Lowry Pueblo in Canyons of the Ancients Natl Monument
13th century Ancestral Pueblo masonry, Canyons of the Ancients Natl Monument 13th century Ancestral Pueblo masonry, Canyons of the Ancients Natl Monument 13th century Ancestral Pueblo masonry, Canyons of the Ancients Natl Monument 13th century Ancestral Pueblo masonry, Canyons of the Ancients Natl Monument 13th century Ancestral Pueblo masonry, Canyons of the Ancients Natl Monument
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Sand Canyon Pueblo


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Castle Rock Pueblo

Saddlehorn Pueblo

Double Cliff House

Corncob House

Sunny Alcove

Tucked Away Two Story House

Wall Curves with Bedrock House

House with Standing Curved Wall

Sand Canyon Pueblo

Sand Canyon Geology


Around AD 1250, families came together around the head of Sand Canyon to build a large and compact village. A thick U-shaped wall surrounded hundreds of square rooms, round kivas, and community structures including a plaza, a large D-shaped structure, and a great kiva.

The village seems designed for defense, perhaps due to regional strife over dwindling resources. A spring was at the heart of the village, giving residents exclusive access to their all-important water source. The thick stone outer wall had small, angled peepholes and a few doorways. the towers built against the outside face of the wall also provided good lookouts that could only be entered from inside the village.

By AD 1275, Sand Canyon Pueblo was about three times the size of Cliff Palace (the largest pueblo in Mesa Verde National Park). Some 600 people--healthy, judged by the standards of their time--had lived for a generation or more in the village. They depended on rain-fed cornfields. The corn fed both people and a sizable flock of domestic turkeys.

Digital reconstruction of Sand Canyon Pueblo, Dennis R. Holloway

AD 1276 saw the onset of a severe, long-term drought. Corn crops were poor or failed completely. Elk and deer were scarce, so the people hunted rabbits, birds, rodents, and even carnivores. Some villagers migrated shortly after the drought began. Others stayed behind, trying to outlast the harsh conditions.

Sometime after AD 1277, Sand Canyon Pueblo suffered a devastating attack, possibly by other Pueblo people competing for limited resources. Many residents were killed. Soon afterward, the survivors moved away. The spirits of the ancestors have been the pueblo's only occupants for more than 700 years.

Sand Canyon Pueblo map. Credit: Crow Canyon Archaeological Center

When is a "Kiva" not a Kiva?

Kiva B at Lowry Pueblo during 1932 excavation. Photo from Field Museum, Chicago

Contrary to popular belief, most ancient "kivas" were not exclusively religious structures.

Kivas in modern Pueblos are truly sacred spaces, and are used mainly for ceremonies. But the round, sunken rooms at Sand canyon (and in many other archaeological sites) contain pots, tools, and other common household items-- clear signs of daily domestic activity.

Nearly every hearth at Sand Canyon Pueblo was found in a "kiva," not in the rectangular rooms above ground. These rooms were the centers of family life, especially during cold seasons.

Canyon Rim Villages
Sand Canyon Pueblo reconstruction by Ken Peterson

Sand Canyon Pueblo, with 420 rooms and 90 kivas, was wrapped around a small spring the head of a deep canyon. Plazas, great kivas, and D-shaped structures were often incorporated into large sites like Sand Canyon Pueblo. Villagers from surrounding hamlets could gather here for ceremonies and community activities.

Sand Canyon Pueblo demonstrates a widespread change in settlement patterns- from individual homesites clustered near agricultural fields to larger, planned communities centered on water sources near canyon rims. Common elements in canyon-rim villages include north-south orientation, a peripheral enclosing wall, and a bilateral village layout separated into two distinct halves.

Population was probably at its peak from AD 1225-1250, but tree-ring dates indicate that some construction continued into the 1270s. Migration away from the region may have been ongoing for 30 years, but then accelerated; and by AD 1285 the Ancestral Puebloans had moved south into northern New Mexico and Arizona.

The Sand Canyon Pueblo Project

Parrot image on kiva jar lid, found in Sand Canyon Pueblo. 97.10.5MT765.V18-C

The Sand Canyon Pueblo Project involved a partnership between the Bureau of Land Management and Crow Canyon Archaeological Center with generous private and public funding. After almost 25 years of planning, excavation, analysis, report writing, and curation, Crow Canyon staff created a detailed account of the ancient village and its residents. Their findings shed light on the rapid depopulation of this area around AD 1285.

All artifacts, samples, and records resulting from excavations at Sand Canyon Pueblo are curated at the BLM Anasazi Heritage Center in Dolores, Colorado, and are available for study.