Q: What is the entrance fee?
A: As of May 1, 2018, this is a fee-free park.
About the Monument:
Q: Why are they called “Aztec” Ruins? Weren’t the Aztecs in Mexico?
A: The name is a misnomer. Popular and scholarly opinion in the nineteenth century held that the ancestors of the Aztecs migrated southward into Mexico from the U.S. Southwest. As a result, Euro-American explorers at the time often gave ancient ruins names such as “Aztec,” “Montezuma,” or “Toltec.”
Q: Where are the artifacts excavated from the site?
A: Most are housed at the American Museum of Natural History in New York; others are at the Western Archeological Conservation Center in Tucson. A few particularly handsome pieces are on display at the park.
Q: How many rooms were once in Aztec’s West Ruin?
A: Archeologists estimate the West Ruin building once contained between 450 and 500 rooms, perhaps more, and stood at least three stories high.
Q: What is a kiva?
A: “Kiva” is a Hopi word for a ceremonial chamber. Small round kivas were probably used by families or clans for meetings, ceremonies and ceremonial preparation. Great Kivas, like the reconstructed example at Aztec Ruins, were probably for more communal activities and ceremonies.
Q: Where did ancestral Pueblos get their construction materials?
A: Ancestral Pueblo builders used local adobe mud for walls and cottonwood, piñon pine, and juniper for most roofs. For the massive West Ruin, however, the people cut and carried ponderosa pine, spruce, Douglas fir, and aspen from mountains at least 20 miles to the north for the roofs, while masons cut and carried stone from quarries up to three miles away for its thick walls.
Q: Is the National Park Service going to excavate the rest of the West Ruins or East Ruins?
A: Probably not. The National Park Service manages these places for this and future generations. Also, archaeological techniques are constantly improving, making a good argument to preserve sites until new and better technology develops. Also, these places are sacred to modern Pueblo peoples, and their concerns about further excavation need to be respected. Besides, excavations are very expensive, requiring funds from non-governmental sources.
About the People:
Q: Why did they leave after spending so much time and effort to build West Ruin?
A: The people lived at Aztec for almost 200 years – as long as or longer than most modern towns in the U.S. West today. In the late 1200s, however, the climate changed. Shorter growing seasons and drought forced farmers throughout the region to migrate southward.
Q: Has a cemetery been found at Aztec?
A: No. Ancestral Pueblo peoples did not use cemeteries in the modern sense. Some burials were found inside the walls and under floors at Aztec’s West Ruin. Many others were laid to rest in middens surrounding this ancient settlement.
Q: Where did the people of Aztec get their water?
A: The Animas River flows just a few hundred yards away from the ruins. Early Euro-American settlers remembered seeing “prehistoric irrigation canals” when they arrived. In ancient times these canals probably irrigated crops and brought water to the settlement.
Q: How many people lived at Aztec’s West Ruin?
A: Archeologists once thought of West Ruin as a massive apartment building. Many archeologists now theorize it was built early in the 1100s as a regional center for ceremonies and other uses. If so, perhaps fewer than 300 people lived here year round. By the 1200s, however, it was used primarily for housing.
Q: Did one family live in each room?
A: Door alignments suggest rooms were connected into “suites” of three to ten rooms. Perhaps each was home to a family, but we cannot be certain. Many firepits were found in rooms closest to the plaza, suggesting food preparation took place there. Back rooms were likely used as storage.
Q: How tall were they?
A: We don’t have information from Aztec Ruins, but based on nearby excavations it appears most women were about 4’ 8”, and most men were 5’ 2.” Interestingly however, the height of people found at great houses similar to Aztec Ruins was about 2" taller on average, suggesting they had better access to nutritious high-protein foods.
Q: When did people live here?
A: Tree ring dates indicate that people lived at Aztec Ruins from about 1110 A.D. to the late 1200s A.D. and lived in the region for millennia before.
Q: When did Aztec become a national monument?
A: The site was established and preserved “for the enlightenment and culture of the nation” by President Warren G. Harding on January 24, 1923.
Last updated: May 6, 2022