Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Ruins of the Four Corners - Aztec and Salmon Ruins

By fortuitious coincidence I had an opportunity to explore some ruins in the four corners area after a work event. No family around to go "But I'mmmm Booooored!" means I get to take my time and enjoy the trip....anyway, had fun in two Chaco Outlier sites, relatively easy to get to in the Bloomfield/Farmington/Aztec area: Aztec Ruin is the more public and accessible (and very well restored) location, but Salmon Ruin had better literature with more interesting "here's what we found in here" facts, which was cool....

Anyway....there is nothing like exploring some ruins (even if it's well restored in a ranger-maintained national park!) to really here you go:

Exterior shot of the main complex at Salmon Ruin.
Not as restored as Aztec, but every room was laden with interesting details.
Also the site of a room with an identified ceremonial altar
used to mark sunlight around June 19-22 for the Summer Solstice.

Old ranch house/barn remains near Salmon Ruin

The Tall Kiva entry with restored ladder approximately where the
Sipapu roof entrance would be.
Entry to Aztec Ruin's hidden interior, where you can first pass through restored
original entries as intended, but then turn west and you are faced with numerous
taller, reinforced entrances dug by turn-of-the-century pot hunters leading
into the deep, dark interior...

Looking back through the deep, dark interior of Aztec Ruin

Panorama of the ruins from the north side view

View from the south side of Aztec Ruins

The fully restored/recreated Great Kiva at Aztec Ruin
The restored/recreated interior of the Great Kiva at Aztec Ruin. It had an unmistakable "feel" it as a place of ceremony and worship. It was also incredibly quiet and cool inside.

Both of these sites popped up around 1084-1090 AD and thrived until the collapse sometime around 1180-1200 AD of the greater Chaco Culture in the region. Both of these ruins were outliers to the main Chaco Complex (which is a fantastic exploration in its own right), which itself was either an outlier of or influenced through trade by northern Mexican traders (pochtecca, as they would be known during the Aztec period) of the Mogollon culture as well as Hohokam groups in southwestern Arizona.

The Chaco Complex was part of a northern trade network operating around the time the post-classic period Toltecs were going in to active collapse in central-southern Mexico. This strikes me as a bit too much of a coincidence....even if the Chacoans in these regions never met an actual Toltec trader, they no doubt traded with other northern complexes such as the Mogollon group at Casas Grandes (which had some overlap around 1130-1180 AD) in northern Mexico (Chihuahua province), as many trade goods, including carefully kept macaws, demonstrate.

If there wasn't some non-coincidental consequence that ultimately impacted the greater Southwest region as a result of conflict or an interruption of trade I would be very surprised. Even something as simple as a collapse in trade with the south, followed by a few years of drought near 1280 AD, could have been enough, as this was not a region known for stable conditions. The dwellings were ultimately abandoned and settlements began to appear elsewhere in the region, such as the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde. Those cliff dwellings are incidentally better, more defensible positions (as well as providing better access to resources, albeit with more climbing)....just saying! Remember, when the material provided talks about "social differences or conflict," that's polite phrasing for "somebody was probably killing their neighbors around here." Not always....but sometimes, for sure. And if resources are suddenly scarce? That doesn't help.

Keep in kind that, depending on which scholar you read, it is possible (likely, in fact) that the Athabaskan groups we know as the Apache and the Navajo began to arrive in the region, right around the time of abandonment in the area. The ancestral first land of the Navajo called Dinetah, which is directly east of these ruins, is awfully close. There's a lot of evidence that these new arrivals did not get along well with the existing puebloan groups.

This is also a gaming blog, so it seems unfair not to include some actual maps. Next time you have a neolithic high desert culture that needs a community for trade, commerce and ceremony, consider these:

Aztec Ruin Map

Salmon Ruin Map

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