Carved in Stone

cavate rooms
Ancestral Pueblo people carved rooms, known today as cavates (CAVE-eights), into the tuff cliffs of the Pajarito Plateau.

photo by sally king

Ancestral Pueblo people carved rooms, known today as cavates (CAVE-eights), into the tuff cliffs of the Pajarito Plateau. Over a thousand of these rooms are located in the walls of Frijoles Canyon. Masonry structures were built in front of most cavates. Groups of these homes, cavate villages, were used by generation after generation of Ancestral Pueblo people.
Talus House and Tyuonyi
Cavates and talus houses were built where the winter sun would warm them.

photo by sally king

Location, Location, Location
Cavates are predominately located in south or south-east facing cliffs. In these locations, the dwellings were warmed by sunlight during cold winter months. In the summer months, the thick stone kept them cool.
cavate wall
Log beams inserted into carved holes in the cliff face supported upper floors and roofs. Look for rows of holes carved along the walls of Frijoles Canyon as you walk the main trail. Plastered areas were once the back walls of talus houses.

photo by sally king

Cavate Construction
Gouges in the ceilings of cavates show that builders used tools such as digging sticks and sharpened stones to enlarge naturally occurring openings in the tuff. Most cavates are single rooms, but some are connected by interior doorways. Many cavates were fronted with masonry structures up to three stories high that were constructed of tuff blocks and mud mortar.
interior of cavate
This sketch of the interior of a cavate shows the smoke hole, wall niches, and a fire pit.
Cavate Clues
Cavates contain clues about the daily activities of the Ancestral Pueblo people who built them. These rooms were used for many things including weaving, grinding corn, and storage. Many cavates contain carved and plastered niches, probably for storing pots and household items. Sockets in the ceiling, along with anchors set in the floor, held supports for looms that were used for weaving. The cavates were also used as living quarters.

Last updated: February 24, 2015

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