PuebloBonito

Pueblo Bonito (Beautiful Town) is a complex covering nearly two acres. The largest and most
thoroughly studied of the Chacoan Great Houses, it was composed of more than 650 rooms.
Ancestral Pueblo people who had descended from Archaic and Early Basketmaker cultures
in Chaco Canyon began building Pueblo Bonito sometime between 828 and 850 AD, and
continued adding to it until it was finally abandoned in the 12th century (it was reoccupied
for a short time from the late 1100s to c. 1250, when Chaco Canyon was abandoned).

The Navajo name for Pueblo Bonito is Sabaohn’nai (Place where Rock is Braced Up),
which refers to Threatening Rock, a 30,000 ton monolith which collapsed in 1941 and
destroyed part of the rear wall, crushing 37 rooms which had already been excavated.

This page displays images from two winter visits and shows interior and exterior views
of the famous Chaco Masonry styles (several styles were used to build Pueblo Bonito),
rooms along the Plazas and perimeter walls, Kivas, square and T-shaped doorways,
astronomically-aligned windows and other structures of this ancient building complex.

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Chetro Ketl                           Hungo Pavi
Miscellaneous                     Petroglyphs
Pueblo del Arroyo           Pueblo Bonito
Rinconada                               Una Vida

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Pueblo Bonito Plaque 5097

The National Geographic plaque at the Southwest corner.

Chaco Canyon contains the most extensive architecture of the  Ancestral Pueblo people known as the Anasazi (a Ute/Navajo term meaning “ancient ones” or “enemy ancestors”) or the Hisatsinom (a Hopi term meaning “ancient people”). The Great Houses in Chaco Canyon were the largest buildings in North America until the 19th century.  The period of Great House construction is called the Bonito Phase (850 to 1150 AD) after Pueblo Bonito, the largest of the Great Houses in all but area (Chetro Ketl encompasses a greater acreage).

The architecture of Chaco Canyon used masonry techniques that were unique during their time, and these techniques evolved over time. Ranging from the earliest (Type I masonry) through Type IV and McElmo-style Masonry, these went from stacked stones and mud-based mortar to core-and-veneer stonework with an exceptional degree of workmanship.

Pueblo Bonito was built in a series of stages, beginning in 850 to 930 AD, then a gap of about 100 years during which the pueblo remained about the same, followed in the 1040s by a major expansion of the wings and enclosure of the plaza to form the D-shape that became the shape of the Chacoan Great House architectural style.

The Chacoans didn’t stop there, though. They continued to build for the next hundred years or so until it reached its final state in 1130-1150. When it was completed, Pueblo Bonito had over 650 rooms (over 350 on the ground floor), 32 kivas and three Great Kivas. It rose four stories along the northern arc of rooms (rooms along the plaza were for the most part single story, with two to three-story intervening sections).

Pueblo Bonito is the most thoroughly excavated and studied of the Chacoan Great Houses, and is far and away the most famous of the magnificent structures at Chaco Canyon.

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Pueblo Bonito North Plaza X9648
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The Northern room complex beyond the Plaza contains some of the oldest parts of
Pueblo Bonito. The rooms with the latilla holes (Type I style masonry) just beyond the
 foreground Kiva were built c. 891 AD. The upper stories were added in the 1040s.
Sections of the central northern room complex have been dated to the 860s, but
recent analysis of the western room block addition (dated to the 860s) implies
that the north central room complex was built prior to 860. The earliest dates
derived from tree-ring analysis of wood at Pueblo Bonito are 828 AD. Many
researchers think that the north central room block predates 800 AD. Some
early pithouses in the plaza south of this room block date to the early Pueblo I
or late Basketmaker III period (c. 700-750 AD), and this indicates that the site
was occupied and at least part of Pueblo Bonito was built prior to the massive
construction period which began in the 860s. Several of the pit structures under
the Northern Plaza near the Old Bonito room block have been dated to the 800s.

Old Bonito was apparently extremely important to the Chacoans even after the rest
of the complex was expanded and the character of the building changed. This section
was one of two which contained burials, and the grave goods in the Northern section
were spectacularly lavish. One room contained over 65,000 pieces of turquoise and
a vast number of other ornaments, pottery and other goods. There were relatively few
people buried in these rooms, so each burial was with a very large number of grave
goods, more than anywhere else in the Southwest. One of Chaco’s big mysteries.

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Pueblo Bonito Kiva 5112
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One of the numerous Kivas in the plaza, with the Northern roomblocks beyond and the North Wall of the canyon behind.

