Aztec Ruins
Administrative History
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Great Kiva

When the Great Kiva was cleared in 1921, there was no money to fix its slumping walls and floor features or to cover it in any way. Three years later, after the Aztec Ruin was the property of the government, Morris notified the American Museum of the rapid deterioration of the structure, saying:

Of repair the ruin needs a great deal. In my opinion the most desirable portion of it would be the placing of the House of the Great Kiva in a condition comparable to that now existent in the East Wing of the ruin. The masonry of this structure is badly disintegrated, and most of it would have to be taken down and rebuilt. Fully $1500 would be necessary for this work. [70]

Ten years later the Great Kiva became an offensive tumble of stones and a pond of standing water after every rain (see Figures 7.8 and 7.9). Hamilton reported that the Great Kiva in 1933 had "lost almost all form and outline." [71] He recommended the restoration of the Great Kiva, using the Morris report of 1921 on its architecture as a guide and suggesting that $1,500 be set aside specifically for this purpose. [72]

Great Kiva
Figure 7.8. Great Kiva after excavation in 1921
(Courtesy American Museum of Natural History).

Great Kiva
Figure 7.9. Deteriorated condition of Great Kiva prior to reconstruction in 1934.

Morris was appalled at the low estimate of costs to put the Great Kiva into acceptable condition. Although 10 years previous he also had used the $1,500 figure as an estimate, in 1933, he believed that the proposed budget would pay to replace less than half the existing walls to their height at that time. "The ideal thing would be completely to restore the Great Kiva," he stated, "replacing its roof, and making available to the public an example of the most intricate sort of sanctuary that was ever developed by the Pueblo people. To do this as it should be would require a probable expenditure of $10,000, with $8,500 as an absolute minimum." [73]

Director Arno Cammerer responded to the idea of totally rebuilding the Great Kiva, rather than merely repairing it in its incomplete state, by asking John C. Merriam, director of the Carnegie Institution, to loan the National Park Service the services of Morris. Cammerer wanted Morris to supervise all the repairs and restoration work at Aztec, as well as carry out some remedial measures on cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park. This action was approved in November 1933. The following April, Morris was appointed a collaborator-at-large in the National Park Service. His salary was paid by the Carnegie Institution, and $5.00 per diem was handled by the National Park Service. [74]

While trenching for the courtyard drainage ditch was going on, preparations for the reconstruction of the Great Kiva commenced. Seasoned timber for roofing the Great Kiva was cut and hauled from the San Juan National Forest. At the monument, laborers peeled and sawed logs to proper lengths for the various roof, lintel, and ladder elements. Additional shaped sandstone blocks were hauled from a Chaco outlier site in the La Plata valley that Morris dug in 1930. A water softener was installed so that uncontaminated water could be used to mix mortar. The fallen materials that clogged the Great Kiva were removed. Meanwhile, Morris went to Chaco Canyon to learn what he could about architectural details from opened Great Kivas there. With disappointment, he reported, "The result was largely negative, hence I shall have to rebuild guided entirely by local evidence." [75] Two colleagues, Alfred V. Kidder and Jesse Nusbaum, came to Aztec to confer with Morris about how to confront this unique problem. As Chairman of the Division of Historical Research at the Carnegie Institution, Kidder was Morris's superior; Nusbaum was archeologist for the Department of the Interior.

In late May, an unparalleled effort in the history of Southwestern archeology was begun with the reconstruction of the Great Kiva. [76] Dismantling walls and resetting the stones in cement was a routine process that had been followed at Aztec Ruins since work began in 1916. Several of the 1934 crew, who had been participants in the American Museum of Natural History excavations for one or more seasons, could go forward without much direction. Very soon, however, they learned that one factor not recognized in the earlier excavation was that two benches encircled the Great Kiva at its floor level. A Mesa Verdian remodeling covered a more carefully crafted, earlier Chaco bench. With that discovery, Morris decided to restore the Great Kiva as it was built originally. [77] It was later determined that the orientation of the building at the time of use was in alignment with Alkaid in the Ursa Major, a constellation of importance to modern Pueblos in certain agricultural ceremonies. [78]

By June, Faris reported that the subterranean chamber with its floor elements and the rooms spaced around it at ground level were taking shape. [79] There were two entrances to the central chamber on the room's primary axis. One was through the altar room on the north, and the other was in the south wall. Because they were seen in similar configuration elsewhere, scientists did not question the accuracy of the restoration of the two so-called foot drums and the fire hearth on the kiva floor. The rungs of ladders leading to the surface rooms inset within the upper walls of the subterranean portion of the chamber and the altar platform in the north surface room were questioned. Nevertheless, Morris felt then and for the remainder of his life that there was ample archeological justification for his reconstruction of all aspects. [80] After a visitor fell and broke a leg descending the inset stairs from the north room to the kiva floor, maintenance workers placed wooden staircases with rails at the north and south entrances. [81]

Four columns three feet square rose to an estimated 18 feet to support a massive, flat, circular roof of approximately 90 tons in weight. [82] It was this part of the reconstruction that raised most questions among archeologists, who never had visualized such a sophisticated piece of architectural wizardry being executed by the relatively technologically unadvanced Anasazi. The columns themselves demonstrated a rather remarkable basic engineering knowledge. They were constructed of masonry courses interspersed with series of cross-bedded poles laid in alternating directions, which withstood movement as occurs in columns and in a large unbraced structure of this kind. Furthermore, each pillar in a subfloor, masonry-lined cist six feet deep was seated on a stack of four ponderous circular slabs of stone three feet in diameter. The cists rested on a deep base of compacted lignite, below which was a foundation of cobblestone and sandstone in adobe. This composited underpinning prevented the combined weight of pillars and roof from sinking into the ground upon which the kiva rested. The placement of the pillars in a square in the outer circumference of the kiva precluded a cribbed superstructure such as those on smaller clan, or residential, kivas. From the pattern of burned ceiling residue recovered on the kiva floor, Morris theorized radiating logs extending like spokes of a wheel from this central square to the outside walls of the surface rooms. Over this framework, shorter lengths of timbers were spaced in cross pattern. As in domestic ceilings, these were covered with shredded cedar bark and a foot of tamped earth.

