Pueblo Bonito

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Site Description

Pueblo Bonito (Spanish for “beautiful town”) is the best known of all Chacoan great houses.  Located near the center of a cluster of great and small houses sometimes referred to as “Downtown Chaco,” the surrounding great houses include Chetro Ketl to the east, Pueblo del Arroyo to the west, Kin Kletso to the northwest, Kin Sabe to the southwest, and Casa Rinconada to the south.  Bonito is also about 0.6 miles (1.0 km.) south of Pueblo Alto and New Alto.  Although the footprint of Pueblo Bonito is slightly smaller in area than Chetro Ketl, this D-shaped great house is the biggest of all Chacoan great houses with 32 kivas, 3 great kivas, and over 350 ground-floor rooms.  Two large refuse mounds lie just south of the pueblo.

Pueblo Bonito rose four stories along its north arc of rooms while rooms facing the plaza were primarily single-story.  Intervening room rows were two- and three-stories tall, creating a roof terrace that rose in height from the plaza to the back rooms. The plaza was closed on the south side by a row of rooms, and two partially-walled refuse mounds lay just outside the plaza enclosure.  At least one Chacoan road approaches the building from the north, and there is good evidence for a road linking Pueblo Bonito with Casa Rinconada, the isolated great kiva on the opposite side of the canyon (Vivian and Hilpert 2002).

Pueblo Bonito has been the object of two major excavation programs. The Hyde Exploring Expedition, sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History and directed by George Pepper and Richard Wetherill, excavated portions of Pueblo Bonito between 1986 and 1900, uncovering approximately 189 masonry rooms and several kivas.  Neil Judd then conducted work in other parts of the building for the National Geographic Society from 1921 to 1927.  Drs. Patricia Crown and Wirt Wills recently re-examined the Bonito mounds as part of the Chaco Stratigraphy Project.

Alternative site designations include 29SJ387, LA 226, and Bc 253.

Excavation History

  • 1896-1900: The Hyde Exploring Expedition, sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History, excavated about 189 rooms and several kiva under the direction of George H. Pepper and Richard Wetherill.
  • 1897: Warren K. Moorehead of the Philips Andover Academy excavated rooms 53 and 56 and perhaps a few other areas of the pueblo.
  • 1916: Nels Nelson and Earl Morris placed stratigraphic tests in the east and west refuse mounds.
  • 1920-1927: Neil M. Judd excavated most ground floor rooms not uncovered by the Hyde Expedition, trenched the refuse mounds and the west plaza, and identified wall foundations outside (particularly east) of the main great house.
  • 2005-Present:  Dr. Patricia Crown and Dr. Wirt Wills re-excavated Neil Judd's trenches through the refuse mounds to investigate mound stratigraphy, assess evidence for water-control features, and analyze the recovered artifact assemblage.

Size and Dates

  • More than 350 ground floor rooms, 32 kivas, and three great kivas
  • Inhabited from the mid-A.D. 850s until at least the early-12th century, with some reoccupation in the late-12th century