of the West Ruin stretches 360 feet.
It was constructed between 1110 and 1130.

 You can trace the remnants of the upper walls 
of an unusual tri-wall structure,
one of a "handful" found in the Southwest.
The spaces inside three concentric circular walls
were partitioned into a series of rooms -
14 in the outer ring
and 8 in the inner ring.
Most compartments were accessible 
only by roof hatchways.
The central space is called a kiva,
 and is marked by a circular wall.
Archeologists generally agree that 
this was a ceremonial room.

The People celebrated the mystery of life in their kivas and their plaza.  They sang ancient songs timed to the beat of their drums ...  and their hearts.  They danced in honor and prayer to the animals and plants whose life they shared in this place.  Through their rituals, they strove to establish a 'resonance' with the Earth and the Cosmos.  They believed harmony in the Cosmos was essential to recreate in their lives, relationships, and community.  The People watched the movement of the Sun, Moon, planets, and constellations closely throughout the year, for these heavenly bodies were part of their mythic story and their understanding of themselves.  They aligned some structures with the positions of heavenly bodies during certain important times of the year.

Exact timing of planting and harvesting was important to ensure the well being of the People, so an intimate knowledge of the movements of the Sun and Moon was required to maintain the complex ceremonial cycles that harmonized The People with the Cosmos.  Spiritual vigilance ensured that The People would 'remember to remember' their relationship to the natural order of the universe."

Three of these tri-walls are found here at the Aztec Ruins,
suggesting that their locations and their relationship
to the other buildings were important symbols
in the "ritual landscape" of the civilization.

Maintenance to preserve the exposed and crumbling walls
proved to be too costly and the site was backfilled
to halt its deterioration.

 This doorway and the next few I'll pass through
are modern, not original.
Looters in the 1880s punched holes 
through these walls, 
took the artifacts they found,
and destroyed valuable information
about this culture that might have been revealed to us.

 The trail passes through inner rooms as it leads to the plaza.

 The inner rooms are intimate spaces.  During the winter, mothers prepared food while children slept, dreamed, and played.  Grandmothers and grandfathers told stories by the light of the fire.  Men and boys wove cotton cloth and yucca fiber blankets, prepared hunting arrows, or made ceremonial clothing and jewelry.  Women, young and old, made pottery or ground corn on stone metates.  There was a natural rhythm to their life, an order which kept time with the days, the seasons, and sacred cycles of nature.

Imagine living here at that time.  Smell the aroma of corn and venison stew simmering in clay post over a fire of cedar and pinon wood.  Feel the Presence of The People.

Mr. Hawthorne consults his map.

These are the original ceilings.
They have widely spaced pine, fir, and spruce beams
set into solid masonry walls
that provide support for the next story.
These timbers were probably carried
from higher elevations at least twenty miles to the north.
The overlying aspen poles supported a layer 
of thin splints of juniper or rush matting.
 On top of this was a heavy deposit of tamped mud,
forming the floor of the upper story.

Small vents were set high in the corners,
allowing for limited ventilation.

Imagine how dark these rooms were,
along the north wall.

Artifacts found included cloth fragments,
 bone tools, fiber sandals, broken pottery,
and bits of matting.

In this room,
at least a dozen people were buried.
They had been carefully prepared 
with shrouds of cotton cloth or feather.
Some were wrapped with rush matting.
Offerings of baskets, pottery, sandals,
beads, sticks, and other items were placed with them.

Early researchers likened this building to an apartment house
Its main function was to shelter people.
Later research disagrees,
arguing that this building and nearby community
may have been a regional center
of cultural, administrative, and cultural activity.
Residential use in this building's early history
may have been limited to a caretaker 
or a seasonal or intermittent elite population.

For nearly two centuries,
the inhabitants modified and used rooms
in whatever ways met their needs.
In the later years,
these rooms were used for storage,
similar to our present-day garage, basement, or closet.
Things were stored or discarded here
but daily activities did not occur here
and there was limited residence.
The rooms were used for not only storage and refuse,
but also also as work areas, burial chambers,
and toilets.
Most of the artifacts unearthed by Archeologist Morris
came from this later use.

For centuries,
the tops of sandstone walls
jutted above a brush-covered mound,
hinting at the large building beneath.