After two and a half months and many decisions about the intentions of the prehistoric builders, the Great Kiva was nearing completion. Morris told Kidder that the inner wall and the pillars of the Great Kiva were finished. The outer wall was well above ground. He said that the weighty disks beneath the four columns set on a bed of coal shale duplicated identical methods at the Chaco ruin of Chetro Ketl. He was pleased that after examining a single beam in the wall of one of the floor vaults, Douglass read a date of A.D. 1131. [83] That placed the first construction of the sanctuary within, or perhaps a decade later than, the time span of the great house behind it. [84]

Throughout his association with work at Aztec Ruin, Morris continually ran out of money with which to complete a given task. In July 1934, he found himself in the same predicament in regard to the Great Kiva. With only enough money to carry the work through two more weeks and the roof not yet in place, he appealed to Merriam at the Carnegie Institution to ask Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes personally for an additional $2,500. [85] Ten days later Merriam forwarded the request to National Park Service Director Arthur E. Demaray. Demaray advised Ickes, "In the event this request is approved, it will provide for the proper completion of a memorial to the ingenuity of a prehistoric people in a creditable manner and protect the investment already made by the government in the restoration of the House of the Great Kiva." [86] Within a few days, he had to tell Morris that no more money would be supplied by the Public Works program. [87] Faris wrote directly to Ickes in the interim. [88]

Discouraged, Morris told his troubles to Kidder. The Great Kiva was standing with major ceiling logs in place but lacking both roof and plaster finish (see Figure 7.10). He doubted that Ickes would respond favorably to appeals for help. [89] It seemed he was right when the first reply from Washington was that the only monies available were those unused on some other phase of the general project. [90] These funds did not exist. On August 15, just $70 remained uncommitted.

Great Kiva
Figure 7.10. Erection of roof on restored Great Kiva, 1934. Custodian's residence at left center.
Tatman's apple orchard at right center. Village of Aztec behind trees at upper center.

Two weeks later, the request for supplemental money for the Great Kiva unexpectedly was approved. [91] Not wanting to see the work halted before completion, Kidder already had secured permission from the Carnegie Institution for the loan of a light truck and six weeks wages for two men in order to finish the roof under the direction of Gustav Stromsvik, a Carnegie Institution employee who had worked with Morris in Yucatan and Canyon del Muerto. On October 10, the allotment was reduced to $2,250, a setback that immediately sent Faris to the Western Union office with another plea to the director of the National Park Service. The next day the full amount was restored. [92]

In October, the finishing step on the Great Kiva was coating the interior with cement plaster and painting it. A dark red wainscoting below an upper expanse of white duplicated the typical scheme found on domestic quarters and recovered in small traces in the excavation of the Great Kiva. John Gaw Meem, a Santa Fe architect familiar with Pueblo architecture, provided a formula for the red concocted from modern ingredients that would be more permanent than the hematite used by the Indians. [93] Morris supplied a small sample of the red to redo a wall mural in the tower of Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde. He lost a second request for $7,500 to place a reinforced concrete or composition roof over the less durable copy of the aboriginal one. [94]

The excavation in 1921 of the Great Kiva took a small crew six weeks working on a shoestring budget. Its restoration 13 years later required five months' work by a large crew and considerable cash outlay (see Table 7.2). [95] Together, the two operations were unusual in being the responsibility of one scientist. Because of that, the Great Kiva in one sense is a memorial not only to the Anasazi but to Morris. The present National Park Service policy rejects this sort of total rebuilding, but unquestionably laymen have a clearer idea of how communal kivas looked when they were in use (see Figures 7.11 and 7.12). That was Morris's goal. Its maintenance added to the preservation burdens of the National Park Service.

Table 7.2.Public Works Administration Program
Aztec Ruins National Monument
F.P. 503.14

Statistical Summarya

Restoration of Great Kiva$ 12,450.76
Drainage of Ruins Court2,961.18
Patching, Restoration, and Capping Walls2,358.88
Protection of Original Ceilings660.86
Protection of Roof of Kiva E173.38
Protection of Museum against Flooding198.88
Restoration of Pottery480.12

aJ.B. Hamilton, Final Construction Report on Repair of Ruins, May 31, 1935 (National Park Service: Aztec Ruins National Monument files at the National Archives, Washington).

Great Kiva
Figure 7.11. Interior of restored Great Kiva, looking toward north altar room.
Crossbedded poles in roof support column left exposed to demonstrate method of construction.

Great Kiva
Figure 7.12. Reconstructed Great Kiva, northwest side. Doorways open into encircling surface rooms.

The scaffolding scarcely had been removed before the public began asking permission to use the rebuilt chamber for various special functions not related to the monument's purpose. These included such affairs as weddings or association conventions. The largest public gathering in the Great Kiva was an Easter sunrise service in April 1938 for all San Juan County religious organizations. More than 2,400 persons attended. [96] This important interaction between the monument and the community continues.

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Last Updated: 28-Aug-2006