chaco culture: chetro ketl & pueblo bonito

Archeologists use the word “great house” to describe large sites such as Chetro Ketl and Pueblo Bonito.  They share many architectural features such as planned layouts, multi-storied construction, distinctive masonry, sprawling rooms, plazas and huge subterranean ceremonial chambers called “great kivas.”

Chetro Ketl is the second largest great house in Chaco Culture National Historical Park. It covers more than three acres and includes an immense elevated earthen plaza that stands 12 feet above the valley floor.  The trail here offers a unique view into the lower sections of the building and the construction of the great kiva.


Chetro Ketl

Here, builders quarried rocks for construction, harvested timbers on distant mountains, and erected massive blocks of rooms during building episodes. The people built dams and canals, and engineered straight avenues and “roads” that crisscrossed the region and connected Chaco to distant communities.


Chetro Ketl

All of these projects required complex planning, organization, and cooperation on a region-wide level.


masonry at Chetro Ketl


masonry at Chetro Ketl


Chetro Ketl


kiva at Chetro Ketl


wall at Chetro Ketl


kiva at Chetro Ketl


Chetro Ketl


Chetro Ketl


Chetro Ketl


masonry at Chetro Ketl


Chetro Ketl

It was very hot and dry walking through these complexes, with no shade in sight, and I ran out of water quickly.  I could see my car the whole time, but I didn’t want to walk back to it and then have to retrace my steps. I should have gone back to the car, because in the heat of the canyon, I felt parched, sunburned, and slightly dizzy.  A sign in a pit toilet warned about heatstroke, and I wondered if I felt this way due to the power of suggestion, or if I were really dehydrated.

Walking on the path along the cliff from Chetro Ketl to Pueblo Bonito, I found a most unlikely character.


sea creature at Chaco Canyon

Pueblo Bonito is the core of the Chaco complex and the largest great house.  It is deeper into the canyon than Chetro Ketl.  Built in stages between the mid 800s and the early 1100s, Pueblo Bonito reached at least four stories with over 600 rooms and 40 kivas.  The building served many functions, including ceremony, administration, trading, storage, hospitality, communication, astronomy and burial of the honored dead.  Only a small portion seemed to serve as living quarters.


Pueblo Bonito

The graveled trail through Pueblo Bonito is 0.73 miles roundtrip.


Overlooking Pueblo Bonito

Researchers believe great houses were examples of public architecture, used only periodically when ceremonies, commerce or trading drew people together from other areas.  It is believed these great houses did not have large resident populations.


Pueblo Bonito

Lt. James Simpson and his Mexican guide, Carravahal, gave Pueblo Bonito its name (“Beautiful Town” in Spanish) in 1849, during a military expedition into Navajo territory.  For the Hopi and the Pueblo people of New Mexico, this great house is an important part of their ancestral homeland — a special place where clans stopped and lived during their sacred migrations. Descendants of these groups continue to return to this place to honor the spirits of their ancestors.

Pueblo Bonito is the most thoroughly investigated, visited, and celebrated cultural site in Chaco Canyon.  This was the center of the Chacoan world, a world that eventually covered much of the present-day southwest, including the San Juan Basin in New Mexico and portions of Colorado, Arizona and Utah.


Pueblo Bonito

Great kivas are found in nearly every Chacoan culture built between 900-1200.  Often located within or near the plazas of great houses, they were central to communities.  They were probably used for ceremonial purposes and could have accommodated hundreds of people.


kiva at Pueblo Bonito


kiva at Pueblo Bonito

The building’s unique D-shaped geometry enclosed two plazas with dozens of ceremonial kivas.  Straight avenues linked the building with nearby and distant great houses.


Pueblo Bonito


wall at Pueblo Bonito


Pueblo Bonito


Pueblo Bonito


walls at Pueblo Bonito

Burials uncovered at Pueblo Bonito contained large quantities of worked shell, turquoise pendants and beads, conch-shell trumpets, painted flutes, and other items perhaps representing people of higher rank or status in the Chacoan society.


Pueblo Bonito

While great houses such as Pueblo Bonito and Chetro Ketl were being used, smaller, more typical villages throughout the canyon were also inhabited, suggesting that different groups of people, perhaps speaking different languages, lived side by side.


On Sundays, I post about hikes or walks that I have taken in my travels; I may also post on other unrelated subjects. I will use these posts to participate in Jo’s Monday Walks or any other challenges that catch my fancy.

This post is in response to Jo’s Monday Walk: Canalside at Leeds in Christmas.