Aztec Ruins

National Monument: 1923
World Heritage Site: 1987.
A Chacoan outlier built
by the Hisatsinom,
ancestors of today's
How to get there.
[Aztec Ruins]
Notice the band of green limestone at the top of the wall.

History Discovery Aztec Ruins Photos Pioneer Village Photos

This site was named because it was thought that the inhabitants had been related to the Aztec. Not so. The rise and fall of Aztec Ruins culture occurred centuries before the Central American peoples.

Because Chaco is considered to be the center of the Hisatsinom culture, Aztec Ruins and Salmon Ruin are called outliers of that center.

Aztec Ruins is located at nearly a half-way point between Chaco, 65 miles to the south, and Mesa Verde, 40 miles northwest. Chaco Canyon had a main occupation from 1050 to 1150, and Mesa Verde was mainly occupied between 1200 and 1275.


Aztec was inhabited for about 200 years, with the first arrivals coming about 1088-1090, and the deepest excavations have found Chacoan pottery. According to tree-ring dating the West Ruin was built between 1111 and 1115 AD. This 450-room pueblo includes one of the few tri-wall kivas ever found. By the 13th century this pueblo may have equaled Chaco in size.

A severe drought began in 1130 that was to last 60 years, and by 1150 the Chacoan social and economic center was declining which impacted Aztec as well as Salmon Ruin. Though the region was mostly abandoned, some local peoples of the San Juan Valley lived at both sites until about 1185 and they used the structures as they found them.

Then people related to the Mesa Verdans took over in 1225, and changes in the architecture were made, consisting mainly of dividing the large rooms and building many small kivas within the large square and rectangular rooms.

As each succeeding group moved in they depleted the resources of the area according to their preferences and moved on. A drought from 1276 to 1299 was the telling blow and the last inhabitants left in the 1300's.

Some recent research relating to Aztec Ruins may be found in the first issue of the Four Corners Clamor


The first person we know of to visit Aztec Ruins was a geologist, Dr. John S. Newberry, in 1859. At that time the site was undisturbed.

By 1878, when anthropoligist Lewis H. Morgan came to the ruins, about one-fourth of the stones had been used as building materials by settlers. Looting continued until 1889, when the site became privately owned.

Then in 1916 excavating was sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History; Aztec Ruins was made a national monument in 1923, and became a World Heritage Site in 1987.

The Great Kiva was reconstructed by Earl Morris in the 1930's and is the largest fully reconstructed kiva in North America.

Aztec Ruins is 320 acres in size and is administered by the National Park Service, Department of Interior.

Aztec Ruins Architecture

[Aztec Ruins] [Aztec Ruins]
[Aztec Ruins] [Aztec Ruins]
[Aztec Ruins] [Aztec Ruins]

It was an overcast day as Sheilah writes about in Along The Path

Aztec Ruins Pioneer Village

These buidings are reconstructions of the originals.

[Aztec Ruins Blacksmith Shop]
Blacksmith Shop
[Aztec Ruins Log House w/ Outhouse]
Log House with Outhouse
[Aztec Ruins Jail]
[Aztec Ruins Citizens Bank]
Citizens Bank

How to get there

Aztec Ruins National Monument is just 30 miles from Farmington, NM, east and then north from Salmon Ruin, and the history of the two sites are closely related. For a quick education in this architecture, Aztec Ruins and Salmon Ruin are not to be missed.

Farmington Information: 1-800-448-1240

See the Four Corners Clamor: Main Index for more recent discoveries
and events concerning Native American Indians.
For beautiful authentic scenes of these early peoples see the
Mark Silversmith Gallery.
Mark researches the tribes and portrays their lives of then and now.
We encourage traditional Native American Indian and Multicultural arts,
crafts, and enterprises. For quality creations by our select artisans see the
Four Corners Postcard Business Directory for listings and contact information.

Back to Four Corners Postcard

© Copyright 1998 by L. Michael Smith. Fair use granted.