Chetro Ketl

Chetro Ketl
Large circular depression outlined by a stone wall. The bottom is flat and grassy, and has a collection of rectangular stone foundations and smaller circles of stone. A great sandstone cliff towers in the background, and beneath the cliff are other stone foundations that are larger and higher.
Aerial view from the south
An archaeological map of the historic site, marking the locations of significant features
Site map (darker lines denote excavated areas)
LocationChaco Culture National Historical Park, New Mexico, United States
Nearest cityGallup, New Mexico
Coordinates36°04′N 107°57′W / 36°04′N 107°57′W / 36.06; -107.95
Area3 acres (1.2 ha)
Elevation6,000 feet (1,800 m)
Architectural style(s)Ancestral Puebloan
Governing bodyNational Park Service

Chetro Ketl is an Ancestral Puebloan great house and archeological site located in Chaco Culture National Historical Park, New Mexico, United States. Construction on Chetro Ketl began c. 990 and was largely complete by 1075, with significant remodeling occurring in the early and mid-1110s. Following the onset of a severe drought, most Chacoans emigrated from the canyon by 1140; by 1250 Chetro Ketl's last inhabitants had vacated the structure.

The great house was rediscovered in 1823 by the Mexican governor of New Mexico, José Antonio Vizcarra, and in 1849 Lieutenant James Simpson of the United States Army Corps of Engineers documented the major ruins in Chaco Canyon. Edgar L. Hewett, the director of the first archeological field school in the canyon, conducted excavations of Chetro Ketl during 1920 and 1921, and again between 1929 and 1935.

Chaco scholars estimate that it required more than 500,000 man-hours, 26,000 trees, and 50 million sandstone blocks to erect Chetro Ketl. The great house is a D-shaped structure; its east wall is 280 feet (85 m) long, and the north wall is more than 450 feet (140 m); the perimeter is 1,540 feet (470 m), and the diameter of the great kiva is 62.5 feet (19.1 m). Chetro Ketl contained approximately 400 rooms and was the largest great house by area in Chaco Canyon, covering nearly 3 acres (1.2 ha). Chetro Ketl lies 0.4 miles (0.64 km) from Pueblo Bonito, in an area that archeologists call downtown Chaco; they theorize that the area may be an ancestral sacred zone. Chetro Ketl contains architectural elements, such as a colonnade and tower kiva, that appear to reflect a Mesoamerican influence.

Chetro Ketl's purpose is widely debated but many archeologists believe the building was a place of large-scale ceremony that held an important position within the larger Chacoan system. It may have been occupied primarily by groups of priests and, during times of ritual, pilgrims from outlying communities. Archeologist Stephen H. Lekson believes Chetro Ketl was a palace inhabited by Chacoan royalty, and the scale of its construction was motivated by what architects call "massing": building imposing structures with the intent to impress onlookers. The building has deteriorated significantly since its rediscovery in the early 19th century, and its usefulness as a source of information about Chacoan culture is slowly diminishing.


Long ago in the north, below from the Place of Emergence, everybody came out. Now when those who are everyone's chiefs came out they all went out. They went down south ... They went along coming from the north, and they began to make towns.[1]

 —Cochiti origin myth

During the 10th to 8th millennia BCE, the San Juan Basin was occupied by Paleo-Indians known as the Clovis culture (c. 9,300) and the Folsom tradition (8,500 to 7,500). Projectile points found in the vicinity of Chaco Canyon suggest that hunters may have been active in the region as early as 10,000. By 6,000 the Picosa culture had developed from within the Paleolithic population, as environmental changes caused the eastward movement of animals and people to the Southern Plains, bringing Southwestern and northern Mexican cultures into the San Juan Basin.[2] Cynthia Irwin-Williams proposed that the first human presence in Chaco Canyon dates to a hunter-gatherer society that she named the Oshara Tradition, which developed within the local Archaic (c. 6,000 to 800) Picosa population.[3] The Oshara occupied portions of northwestern New Mexico, northeastern Arizona, southeastern Utah, and central and southwestern Colorado.[4] They harvested jackrabbits in the basin as early as 5500.[5] Irwin-Williams divided the Oshara Tradition into six phases, and during the Armijo phase (1800 to 800) the Arroyo Cuervo area east of Chaco Canyon saw the introduction of maize and the use of rock shelters. She hypothesized that this period saw the beginning of seasonal gatherings of people from around the San Juan Basin, who eventually began to aggregate into larger social units.[6]

A color map of the San Juan Basin
The San Juan Basin (note: U.S. Route 666 has been renumbered Route 491).
A color map of Ancestral Puebloan boundaries
Area occupied by the Ancestral Puebloans

By 200 BCE, the Basketmaker culture had begun to develop from the Oshara Tradition. At least two groups of transitional Basketmaker II people inhabited the San Juan Basin during this period, as increased rainfall allowed for sustained agriculture and permanent settlements by 1 CE, when the water table rose and intermittent streams became more reliable. During the first four centuries CE, the Basketmaker II people established pit-houses at elevated locations near sources of water and arable land. Brian M. Fagan notes that the development of pottery in the area during the 4th century permitted the boiling of maize and beans for the first time, and "must have brought a revolution in cooking".[7] This period also marked the introduction of the bow and arrow to the region.[8]

Parts of the San Juan Basin saw plentiful rainfall during the 5th to 8th centuries, leading to significant expansion of pit-house communities. Population increases during the 6th century led to the settlement of the area's lowlands, including Chaco Canyon, as the Basketmaker II people changed from a primarily hunter-gatherer society to one based on farming. This culture is known as Basketmaker III, and by 500 at least two such settlements had been established in Chaco Canyon. An important phase of Basketmaker III people is known as the La Plata. One of the earliest La Plata phase sites, Shabik'eshchee Village, was continuously occupied until the early 8th century, when the canyon was home to a few hundred people.[9] Several clusters of Basketmaker III sites have been identified in the vicinity of Chetro Ketl.[10]

As the Basketmaker III people improved their farming techniques during the 8th century, the well-watered areas of the San Juan Basin became densely populated. Greater crop yields necessitated the construction of above-ground storage facilities, which were the first large-scale construction projects in the region. Fagan identifies this as the beginning of the first pueblos, "ushering in a period of profound social tension, population movements, and political change."[11] In his opinion, "by 800, there was no going back. The people of Chaco and elsewhere were locked completely into economies based on maize and bean cultivation."[12] Archeologists refer to the period starting c. 800 as the Pueblo I Period. By the early 10th century the large pit-house settlements had been supplanted by modular construction that later served as the foundation for the Ancestral Puebloan great houses.[13][a] This marks the beginning of the Bonito Phase.[16] During the 10th century, Chaco's population was swelled by a steady influx of immigrants from the San Juan River, approximately 100 miles (160 km) north.[17] Fagan notes, "Within a few centuries, as rainfall became more irregular and life less predictable, the Chacoans embarked on a cultural trajectory that melded ancient traditions with new ideas that were to crystalize into a brilliant and short-lived Southwestern society."[18]

Other Languages
español: Chetro Ketl
فارسی: کترو کتل
français: Chetro Ketl