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Ruins from Antiquity
  -- Anasazi Ruins --

The images on this page are records of the architecture of the people or peoples who occupied the canyons and mountain tops in the vicinity of the Four Corners region of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah.

Most of the images of the Anasazi Ruins presented on this page, were made on infrared film with red (25A) filtration. Some images were made with a large format (4x5" film sheets) view camera, some with a medium format (6x6cm) camera, and some with a 35mm camera. Most films are infrared or near infrared. The remainder are made on Ilford Delta 400.



Please click on images for larger view.


      



© 2007 A. C. Olson -- Cutthroat Keep 2007

© 2007 A. C. Olson -- Cutthroat Keep
Bronica SQ-A Medium Format, Zenzanon-PS 85mm lens
MACO 820c Infrared film, infrared filter       Silver Print
Print Pricing


© 2009 A. C. Olson -- Cutthroat Towers

© 2009 A. C. Olson -- Cutthroat Towers
Bronica SQ-A Medium Format, Zenzanon-PS 85mm lens
Ilford SFX Infrared film, red filter                   Silver Print

Musings from an Outsider Looking In

The Ruins are a collection of village clusters located on the mesas and side canyon rims along the Utah-Colorado border. As you will note from observing these images, the Puebloan-era people who occupied them were very skilled engineers and builders. Many of towers, multi-storied, are perched on the side canyon rims and often on points that jut out into the canyon.

Around 900 A.D, settlement began in the area and the population numbered 2,500 near the end of the 1200s. These people became year-around residents. They farmed the rich soils of the mesas and perhaps down in the flood plains in the canyon bottoms as well. Most of the towers and other major stone structures were erected between 1230 and 1270. The inhabitants departed soon thereafter.

Examination of the structures reveals construction with rough-cut stone blocks. The walls are held together by a hard morter that appears to match the red clays available the vicinity. These people were skilled with the knowledge of turning the soft clay into a hardened mortar. The walls are double thickness with mortar fill between them that may have provided some insulating value.

Each structure has a number of small, square portholes for providing light and ventilation. Some of the structures exhibit smaller, loose stones placed in these portholes, presumably to plug them to prevent cold drafts.

The exterior walls appear to be red, but closer examination shows that the weathered stone blocks at the top of the ruin have faded back to the lighter gray that matches the rock of the canyons. The red appears to be caused by the erosion of the mortar which has run down the lower sides of the structure.
© 2007 A. C. Olson -- Hackberry Tower 2007

© 2007 A. C. Olson -- Hackberry Tower
Bronica SQ-A Medium Format, Zenzanon-PS 85mm lens
MACO 820c Infrared film, infrared filter        Silver Print

© 2008 A. C. Olson -- Hackberry Turret 2008

© 2008 A. C. Olson -- Hackberry Turret
Bronica SQ-A Medium Format, Zenzanon-PS 85mm lens
MACO 820c Infrared film, infrared filter        Silver Print

Many of the structures are perched only a few feet from the edge of the canyon rim. The only opening large enough for human passage is usually on the cliff side of structure. This may have been for defense. It would be very easy to knock a hostile attacker off the cliff with a blow or a push from a small log.

Because the upper floors of these ruins no longer exist, it is not clear if there were chimneys or other vents that allowed for cooking fires or fires for warmth. It is difficult to visualize how the small portals would be sufficient for eliminating the smoke. On the other hand, if there were chimneys on the upper levels, fires there would provide little warmth for the lower ones.

It is interesting to compare the these ruins with the architectural styles of Chaco Canyon and
Mesa Verde. The structures at Chaco Canyon tend to be large and multi-roomed with large circular kivas built into the ground. At Mesa Verde, the structures are built into the niches of the cliffs. But at Hovenweep, the predominent theme seems to be narrower, multi-storied towers, many of which are perched on the canyon rims.

These ancients were knowledgeable and skilled in the development of the mortars to hold these stones together. A short walk from the Hackberry site there exists an area of red clay similar in color to the mortar used in the structures. The clay is very soft and pliable, however. If this clay were to be used as mortar, other additives would have to be provided to harden it and to give it strength.

An interesting part of their construction is the use of small stone "shims." Although not used as

© 2007 A. C. Olson -- Walls of Holly 2007

© 2007 A. C. Olson -- Walls of Holly
Bronica SQ-A Medium Format, Zenzanon-PS 85mm lens
MACO 820c Infrared film, infrared filter        Silver Print

© 2009 A. C. Olson -- Holly Site 2009

© 2008 A. C. Olson -- Holly Site
Super Graphic 4x5 View Camera, P-Toyonon 127mm lens
EFKE 820 Infrared film                                      Silver Print

extensively as they are in the photo above (click to enlarge) of the Twin Tower wall, they appear in every structure. On some structures they appear to be used only in places where the larger stones had settled, perhaps before the mortar cured. This technique could also have been used to support the stones so that the construction could proceed while the mortar was curing.

It is also of interest to imagine what kind of tools they had for cutting the stones. Although the Dakota Sandstone is a soft stone, they were obviously skilled in the cutting because many of the blocks are squarish with flat edges.

Many of these sites have very unique structures. They are located on some very extreme locations with respect to accessibility, either on the edge of cliffs or else they were constructed on top of very large boulders. The construction challenges must have been enormous. The Holly Tower (click on photo on the left to enlarge) is perched on a boulder that is artificially carved into vertical sides that limit access to only one side of the tower. The
base of the tower is blended into the boulder. Even at that, a ladder is needed to access the entrance. The sides of the boulder are sheer and vertical and may have been carved away to provide the building materials as well as security from attack.

One wonders how they were able to transport construction materials up onto the rock. The gnarly Juniper that exists today is insufficient for providing long, straight timbers for beams, ramps, and ladders or to lay floor supports. Cortez did not introduce horses into the Southwest until the 16th Century. The only beasts of burden would be burros. It is not conceivable that they could transport timbers into the area from long distances.

It is interesting to note that the period from around 800 to 1300 was six degrees (F) warmer than it is today. The period of the Anasazis coincides with the era of the Vikings. The Vikings sailed the North Atlantic and settled Iceland and Greenland

© 2009 A. C. Olson -- Cutthroat Turret 2009

© 2009 A. C. Olson -- Cutthroat Turret
Bronica SQ-A Medium Format, Zenzanon-PS 85mm lens
Ilford SFX Infrared film, red filter                    Silver Print


© 2008 A. C. Olson -- Holly Castle

© 2008 A. C. Olson -- Holly Castle
Bronica SQ-A Medium Format, Zenzanon-PS 85mm lens
MACO 820c Infrared film, infrared filter        Silver Print

during this period. When the climate began to cool and with the return of the glaciers, the Vikings abandoned Greenland and commercial shipping across the North Atlantic to Iceland virtually ceased.

Similarly it appears for the Anasazis. With warmer air temperatures the saturation of water vapor in air increases. This would provide greater rainfall as the saturated air masses crossed the mountains. The inhabitants would be capable of raising crops and there would be greater forestation that would include straight trees to provide timbers for their construction. When the air cooled there was less moisture for rainfall and the area would then become more arid and, hence, uninhabitable.