We always think of North America as “young”. Thus we travel far and wide to seek notable historical places. But sometimes history is unexpectedly closer to home.
We stumbled upon the Aztec Ruins National Monument in New Mexico, which is one of the best preserved archaeological sites in the Southwest. This site was constructed by the ancestral pueblo people around the 11th century, or over 1,000 year ago. In comparison, the famous Machu Pichu in Peru was constructed in the 15th century.The Aztec Ruins became a national monument in 1923 and a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987. For the Native American people, it is a sacred ancestral place.Initially, we were puzzled by the name as we associated “Aztec” with the Aztec Mayans of central Mexico. But we soon found out the name confusion was due to the Spanish people mistaking the builders of these structure to be “Aztec” people from Mexico because they were so impressed with these structures. But in fact, the builders were ancestral pueblo people who lived here centuries before the Aztec empire prospered.
There is a visitor center and museum with ancient pottery, weaving and original ladders. A short video, books, postcards, and traditional crafts, rest rooms and park staff assistance is available. Admission was free.
Visitors can wander through an ancient building that used to contain over 400 rooms and towering over three stories tall. There is a reconstructed ceremonial Great Kiva to explore. One can even walk through a series of rooms still roofed with original 900 year old beams.It is really incredible these early people were able to build these sophisticated buildings, without any mechanical tools. Some of the material used in the construction came from areas 30 to 50 kilometers away yet they did not even have any animals to assist with transporting the material.Just like Machu Pichu in Peru, there is no consensus on why the inhabitants constructed the community to such a grand scale and then suddenly vacated the community. Was it drought? Was it political or social upheaval? Or was it a religious sign? It remains a mystery for both Native Americans as well as Scholars.