Although this plaza may appear unremarkable,
for David Morris, it revealed
a long sequence of occupation.
During his excavation of this area,
buried kivas were found,
some with thick deposits of broken pottery.

Large T-shaped doorways
commonly open onto the plaza.

Another kiva.

Kivas are used by Pueblo people
for sacred rituals and other special activities.
This particular kiva lies in 
the earliest constructed wing of the building.

The masonry in the kiva 
consists of carefully shaped stones
laid with little mortar
and a low, encircling "bench."

A kiva was entered by a roof hatch 
that also allowed smoke from the central hearth 
to escape.
A ventilator shaft worked like a chimney in reverse,
drawing in fresh air to feed the fire.
Low pillars that rested on the bench circling the wall
supported the roof.

On the upper stories,
there are three doorways connecting rooms
at their corners.
This is slightly risky construction technique,
since the inclusion of the doorways
reduced the stability of the wall.

Architectural changes due to remodeling
over a long occupation 
and recent preservation work
are evident throughout the West Ruin.
The style of masonry can abruptly change,
possibly due to repairs made by later occupants.

The National Park Service has stabilized walls
to discourage deterioration.
Some rooms have been backfilled for preservation.
Eroded mortar and missing stones have been replaced,
Wall portions have been rebuilt
and the original wood has been treated.
The many years of preservation and stabilization
have altered the architecture 
and erased many details of prehistoric masonry.
The building's layout and form haven't changed much,
but in many areas, certain features and the masonry
do not accurately reflect the work of the original builders.

The timbers resting upon one another in this kiva
indicate the lower part of a domed, cribbed roof.
This is the Great Kiva.
Archeologist Earl Morris excavated it in 1921
and reconstructed it in  1934,

This is one of perhaps fifteen kivas in the nearby area,
an unusually dense concentration of great kivas.
Quite a bit of organization, materials, and labor
went into its construction.
It is agreed by most archeologists that the kiva
was a public building,
built and used by people of this community
and others nearby for ceremonial and other community functions.

Morris uncovered remnants of the original building,
from which he built this reconstruction.
This is the central fire vault.

The purpose of these large floor vaults
on either side of the central fire vault
is not known.

The colors are based on bits of
 reddish and white-washed plaster
found clinging to the original walls.

Four massive pillars of alternating masonry
and horizontal poles held up the ceiling beams,
which in turn supported an estimated 95-ton roof.

Each pillar rested on four shaped stone discs,
each weighing approximately 355 pounds.
These limestone discs came from mountains
at least forty miles away.

This arc of single rooms
enclosed the plaza on the south side.

Cobbles are plentiful everywhere.
They were used for wall foundations.
Stabilization has obscured other materials
used in the walls,
including sandstone blocks
and sticks laid horizontally and vertically
in vast amounts of mud.

Archeologists still have many questions
 about this civilization.
It was common for a people
to use a building for a generation or two,
and then move on,
but by 1300,
not only Aztec, 
but the entire Four Corners region
had been deserted.

A period of extensive drought in the late 1200's
may have precipitated their departure.
Add to the drought,
an overuse of natural resources
may have contributed also.
Perhaps social, religious, and/or political
issues were a factor.
After two hundred years in one place,
their fields could not have been that productive.
Explanations for the people's exodus
remain tentative.
Researchers may never fully understand the lives
of these Southwest American inhabitants.
Puebloan descendants live today in the Pueblos
of Acoma, Hopi, Laguna, Santo Domingo,
Zia, and Zuni,
Today, many Southwest tribes,
descendants of the ancestral Pueblo people of Aztec,
maintain cultural and spiritual ties to this site,
through oral tradition, prayer, and ceremony.
This site is not forgotten.
Aztec Ruins National Monument
remains alive in the histories and traditions of modern
Pueblo, Hopi, and Navajo people
who continue a rich culture
influenced by their ancestors.


Marilyn said...

Interesting. Thanks for the history lesson.

Lea said...

Super cool. Very interesting.

Rosie Hawthorne said...

It is my aim to educate and entertain.

Anonymous said...

Mr. H is looking quite svelte these days. Almost didn't recognize him. That road trip diet must be working.

Rosie Hawthorne said...

Anony, when Mr. H. turns sideways, he disappears!