Chimney Rock National Monument, Colorado

Welcome to Archaeology Week! After visiting the Great Sand Dunes, I headed towards something marked in my atlas as “Chimney Rock Archaeological Area,” which is as of this year officially a national monument. I didn’t look up what I was about to see so you can imagine how excited I was to learn that there were significant standing ruins there. I started by exploring the Great Kiva Trail on my own, which features a 44 foot diameter kiva – a gathering or religious place – and a pit house, or typical living structure. I then went on the Pueblo Trail, which leads you past the Ridge House and some unexcavated structures up to the Great House and a close-up view of Chimney and Companion Rocks. A guide is required for the latter trail and I was very lucky that was the case because my tour guide, Susan, was a retired professor from the University of Texas who was extremely knowledgeable. After the tour concluded she was able to offer me advice on where to go next in order to explore the Ancient Puebloan culture. Which is how this one stop turned into a week of visiting archaeological sites.

For some background: Chimney Rock is an outlier community of the Ancestral Puebloan culture (also known as the Chacoan Culture and formerly known as the Anasazi). Structures and archaeological evidence at Chimney Rock show occupation from 925 – 1125 AD, with larger structures dating from the 1080s and 1090s, coinciding with a mass colonization of the area by emigrants from the cultural epicenter, Chaco Canyon. This site is most well-known however for its proximity and orientation to Chimney Rock: the Great House at Chimney Rock was constructed to align with an astrological event called the major lunar standstill – which only occurs once every 18.6 years – in which the moon appears to rise at its highest and lowest points relative to the horizon within two weeks. Meaning, the house was deliberately positioned so that once every 18.6 years the moon would rise in the tiny space between Chimney and Companion Rocks. Pretty amazing.

Chimney and Companion Rocks on ridge, Chimney Rock National Monument, Colorado

Chimney and Companion Rocks on ridge, Chimney Rock National Monument, Colorado

Masonry at Great House, probable construction 1076 AD (stage I), 1093 AD (stage II), Chimney Rock National Monument, Colorado

Masonry at Great House, probable construction 1076 AD (stage I), 1093 AD (stage II), Chimney Rock National Monument, Colorado

East Kiva with rooms behind in Great House, construction ca. 1076 AD, Chimney Rock National Monument, Colorado

East Kiva with rooms behind in Great House, construction ca. 1076 AD, Chimney Rock National Monument, Colorado

West kiva and three rooms in the Great House, ca. 1093 AD, Chimney Rock National Monument, Colorado

West kiva and three rooms in the Great House, ca. 1093 AD, Chimney Rock National Monument, Colorado

A little over 200 feet below the ridge where Chimney Rock and the Great House stand are the Ridge House, an earlier kiva, and a pit house as well as other unexcavated structures.

Metate and manos at Ridge house, constructed ca. 950 (stage I) and 1078 (stage II), occupied 950-1125, Chimney Rock National Monument, Colorado

Metate and manos at Ridge house, constructed ca. 950 (stage I) and 1078 (stage II), occupied 950-1125, Chimney Rock National Monument, Colorado

Pit House, 1077 AD, Chimney Rock National Monument, Colorado

Pit House, 1077 AD, Chimney Rock National Monument, Colorado