Saturday, February 5, 2011

Inside Aztec Ruins

The self guiding tour at Aztec Ruins has 22 stops along a 700 yard trail. Stops 7 to 12 pass through a series of rooms just inside the north wall, giving an intimate view of the interior of this very large structure.

Aztec Ruins is located in Aztec, New Mexico along the north bank of the Animas River. It sits about halfway between the spectacular sites of Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde and shows influences from both areas.

 The trail guide at Aztec Ruins features both a western scientific description and a more personal poetic description. The poetic version emphasizes that the inner rooms are intimate spaces where food was prepared, children played and the grandparents told stories. As you pass through here, smell the aroma of corn and venison stew simmering in clay pots over a fire of Utah Juniper and Pinon Pine wood.

While passing through the low passage ways, there are sideways views into adjacent rooms through plexi-glass windows. There are close up views of the brickwork and there are several examples of grinding stones. On the exterior wall, there are small openings allowing a small amount of light to enter. Otherwise, these rooms would be quite dark.
Stop 11 shows an original mat of willows sewn with yucca cord. These rooms did not have hinged doors but instead used mats, hides, slabs, or feather blankets to block the drafts. Along with the mat is a frame of plastered poles. Men and boys wove the cotton cloth and yucca fiber blankets. Women made pottery and ground corn on the stones. There was a natural rhythm to their life, keeping time to the natural cycles.

The ceilings have spruce, fir, or pine beams set into the masonry walls. These large trees species are not available in the immediate vicinity of Aztec Ruins. Upstream on the Animas River are the San Juan Mountains where Ponderosa Pines, Engelmann Spruce, and Douglas Firs grow, but the distance to move the trees is at least 20 miles. The overlying poles are Aspens supporting a layer of Utah Juniper or rush mats. On top of the mats is a layer of compacted soil.

The interior tour passes out into the plaza area toward the east end of the overall site. Visitors are called on to imagine the scene of a ritual dance. Drummers and dancers emerge from the Great Kiva, welcoming the morning sun, forming male and female lines, the two lines of human life. All are invited “to remember to remember” who they are, and their relationship to each other, the ancestors, and to the Earth Mother.

Excavations in the plaza area found a deeper layer of pottery that resembled the Chaco Canyon style to the south. The upper layer pottery more resembled the Mesa Verde style from 40 miles to the north. As climate or other factors changed, the major influence on Aztec Ruins shifted between these two centers.

In the small on site museum there are displays of pottery including the unusual spiky pot that is thought to resemble the seed pod of the Datura or Jimson Weed. There is a similar style pot on display at the Anasazi 
Heritage Center near Dolores, Colorado.

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