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Pueblo Bonito Kiva 5114
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A Kiva is a round ceremonial room that evolved from the early pit houses. Pueblo Bonito has 32 Kivas and 3 Great Kivas.

There has been considerable discussion by researchers recently, which has concluded that
most Kivas (or round rooms) were used as residential spaces, and that the Kiva evolved after
the major migrations in the period around the year 1300 into the ceremonial space it is today.
Pueblos built after 1300 were dense population areas rather than an aggregate of smaller units
(each with their own Kiva), and the ratio of Kivas to regular, rectangular rooms went down, which
indicates a new function for the Kiva more like their current use as a community ritual space.

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Pueblo Bonito North Plaza X9649
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When Pueblo Bonito was first excavated, the walls (and the rooms they enclosed) were in
a remarkable state of preservation due to the windblown sand they had been covered with.
Even many normally perishable artifacts were preserved by the sand. Once they had been
excavated, the walls were exposed to the wind and rain, and the mud-based mortar began
to fall out. Chaco now has a full-time preservation crew which for the most part replaces the
mortar which falls out with either a cement which mimics the original mud, or mud itself (to
maintain physical properties of the original mortar’s freezing and thawing characteristics).
The preservation crews also cap the top foot to stabilize the walls, using lighter sandstone.

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Pueblo Bonito North Plaza X9651
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Pueblo Bonito was built in front of the South Gap, the primary entrance to Chaco Canyon.
This part of the canyon (now called “Downtown Chaco”) was the center of Chaco, and it is
understandable why Pueblo Bonito was expanded more than any other Great House, as
it was the center of “Downtown Chaco” and thus it was the cultural center of the complex.

Here, in this early section of the North Plaza, you can see Type I masonry, formed from
unshaped stone slabs laid together with lots of mud-based mortar. You can see some of
the mud-based plaster the walls were finished with around the latilla holes at center left.

This Type I masonry was strong enough to support the structure when it was one or two
stories, but when the structure was expanded, the plans for multi-story, high-ceilinged
rooms meant that a new style of masonry needed to be developed. This style was the
Core-and-Veneer style which became the signature Chaco style of architecture. The
core consists of rubble and unshaped sandstone blocks laid with mortar. The veneer
is fitted sandstone blocks, left rough on the inside and laid into the mortar of the core,
and finely finished on the outside, laid in courses with complex patterns, the styles of
which changed over time, making it easy to date masonry work based on the pattern.

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Pueblo Bonito East Wall X9632
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When the new wall style was developed, existing architecture was not demolished, it was simply encased in the new style of walls. This was especially noticeable in the northern section.

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Pueblo Bonito East Wall X9633
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You can see the core-and-veneer masonry in the exposed wall on the far left of this image. This style was used to make very thick walls, which could support taller structures.

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Pueblo Bonito 5109
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A Kiva in the Southwest Plaza and the surrounding roomblock. Note the keyhole-shaped notch
on the right side of the bench. Kivas at Mesa Verde were keyhole-shaped to the top of the wall.
It is possible that this feature in the Chaco Kivas was derived from earlier Kivas at Mesa Verde.
There are a few keyhole-shaped Kivas (to the top of the wall) at Chaco Canyon, but typically the
recess in the bench at the southern end is the common feature. The southern recess was over
the subfloor ventilation shaft, but it does not seem to have been associated with ventilation.

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Pueblo Bonito North Roomblock X9652
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The Eastern section of the Northern Roomblock at Pueblo Bonito.

Note the difference in the stonework of the walls of the Kiva and lower North Roomblock
in comparison to those of the Kiva and Southwest Plaza Roomblock in the previous image.
You can also compare the finish work on the upper rear walls of this North Roomblock with
the finish work of the lower walls. Both the Southwest Plaza and Roomblock and the upper
North Roomblock were built in the second expansion (1040s to 1130s) using the new style.

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Pueblo Bonito South Wall 5098
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A prominent section of the long, straight South Wall where it steps back in the center of Pueblo Bonito behind Kiva B.

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Pueblo Bonito South Wall 5099
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These were taken with different settings of a polarizing filter, the image above at 50% and with minimum polarization at left.

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Pueblo Bonito South Wall X9634
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A detail shot of the same section of the South Wall including the Southwest corner.
The South Wall was built during the second construction phase. The original wall was
demolished and the double-walled structure was built a little further south. Foundations
were also laid for a series of room extensions, which were apparently never built.

