What We Do: Investigations

Las Ventanas

Paul F. Reed, Preservation Archaeologist and Chaco Scholar at Salmon Ruins Museum

The Las Ventanas (or Candelaria) great house lies about 112 km south of the Chacoan center at Pueblo Bonito, within the boundaries of the El Malpais National Monument. The great house comprises a two-story structure with perhaps 80 total rooms that was built during the Chacoan era from A.D. 1050–1100. Surrounding the great house is a substantial community with a dramatic ritual landscape that developed over at least 100 years. Archaeological survey in the lava flow to the west revealed numerous trails, cairns, bridges, artifact deposits, and other features related to ritual and other activities.

Las Ventanas great house

The Las Ventanas (Candelaria) great house, looking south.

Since 2006, Archaeology Southwest (formerly the Center for Desert Archaeology) has conducted several archaeological projects within the boundaries of the El Malpais National Monument, or ELMA. During these projects, we intensively surveyed approximately 4000 acres and recorded more than 115 sites. Identified components range in age from Paleoindian to 1970s sites. This past fall, we undertook a detailed assessment of the Las Ventanas or Candelaria Community and the lava landscape to the west.

Our work at Las Ventanas focused on two aspects: 1) archaeological survey of the extensive lava landscape west of the great house, and 2) creation of a detailed map of the Las Ventanas great house site and surrounding features. Work in the lava revealed numerous trails, cairns, bridges, and other features related to ritual and non-ritual activities.

The site of Las Ventanas—also known as Candelaria Pueblo—lies on the eastern edge of the El Malpais National Monument. Las Ventanas is a Chacoan-style great house with 75 to 90 rooms and a surrounding community of at least 100 rooms in multiple small pueblo sites, as well as limited activity and special use areas. Portions of the surrounding landscape were surveyed by archaeologist Bob Powers and crews in the 1980s and 1990s and by archaeologist Janet McVickar and her crew in 2002. Bob also worked in a tower kiva at the site in the late 1970s. The site was transitioning from private possession to the care of The Archaeological Conservancy, and some mitigative measures were completed on this pot-hunted kiva.

Even with all of the the prior work, a substantial portion of the surrounding lava north and west of the pueblo had not been systematically surveyed. As such, Archaeology Southwest conducted survey within a block of about 1000 acres in the lava surrounding Las Ventanas. As part of the project, an existing collection of approximately 500 artifacts—including several complete sandals—is undergoing analysis.

Powers et al. Las Ventanas Map

Map of Las Ventanas great house. Note the basic L shape of the structure, the tower kiva on the two-story south side, and the multiple kivas inferred in the lower, single-story portion of the building. (Map courtesy of Bob Powers, from the 2005 El Malpais Archeological Survey report, page 80). Click to enlarge.

The primary goal of the project is a better understanding of the great house and surrounding community, including its origin, its Chacoan or non-Chacoan derivation, and its relationship to other Chacoan communities in Chaco Canyon and in the southern periphery of the Chacoan World. Archaeology Southwest’s work in 2010 revealed a full and varied ritual landscape in and around the Las Ventanas site. Preliminary conclusions indicate that the Las Ventanas great house and community were built by local Puebloans who incorporated the Chacoan approach to sacred landscapes. We will continue to update you on our ongoing research and analysis.

The Las Ventanas project was completed for El Malpais National Monument under Colorado Plateau Cooperative Ecosystems Study Units (CPCESU). ELMA representatives include Jim Kendrick (until April 2011) and Steve Baumann (Chief of Heritage Preservation).