Monday, March 3, 2008

The Ruins of Aztec, New Mexico

The National Park Service describes The Ruins of Aztec as “Contrary to the name, these structures were not built by the Aztecs of central Mexico. The Aztecs in fact lived centuries after the building of this ancestral Pueblo community. Inspired by popular histories about Cortez’s conquest of Mexico and thinking that Aztecs built the structures, early settlers named the site Aztec. The nearby city eventually took its name from the site.”

On a recent trip to New Mexico, I took the time to visit The Ruins of Aztec. I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of excavation work that had been completed and the actual size of the exhibit. It covers more than 320 acres. A visitor can meander around the site and get a real sense of the way people lived more than 700 years ago. The majority of homes were built around a huge central plaza. Some of the homes were built three stories high and comprised hundreds of homes. In the center of the plaza stood the main kiva building which is believed was used as a ceremonial chamber. Earl Morris, an archaeologist, first visited the site in 1916, and began the first excavations on the large kiva in 1921. After leaving the site for a few years, he returned in 1934 to supervise the renovations to the large kiva. It is the only reconstructed great kiva in the Southwest. It is an impressive building with a stone bench around the circular, interior walls. It has a large fire pit in the center and two open burial pits.

When Morris first saw the site, only the tops of sandstone walls were visible above the surrounding brush and trees. But now, almost one hundred years later, we can see the true extent of this magnificent community village and get a small glimpse into their lives.

Don’t miss the 24 minute documentary on the excavations and the museum. For more information go to: