Aztec Ruins
Administrative History
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Dominating the American Museum assortment are pottery vessels. The more than 186 burials found within the protective walls of the house block, rather than in trash mounds strewn in the open, account for an unusually large number of unbroken earthenwares that had been placed beside bodies as funerary offerings. Grave 25 in North Wing Room 111, for instance, contained more than 50 pieces of pottery. Over subsequent centuries, other grave vessels were crushed in situ by falling beams, masonry, and trash. Excavators were able to gather up their fragments for reassembly. After work shut down for the day, Morris spent hours by the light of a kerosene lamp fascinated by the jigsaw-puzzle process of putting pots back together. According to Talbot Hyde, his field assistant one year, this was done at the expense of keeping notes or cataloging specimens. [6] Other reconstruction was completed while Morris periodically was at the museum in New York between field seasons. A fair number of pots could be only partially reclaimed. The few sherds left in the storage trays likely were pieces that did not fit. The Morris field catalogue indicates 398 pieces of ceramics at the American Museum. This contrasts to 264 vessels recovered during American Museum excavations now divided between Aztec Ruins National Monument and the Western Archeological and Conservation Center. Many of the pots still in the West were restored by the Civil Works Administration project of 1934. [7]

The pottery collection from Aztec Ruin never was described as such, but background information obtained from it surely was incorporated into the rather exhaustive treatment of regional ceramics included in Morris's later large monograph on sites in the neighboring La Plata drainage. [8]

Approximately 160 vessels in the collection at the American Museum can be definitely assigned stylistically to the modern McElmo Black-on-White and Mesa Verde Black-on-White classifications. They were the principal evidence for what Morris interpreted as a reoccupation of the West Ruin by persons affiliated with a Mesa Verdian cultural orientation. Of the Mesa Verde pots, there are 132 bowls in a range of sizes from small to very large. Other forms represented are mugs, ladles, kiva jars, canteens, forms with modeled animal representations, and necked jars.

At least 25 vessels are of the Chaco mineral-paint tradition, but some of these may more properly be considered Mancos Black-on-White. That is a Pueblo II style that was a precursor to the vegetal-paint Mesa Verde series but with wide distribution both north and south of the San Juan. Almost exclusively, the Chaco types were recovered from refuse. They include bowls, pitchers, seed jars, and necked jars. One bowl retains a leather thong passed through holes on either side of cracks to cinch the vessel together. This method of vessel repair is commonly seen but rarely with the vital connector in place.

Although at Aztec Ruin, as in other Pueblo II-III communities, corrugated cooking and storage vessels were much more frequent than decorated service ones, they are not numerous in this collection. That is because of the selective standards by which the assortment was amassed. Many corrugated earthenwares were recovered at Aztec, buried beneath floors of the house block, where they had been used as storage cists (see Figure 3.18). Others were retrieved from drifts of trash. These and still others remained at Aztec. They were mostly in broken condition until the Civil Works Administration project. Several unusual corrugated examples, which did get to New York, were a tiny three-inch-high jar found with its stone lid beside Grave 29 in Room 141 and a partial jar whose corrugations were overlaid with applied clay spines. A similar spiked, small-mouthed, lugged olla lacking corrugations is on exhibit at the monument. It was taken in 1925 from Room 193 in the North Wing, when the season's work was done under permit from the National Park Service. A black-on-white sherd with spines is illustrated by Morris in his first detailed Aztec Ruin report. [9] It came from a small house 150 yards north of the northeast corner of the Aztec Ruin. Was this uncommon spiny form of decoration a local idiosyncrasy?

Unfired clay plugs, some with fingerprints, used to stopper utilitarian earthenware jars and a series of flat, shaped, stone jar covers round out the inventory of basic cooking and storage receptacles.

Neither the Mesa Verde nor Chaco examples of the usual earthenware forms are of the top quality of these two traditions as seen in the centers of their development. Why this should be so is a matter to be resolved by future research. Are the reasons temporal, provincial, or because of a local imitative manufacture? Or a combination of all three? If physical analyses were done, perhaps trade exchanges could be identified through ascertaining types of temper used.

Among the Chaco exotic ceramics are crudely modeled effigy vessels generally bearing some black decoration over a white ground. Most of the 25 examples in this collection are fragments of deer, skunk, birds, frogs, unidentified animals, and humans. The projections of their appendages made them subject to breakage. [10] Eight fragments were from Room 47 in the East Wing. This chamber was filled up to eight feet with what Morris classed as Chaco rubbish. Another four pieces came from Room 48 next door, a room also crammed with Chaco waste. [11] Kiva Q beneath the southwest corner of the West Ruin courtyard yielded at least a dozen pieces of Chaco pottery. Among them were a nearly complete seated deer or mountain sheep figure (F.S. 4304) and a partial squatting hunchback figure (F.S. 4303) with arms on knees but lacking left leg and hand. Both objects have been heavily restored. Probably the work was done by Alma Adams, who repaired many of Morris's personal vessels and later was employed to work on specimens at Aztec. In most particulars, the human figure was like a more fragmentary specimen taken from the fill of Room 47. [12] On both humans, black lines indicate facial features, hair, body tattooing, and arm or neck bands. Faces are flat, ears are pierced with holes (maybe for suspended earbobs?), and basal air holes prevented breakage during firing. A comparable but finer example was owned by Mrs. Oren F. Randall, of Aztec, who once loaned it to Custodian Boundey for exhibit. [13] They also are reminiscent of fragments illustrated from Pueblo Bonito and presumably like a specimen taken by John Wetherill from a grave near Pueblo Alto in Chaco Canyon. [14]

The human effigy at the American Museum is particularly intriguing because in the same storage case is a near-twin. The second effigy was purchased in the early 1920s by Morris on behalf of Charles Bernheimer from a collector in Blanding, Utah. The lower legs are missing from this figure. Blanding was, and has remained, a hotbed of pothunting activities. The provenience of this specimen probably was not nearby, since no Chaco outlier community is known thereabouts. It could have been a trade item or trophy, which got far beyond its usual range. At any rate, Bernheimer was another of the museum's wealthy patrons of the time, who eventually must have donated this figure to that institution.

The possibility of the use of molds to form effigy figures such as these would be a worthwhile study contributing to the knowledge of Anasazi ceramic technology. The distribution of the finished products would add to information about Anasazi interactions. Did the figures have esoteric meaning or, less plausible, were they merely fun? Or, as among Pueblos today, were they made for commercial reasons? The hunchback figurines might be part of the cult revolving around Kokopelli, the ubiquitous Anasazi fertility symbol.

A rather impressive trade pattern is inherent in an estimated 33 vessels originating in other parts of the Anasazi world but exhumed within the West Ruin. These include a variety of redwares that were characteristic of the Kayenta district, Kayenta-allied colonies in the so-called San Juan Triangle, or the Little Colorado drainage. These are areas as much as several hundred miles west and southwest of Aztec in northeastern Arizona and southeastern Utah. Another group of imported ceramics were black-on-whites and highly burnished brownwares with manipulated exterior surfaces from the region south of Zuni straddling the New Mexico-Arizona border, also more than 100 miles away. Most of the recovered trade pottery came from portions of the West Ruin Morris regarded as Chacoan. That fact takes on added significance when considering the network of roads, probably at least in part an aspect of trade, now known to have laced together the Chaco domain and the prevailing absence of foreign pottery in sites on the Mesa Verde proper. A study of the long-distance traffic in very breakable ceramics in the eastern San Juan Basin might revolve around the Aztec findings, which represent some of the most northerly and easterly occurrences of these alien types.

The American Museum excavators found 10 trade vessels in Room 111 in the North Wing. Since they were part of a rich burial, they might have represented a valuable offering or perhaps the personal property of a trader. [15] The workers also recovered similar pottery in adjacent Kiva L. Morris calls this the largest concentration of Tularosa ceramics encountered in the ruin. [16]

During the thirteenth century, dozens of small cobblestone houses peppered the environs of the Aztec Ruin. Because quantities of carbon-painted Mesa Verde ceramics were found in them, Morris attributed them to an occupation by a population allied to the Mesa Verdian cultural orientation. In 1915, a plowman turned up 86 complete vessels of this type at one site 50 yards north of the east end of the Aztec Ruin. The man's plow shattered an unknown number of others before he was stopped. [17] Because he gave most of the recovered vessels to a scientific institution, Morris rationalized his own pothunting in these sites as justifiable. That accounts for pots from 12 sites outside the West Ruin being included with the American Museum collection (see Table 13.1).

Table 13.1. Animas Valley Sites, other than West Ruin, Yielding Pottery in the American Museum of Natural History Collection.a

Ruin leveled by Abrams, 150 yards north of northeast corner of Aztec Ruin.

Ruin at foot of hill, 125 yards west of Abrams house, northwest of Aztec Ruin.

Ruin at west end Animas Bridge, Aztec.

Ruin in field northeast of Aztec Ruin.

Ruin 225 yards east of north corner of Aztec Ruin.

Ruin at foot of hill, northeast of Aztec Ruin.

Ruin on Randall farm, 1/4 mile east of Aztec Ruin.

Ruin east of wash that passes east end of Aztec Ruin [Mound K?].

Ruin between Aztec Ruin and Abrams ranch house [Hubbard Mound?]

Kiva northeast of Abram's hay barn, northeast of Aztec Ruin. [Earl Morris Ruin?]

Quarry, west side of Estes Arroyo, 2 miles northeast of Aztec Ruin.

Ruin in road north of Aztec Ruin.

a Earl H. Morris, Field Catalogue (Aztec Ruins files, Department of Anthropology Archives at the American Museum of Natural History, New York; Collection Accession files, Aztec Ruins National Monument Headquarters, Aztec, New Mexico).

Specimens from a dwelling 225 yards east of the West Ruin include objects representative of the entire Anasazi continuum from Basketmaker III through the Pueblo II and Pueblo III periods of both Chaco and Mesa Verde branches. That is an estimated span of some 600 years. A Basketmaker III vessel from another house 125 yards west of the Abrams farm is a further clue to an early occupation of the valley. Diggers unearthed a child's burial in Room 106 in the South Wing of the West Ruin, which was accompanied by a Basketmaker III-Pueblo I bowl. One may guess that it had been obtained from vandalizing some earlier remains in the vicinity. The question of horizons both predating and postdating the West Ruin complex may be dealt with in part through these and similar pottery finds.

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Last Updated: 28-Aug-2006