The Master Builders of the Ancient Pueblo

ICTMN Staff
1/14/11

National Geographic Kids put together a beautiful photo gallery of Native American people and places.  This photo of the ancient Anasazi's cliff dwelling in Colorado's Mesa Verde National Park.  The Anasazi, a prehistoric tribe that became the Pueblo Indians (the term "Anasazi," which is Navajo for "Ancient Ones" or "Ancient Enemy" is not preferred by the modern Puebloan peoples) built these cliff dwellings into the huge sandstone formations that are present in the Four Corners region of the country, where Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado all touch.  These dwellings were strategic, as during the 13th century the southwest saw a rise in regional populations, and the cliff dwellings served as defensible homes.

The ncient Pueblo were master builders.  They constructed immense complexes, called "Great Houses," many of which can be seen today at Chaco Culture National Historical Park in northwestern New Mexico. which often had more than 200 rooms (there were some great houses that held up to 700 rooms.)  The ancient Pueblo people built these structures using well devised and implemented plans, constructing and finishing large portions of these sacred structures in a single stage.  These houses typically faced south, had high ceilings, and could be as tall as five stories. They came with plazas and terraces, and rooms were often suites—large front rooms, smaller rear interior rooms, and storage spaces.

For every 29 rooms in a great house there was one kiva, a room designed for religious rituals.  These were mostly built underground, and were square walled.  As the years passed, the Pueblo Indians began building much more elaborate kivas.  Tower kivas and great kivas were built, as well as kivas in the shape of a keyhole.  Archaeologists are able to know where war broke out among the tribes of the southwest by the destruction of kivas, as burning them was often an act of hostility and war from one tribe against another.

The ancient Puebloan people didn't stop at cliff dwellings and Great Houses, they also built roads.  The Chaco Road is a system that connected great house sites.  The ancestral Puebloan people built, from what archaeologists have surmised thus far, eight main roads that are each more than 30-feet wide and run for more than 180 miles.  They manage to cut huge stairways into the cliff rock to connect the ridgetops to the roadways on the valley floor.

The Chaco Culture National Historical Park is a great place to see all of this incredible architecture up close.  The park was once the cultural center for the ancient Pueblo people between 900 and 1150 A.D., and today is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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