Aztec Ruins

Aztec Ruins National Monument, New Mexico, was established in 1923 and covers 320 acres. Early Euro-American settlers erroneously assumed the people who built these villages were Aztecs, hence the name of the ruins and of the modern town of Aztec.

Later archeological study confirmed that the builders were ancestors of the Puebloan peoples. Archeologists adopted and popularized the Navajo word Anasazi to refer to the people who built and lived here.

About two thousand years ago nomadic people began to live year round in villages and cultivate crops. They eventually became accomplished farmers, architects, artisans, and traders. They lived across a broad area, including parts of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah. Despite many regional differences in architecture, pottery styles and other traits, they shared a similar way of life that enabled them to cope with the rigorous high desert environment. This settlement represents but a portion of the long history of life in this region.

Early exploration here focused on this pueblo, the West Ruin. For centuries, only a few sandstone walls jutted above a brush covered mound, hinting at the large building beneath. About 150 yards beyond this pueblo is another large unexcavated mound, which is closed to the public. The East Ruin looks much as the West Ruin did before excavation.

The north wall of the pueblo stretches 360 feet, longer than a football field. Most of the pueblo was built between A.D. 1111 and A.D. 1115. Its architecture is similar to pueblos in Chaco Canyon, fifty miles south of here.

Many of the artifacts found at the ruins are now shown in the indoor museum that provides the entrance to the self guided tour of the ruins. The Mutate is a sandstone rock that is used as one of the essential kitchen utensils suitable for grinding corn in to a corn meal.

There are several round rooms with special features in them. Similar rooms, called kivas, are used by Pueblo people today for sacred rituals and other special activities. For many years archeologists assumed that these rooms were used as kivas are today. Now some think that they were used for domestic purposes as well. Archeologists are not certain who of the inhabitants - mail or female, young or old - used these rooms.

Many of the rooms were excavated, documented, and then "back filled" to slow down the erosion. This will preserve the rooms for future generations.

Aztec is a multiple story building with floors suspended on huge tree members that were cleaned of bark and branches. Smaller members were laid crossways and then build upon with rocks and dirt.

My daughter, Monica on the left and her friend Jamie on the Right.

There are many questions about these people that archeologists cannot answer. For example, why did they leave? It was common for the people to use a pueblo for a generation or two, and then move on. But by A.D. 1300 they had departed not only Aztec, but the entire San Juan Basin.

Early archeologists believed invaders drove them from their homeland. This theory lost support as researchers looked more to the environment for an explanation. An extensive drought from 1276 to 1299 certainly influenced their lives, although they had endured severe droughts before. Added to the drought was an overuse of natural resources. After two hundred years in one place how productive could their fields be?

Large T-shaped doorways commonly open onto the plaza. Their distinctive shape may have been symbolic and/or functional. This row of rooms parallel to the trail was added later possibly during the Mesa Verde occupation.

Return to my Ruins Page

Other links of possible interest:

The official Aztec Ruins National Monument page.
Viva New Mexico Information about Aztec.
Great Outdoor Recreation Pages


Much of the text on this page is quoted from the "A Trailguide to Aztec Ruins" written by Dr. Gregory A. Cajete of Santa Clara Pueblo and Theresa Nichols of the National Park Service.


E-mail: ron@neartime.com