Chaco Canyon and Anasazi Kivas

Why The Anasazi Built Kivas

The Anasazi built kivas for use as sacred areas in a religious ceremony. These round rooms which were dug into the ground were used solely by the men of the tribe. Apart from holding secret religious ceremonies, these men would also gather and sit inside the kivas to tackle issues and make laws.

The Evolution Of The Kivas

In the latter part of the 8th century, people at Mesa Verde began to build square pit structures known as “protokivas.” They were normally 3 or 4 feet deep and measure 12 to 20 feet in diameter. Between the mid-10th and early 11th centuries, these structures eventually evolved into something smaller and circular which became the kivas that the modern world has known until today.

The kivas, which normally measured 12 to 15 feet across, included an ancient feature known as “sipapu.” It is a hole that the Anasazi had dug in the northern part of the chamber which had been perceived to represent the place of emergence from the underworld among the Ancestral Puebloans.

During the Pueblo III period (1150 to 1300 A.D.), the kivas continued its prominent place in the Anasazi community. Interestingly, some kivas were found to be built above the ground. Their architecture became more elaborate as the Anasazi incorporated the great kivas and tower kivas with specialized floor features. For instance, the kivas in Mesa Verde held a keyhole-shaped design feature. It was also normal to find one kiva at least in every five or six rooms in most bigger communities. Upon their destruction, which was primarily attributed to burning, archaeologists see it as a strong indicator of warfare and conflict among the Southwest people in the period.

Great Kiva Vs. Regular Kiva

The great kivas are absolutely different from the regular kivas or Chaco-style kivas in many ways. First, these kivas are predominantly larger and deeper compared to the Chaco-style kivas. Their walls would always extend above and beyond the surrounding landscape. On the other hand, the Chaco-style kivas are flushed with the surrounding landscape.

Next, the great kivas are built as separate areas from the core structures whereas the Chaco-style kivas are usually found incorporated inside the central room quarters of the great houses. One feature that is always found in the great kivas but is non-existent in here their Chaco-style counterpart is the bench which encircles the inner space. Furthermore, great kivas are designed with floor vaults which were perceived to function as foot drums for ceremonial dancers. They resembled boxes that bear small square openings on the side which may be used as sound holes. These floor vaults are also non-existent in Chaco-style kivas. Lastly, it was believed that the great kivas are the first public buildings that were built in the region now known as Mesa Verde.

A Kiva In A Ruin

Almost every Anasazi ruin has at least one kiva found built somewhere in the complex. It is believed that every kiva had its own distinct group of participants with each member being expected to execute their parts fully in the ceremony in order for the entire ritual to be completed thoroughly.

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