Pueblo_Bonito_South_Wall_X9656


Pueblo Bonito South Wall X9656
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Detail of the section of the South Wall shown at the left of the previous image.
The complex masonry of the wall with alternating courses of wide and thin stones
is a refinement of the core-and-veneer stonework style known as Type III Masonry.

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Pueblo Bonito South Wall 5120
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Detail of a section of the South Wall to the East of that shown above. This image was taken with minimum polarization.

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Pueblo Bonito South Wall 5119
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The same South Wall section taken with 60% polarization, which increases contrast and color saturation.

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Pueblo Bonito South Wall X9654
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A little further East, the South wall steps out again at the end of the Southeast Plaza
where the East room block begins. Note the very low door at the far left of the image.
This image was taken with a 30% setting of a polarizing filter to increase contrast.

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Images in this section are in a number of different Galleries on the Photoshelter website.
The Banner below leads to the Indian Lands & Anasazi Sites Collection where a Gallery can be selected.

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There are 14 Sections in the Photoshelter Indian Lands & Anasazi Sites Collection

Direct Links:

The Chaco Culture Anasazi Complex Collection
(8 Galleries):

Chetro Ketl                           Hungo Pavi
Miscellaneous                     Petroglyphs
Pueblo del Arroyo           Pueblo Bonito
Rinconada                               Una Vida

Indian Lands Select
(150 Selected images)

Anasazi and Fremont Petroglyphs

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Pueblo Bonito Interior 5103
(614 KB)

Interior architecture in the East Wing of Pueblo Bonito.

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Pueblo Bonito Interior 5107
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Note the corner doorway at the center left of the image.

There are seven corner doorways. Most of these doorways connect rooms which
are diagonally adjacent, but one is precisely aligned to cast a beam at sunrise on
the Winter Solstice. The “Winter Solstice Doorway” is at the bottom of this page.

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Pueblo Bonito T-shaped Doorway 5104
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A T-shaped doorway in the East Wing. These distinctive doorways were present at several
other sites in the Four Corners area, such as Hovenweep and Aztec Ruins, but they seem to
have first appeared at Chaco Canyon. Often, they are associated with Great Kivas, but there
are also some T-shaped doors entering the plaza and in some interior rooms at Pueblo Bonito.

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Pueblo Bonito Interior Doorways X9645
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This room has two corner doorways to adjacent rooms.

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Pueblo Bonito Corner Doorway X9646
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Another of the corner doorways is seen in the image above.

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Pueblo Bonito Interior Doorways X9637
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Aligned doorways in the East Wing of Pueblo Bonito.
Note the T-shaped doorway on the second floor.

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Pueblo Bonito Interior Doorways X9641
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Note the corner doorway on the 2nd floor (top right).

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Pueblo Bonito Interior Doorways X9642
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The East Wing was the final section constructed, and it has some of the finest masonry work at Chaco. The masonry was covered with plaster, and was not visible to the occupants.

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Pueblo Bonito Interior Doorways X9639
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One final obligatory aligned-doorway shot. This evenly lit area of the East Wing allowed a longer exposure which shows the superbly refined Type IV Chacoan style masonry work.

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Pueblo Bonito Winter Solstice Doorway 5101
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The corner doorway shown in these images is aligned with the sunrise on the Winter Solstice. A beam of light enters the door at sunrise and falls on the corner opposite the doorway.

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Pueblo Bonito Winter Solstice Doorway X9636
(434 KB)

The doorway connects two diagonally adjacent rooms. There may have been a second corner doorway in the wall of the adjacent room, which has fallen. Otherwise it is a coincidence.

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Pueblo Bonito Winter Solstice Doorway X9636c
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One fact which argues for an intentional placement of this doorway is that
the beam of light falls on the opposite wall for several days prior to the Solstice,
on which day it precisely aligns with the corner opposite the doorway. While there
are no other exterior corner doorways (and few exterior wall doorways exist within
Pueblo Bonito at all, corner-type or otherwise), this alignment seems significant.

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Images in this section are in a number of different Galleries on the Photoshelter website.
The Banner below leads to the Indian Lands & Anasazi Sites Collection where a Gallery can be selected.

PhotoshelterGallerySection


There are 14 Sections in the Photoshelter Indian Lands & Anasazi Sites Collection

Direct Links:

The Chaco Culture Anasazi Complex Collection
(8 Galleries):

Chetro Ketl                           Hungo Pavi
Miscellaneous                     Petroglyphs
Pueblo del Arroyo           Pueblo Bonito
Rinconada                               Una Vida

Indian Lands Select
(150 Selected images)

Anasazi and Fremont Petroglyphs

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