The first time I visited Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon, I was overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude. I felt such a connection to the people who built this amazing place, and I silently thanked them for building it strong enough to withstand the ravages of time so I could stand in awe of their craftsmanship a thousand years later. This first image was made at the southeast corner of the pueblo.
Pueblo Bonito is the largest of a number of Greathouses in Chaco Canyon built by the ancestors of the present-day pueblo people of northern New Mexico. At the time it was built, the Anasazi’s territory covered a large area which spanned the entire Four Corners region. Chaco Canyon contained several pueblos, and is thought to have been a gathering place for religious ceremony and trading. Pueblo Bonito may have been used to house visitors as well as a large population of the local people. It was four to five stories high in some places, contained nearly eight hundred rooms, and was capable of accommodating several thousand.
This is an image of one of the thirty seven kivas in Pueblo Bonito; two of them, the great kivas, were used for ceremony. The rest were used as gathering places, similar to our present-day family or living rooms. They were, for the most part, constructed underground –the word kiva means “world below”, and had roofs constructed of vigas, latillas, and mud. Access was by means of a ladder through an opening in the roof.
This image shows a section of the long, curving back wall of the complex. The builders who designed Pueblo Bonito used core and veneer architectural techniques, making the walls of the lower levels up to three feet thick. These massive walls were capable of supporting more levels above as the structure grew in size over the centuries.
This last image was made from the top of the mesa behind the pueblo; it shows the entire complex, and the semi-circular design of the structure. The center wall divided the whole into two symmetrical halves, and was a design element in many of the pueblos of this era.
Sometime around 1150 CE, the ancient people began to migrate away from the area. Their sudden disappearance is attributed to several factors, including: climate change, topsoil degradation, and pressure from other cultures.¹
1. Wikipedia contributors. “Ancient Pueblo Peoples.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 9 Mar. 2011. Web. 10 Mar. 2011.
This an image of one of the kivas in Pueblo Bonito at Chaco Canyon. The literal translation of the word kiva is “world below”. It is thought that they served as gathering places. Some of the smaller kivas may have served as living areas, and the larger ones as sacred places for religious ceremonies. There are thirty-seven kivas in Pueblo Bonito alone, and well over a hundred in Chaco Canyon. The largest at Casa Rinconada is 19 meters in diameter, and has a window which is aligned with the rising sun on the summer solstice. The light from the window shines on a recessed niche in the opposite wall. This is just one of the amazingly accurate architectural/archeological features found in Chaco Canyon.
Last Sunday Robin and I took a drive out through the village of San Luis, and then on through Torreon, and finally to Pueblo Pintado. Pueblo Pintado is located about thirty miles southeast of Chaco Canyon. It was actually an outlying village, and a part of the Chaco culture which thrived in northwesten New Mexico around a thousand years ago.
Both Chaco and Pueblo Pintado are characterized by the intricate, tightly fit stone work of the buildings. Many of the walls are still standing even though they are situated on a ridge with high exposure to wind and weather. This image shows the ceremonial kiva and the walls of the great house beyond. As I have mentioned before, when I stand amidst the ruins of an ancient culture, there is a profound feeling of connection with the people who lived there that comes over me. I try to imagine what it was like to live here at that time, and to be a part of a long forgotten way of life.