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7.13: Ancestral Puebloans Kivas (Approx. 1080 – 1150)

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  • The Ancestral Puebloans left few written records so historians can only estimate the exact use of the kivas; however, the belief is they were used for rituals, ceremonies, and gathering places. The earliest kiva was constructed around 600 CE in Chaco Canyon, generally underground or semi-subterranean (7.56) and accessed by a ladder in the roof (7.57). In most locations, a set of housing structures also had a kiva, and each village may have several kivas depending on the population. The kivas usually had a fire pit, ventilation shafts, benches, niches in the walls, and a sipapus, the small hole in the floor denoting the place for humans to materialize from the underworld.

    Small kiva
    7.56 Small kiva
    Small kiva interior
    7.57 Small kiva interior

    Kiva comes from a Hopi word that translates to “world below”.

    The Great Kivas were constructed similar to the smaller personal kivas, made to accommodate large groups of people for meetings or ceremonies. The Great Kivas (7.58) were two or three times bigger than the clan or family kivas with a diameter of 45 to 70 feet. The walls for the Great Kiva extend above ground to support the rooftop, as opposed to the smaller, family-grouped kivas. The Great Kiva also stood apart from the groupings of any rooms to remain secretive when necessary. The Great Kivas had big masonry-lined circles with a huge tree trunk to support the roof. The tree trunks were carried from a long distance to the structure and considered an essential element of the grand kiva, without the massive tree trunks, the roof would collapse into the walls. Seating areas built along the curve of the walls may only have been part of the construction to add extra support to the outer walls, and seating may have been secondary.

    Great kiva
    7.58 Great kiva

    The Great Kivas had large vault-like structures made of stone in the middle of the floor, probably used for ceremonies. Niches or openings built along the walls of the Great Kivas may have been specialized places to put beads, pendants, or other ceremonial items. Historians have not defined a particular hierarchy or religious structure, but may be developed rituals or ceremonies to celebrate the solstice, equinox, or other lunar events.

    The Puebloans constructed middens, and archeologists can piece together artifacts from the broken pots, and bones. The Puebloans would toss trash/items down the cliffs and created the piles of middens or dumps at the base of the cliffs. Over time they were covered in dirt and preserved for archeologists to sift through today.