Aztec Ruins, New Mexico

“Go, Go, Go! – Need Backup”



Whenever someone mentions the Aztecs, what is your first thought? If you happen to be a gamer, than probably the first association to the word is a map in the popular first-person-shooter game called Counter Strike. Let’s develop on that: what do you remember about that particular map? The surroundings appear to be made from white stone, with some kind of etchings embedded in them, right? Apart from the two bomb sites, what else do you remember? A couple of stairs, a swamp and a wooden bridge. All of these depict the visions of the map’s designers and while they are somewhat accurate, it cannot be said that they represent the Aztec culture to the fullest. After all, we all know that Counter Strike was designed to be popular, not historically accurate. But, while we are on the subject, instead of just defusing bombs and painting the walls with the blood of your opponents, it might be wise to focus on the map’s name and what it actually represents.



What Is It About The Aztec Ruins?



The Aztecs were a people who lived mostly in Central America between the 14th and 16th century. They had a fascinating culture, one that fascinates scientists and historians even to this day. However, one of the things that they were most famous for were sacrifices. They sacrificed members of their own people, as well as those belonging to other tribes, because they believed that the Universe only survived and existed due to the spilling of human blood. In other words, they believed that their gods sacrificed themselves so that humanity could live. In return, they had to sacrifice other humans to repay the debt of their existence to the gods. The principle they believed in was blood for blood. Anyway, several articles could be written about the Aztecs and their culture. However, this particular one is meant to turn your attention to the Aztec Ruins National Monument in New Mexico.



Back In The Day



Primarily an archeological site, the Aztec Ruins are today a National Monument. Situated in the north-western part of New Mexico, the town of Aztec (can’t imagine how it got its name), located on the Animas River, is home to the Aztec Ruins National Monument. Precisely, its location is approximately 10 miles (or 16 kilometers) from the Colorado state line. Covering an area of around 320 acres (or 130 hectares), the Aztec Ruins National Monument was first established as early as 1923. It was not until 64 years later that it was also designated a World Heritage site. While this occurred in 1987, it is also important to mention another significant area that was designated that same year. This area is located to the south and it is known by the name Chaco Culture National Historical Park.



A Centuries Old Myth



The site was first excavated archeologically in 1916 by the American Museum of Natural History. This is the really interesting part: it was Earl H. Morris (an employee of the Museum) who was directing the excavation when the truth about the Aztec Ruins was finally discovered. Namely, the first white settlers who migrated to the area considered the ruins to be Aztec by origin. That belief lasted through the centuries until it was discovered that the Aztec Ruins were, in fact, the ruins of an Ancestral Pueblo settlement from the 12th century! Imagine that! The ruins were actually several centuries older than originally thought! The settlement was built by people from the southern Chaco Canyon.



You might have heard of them as the Anasazi or the Ancestral Pueblo people, but either way, they were the real ancestors of the modern Pueblo Indians. The name derives from the way they lived – in pueblos. Pueblos were communal dwellings with multiple levels, made from stone, mud and sandstone. These pueblos could house hundreds of people due to the fact that they had dozens of rooms. The upper levels were reachable via wooden ladders. The inhabitants of what is today Mesa Verde National Park used the Aztec Ruins site back in the 13th century, but abandoned it around the year 1300.



Equally Intriguing Today



The Aztec Ruins today spread across a 1-mile (or 1.6-kilometer) width and a 2-mile (or 3.2-kilometer) length. Several smaller pueblos as well as “great houses” with multiple stories have survived to this day. The most interesting area of the Aztec Ruins (and the only area open for visitors) is the West Ruin. This part of the complex once had an open plaza with over 500 rooms. A great number of those rooms still have their original roofs made from wood. The rooms also had a number of artifacts stored in them, which provided a small example of the way in which the Ancestral Pueblo people lived.



Another incredible thing about the West Ruin is the fact that it still has the Great Kiva. This is a round structure, also subterranean, which was used for numerous community ceremonies. The Great Kiva’s 48-foot (15- meter) diameter gives out the impression of a truly magnificent structure, one that was reconstructed in 1934 by Morris. Although parts of the reconstruction were performed by guessing what the structure used to look like, the result is still breathtaking. The kiva had a central position in the culture of the Ancestral Pueblo people.



An Uplifting Experience



The Aztec Ruins visitors’ centre has numerous interesting artifacts on display. The centre is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day, with the exception of Christmas Day, Thanksgiving Day and New Year’s Day. Unlike a great majority of other National Monuments that charge a fee per vehicle, the Aztec Ruins National Monument charges a fee of $5 for adults (or in other words, per person). Children who are 15 and under can enter the Monument site for free. One entrance pass will allow you to roam the area for as long as 7 days.



The visitors’ center also features video programs, exhibits and an information desk. There are also slides, postcards, calendars, video tapes, books and other types of interpretive items on sale. Visiting such a valuable and significant historical site cannot be measured in any earthly possession. The true value of a visit to this place is measured in the spiritual and the intellectual; that is something that will stay with you for the rest of your life.



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