Excavation of a Portion of the East Ruins, Aztec Ruins National Monument, New Mexico


We will begin with a summation of Morris' views (1939: 37-40) on the Chaco-Mesa Verde sequence in the area north of the San Juan and at Aztec Ruins in particular. He demonstrated first that makers of Classic Mesa Verde pottery took over the West Ruin at Aztec after it had lain abandoned for some time. In this same period the makers of Mesa Verde pottery also came to occupy many small houses already built along the valley, as shown by the fact that burials in the refuse heaps there contain mostly Chaco wares, while the pottery in the house burials is usually of Mesa Verde type. Such excavations as Morris made in the East Ruin at Aztec led him to conclude that it was built during the Mesa Verde occupation of the region.

The Mesa Verde reoccupation of the West Ruin, of numerous small sites, and construction of the East Ruin were parts of a large-scale occupation of the area. Another Mesa Verde site which Morris considered to be of "great house" proportions lay on the south side of the Animas, opposite Flora Vista (since largely bulldozed into a diversion dam), and another site known as the Old Fort south of the confluence of the Animas and San Juan. Hence, in the lower Animas Valley there were four Mesa Verde "great houses," three built by Mesa Verde groups, and a fourth marking the reoccupation of a previously existent structure.

After summing up the extent of the Mesa Verde occupation in the area, Morris' final point was that in the light of available evidence the "great houses" seem to have been the product of an architectural vogue rather than the results of "fear driven necessity."

Today, another hypothesis, or a modified version of it, is gaining acceptance which seems to fit the architectural facts equally well, namely, that the great houses, and perhaps unit types as well, of the Mesa Verde of Pueblo III times lying in proximity to structures of rather bizarre ground plan like the Hubbard Ruin and Mound F were the result of socio-religious forces impelled by rites, ceremonies, and group action, perhaps guided by a cult, guild, or priestly class, in the propitiation and furtherance of an expanded agricultural economy. In other words, the settlement pattern grew out of a religious system involved in rain-producing ceremonies and crop production. (For a discussion of this concept, see following sources: Haury, Wendorf, in Willey 1956; Vivian 1959).

Within the framework of the above hypothesis, it appears very possible that the East Ruin was a village divided into two approximately equal parts, representing dual socio-ceremonial units. It is clear that the Mesa Verde Anasazi were expending major efforts in the building of religious structures, and it seems plausible that these efforts were guided by priests, some of whom may have had multicommunity affiliations. There are at least two so-called tri-wall structures at Aztec, one (Mound F) being located just 50 yards west of the East Ruin. The Hubbard Ruin (Vivian 1959) is about 100 yards north of the West Ruin. It could be inferred that the Hubbard Ruin was associated with either the West Ruin or its Annex or both; and possibly the second tri-walled building was, by its proximity and similarity in architecture and surface pottery, related to the East Ruin.

The superficial resemblance between the Great Kiva and the tri-walled structures has been pointed out by Morris (1921: 137). He further shows (ibid.: 127) that the Great Kiva in the plaza of the West Ruin was initially built and used by people of Chaco derivation, and that it was subsequently occupied by the newcomers from Mesa Verde. He further points out that the building needed repairs, and the Mesa Verde people were responsible for the later poor workmanship during their reoccupation and use of the same structure (ibid.: 137)

Presumably then, the Mesa Verde people used it for ceremonial purposes for an indeterminate period, but ultimately abandoned the Great Kiva and used it for a trash repository. This abandonment may well be contemporary with development of the tri-wall structure, which may have grown out of a changed religious ceremonial pattern in vogue by the middle of the 13th century.

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Last Updated: 10-Jan-2008
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