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Reconstructed kiva at Bandelier National Monument.
Interior of a reconstructed kiva at Mesa Verde National Park.
Ruins of a great kiva at Chaco Canyon.
Great Kiva excavated in 1921 by Earl Morris and reconstructed by him 13 years later, at Aztec Ruins National Monument.
Interior of Great Kiva at Aztec Ruins National Monument shows the vast size of the structure.

A kiva is a room used by modern Puebloans for religious rituals, many of them associated with the kachina belief system. Among the modern Hopi and most other Pueblo peoples, kivas are square-walled and underground, and are used for spiritual ceremonies.

Similar subterranean rooms are found among ruins in the American southwest, indicating ritual or cultural use by the ancient peoples of the region including the Ancient Pueblo Peoples, the Mogollon and the Hohokam. Those used by the ancient Pueblos of the Pueblo I Era and following, designated by the Pecos Classification system developed by archaeologists, were usually round, and generally believed to have been used for religious and other communal purposes.


Evolution of the Kiva

When designating an ancient room as a kiva, archaeologists make assumptions about the room's original functions and how those functions may be similar to or differ from kivas used in modern practice. The kachina belief system appears to have emerged in the Southwest at approximately AD 1250, while kiva like structures occurred much earlier. This suggests that the room's older functions may have been changed or adapted to suit the new religious practice.

As cultural changes occurred, particularly during the Pueblo III period between 1150 and 1300, kivas continued to have a prominent place in the community. However, some kivas were built above ground. Kiva architecture became more elaborate, with tower kivas and great kivas incorporating specialized floor features. For example, kivas found in Mesa Verde were generally keyhole shaped. In most larger communities, it was normal to find one kiva for each five or six rooms used as residences. Kiva destruction, primarily by burning, has been seen as a strong archaeological indicator of conflict and warfare among people of the Southwest during this period.

Fifteen surface rooms encircle the central chamber of the vast Great Kiva at Aztec Ruins National Monument. The room's "... purpose is unclear . . . Each had an exterior doorway to the plaza. . . . Four massive pillars of alternating masonry and horizontal poles held up the ceiling beams, which in turn supported an estimated ninety-five-ton roof. Each pillar rested on four shaped stone disks, weighing about 355 pounds apiece. These discs are of limestone, which came from mountains at least forty miles away." (A Trail Guide to Aztec Ruins, 4th printing:WNPA, 2004).

After 1325 or 1350, except in the Hopi region, the ratio changed from 60 to 90 rooms for each kiva. This may indicate a religious or organizational change within the society, perhaps affecting the status and number of clans among the Pueblo people. The use of it was for men and boys only.

See also


  • Cordell, Linda S. Ancient Pueblo Peoples. St. Remy Press, Montreal and Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C., 1994. ISBN 0-89599-038-5
  • Cajete, Gregory A. and Nichols, Teresa. A Trail Guide to the Aztec Ruins: 4th Printing, WNPA (Western National Parks Association), 2004.
  • LeBlanc, Steven A. "Prehistoric Warfare in the American Southwest." 1999, University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City, Utah. ISBN 0-87480-581-3.
  • Rohn, Arthur H. and Ferguson, William M, 2006 Puebloan Ruins of the Southwest, University of New Mexico Press, Albuqureque NM, 2006. ISBN 978-0-8263-3970-6 (pbk :alk. paper)

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