Aztec Ruins National Monument invites speculation and exudes the wonder and mystery of the past. The extent of the ruins, excavated and reconstructed as well as unexcavated or reburied, is impressive. Along the Animas River, this National Monument is located near Aztec, New Mexico, which was named Aztec by Anglo settlers who thought the Aztecs had built these structures. I find it interesting that the name Aztec has been maintained even though this premise was proven false and study has shown the Aztec Indians of Central Mexico blossomed centuries after the ancestral Pueblo people who lived here.
Throughout the Four Corners area are a multitude of ruins, great and small. Aztec appears to have been a major center of the ancestral Puebloans, rivaling Chaco Canyon and flourishing for at least a century after Chaco declined. The inhabitants of Aztec farmed the river bottoms and irrigated with hand-dug canals.
Aztec was a large complex and the community consisted of tri-walled kivas, great houses, small pueblos, roads, and great kivas. The west pueblo was the largest of the great houses and contained about 400 rooms which may have housed several hundred people. Hundreds of rooms formed massive walls around the perimeter, enclosing a central plaza. The reconstructed Great Kiva is the centerpiece of the West Ruin area. Archeologists have found evidence that there was a vast trade network throughout the entire region and these people traded goods and shared ideas. The masonry at Aztec shows the influence both of Chaco Canyon to the south and Mesa Verde to the northwest.
“Why did these people leave?” is only one of numerous unanswered questions. There are many conjectures: drought or disease or social, religious or political issues. Perhaps their own prosperity overcame them and the area would no longer sustain the population. The question remains unsolved.