Chetro Ketl

Chetro Ketl

CHETRO KETL is an Ancestral Great House and an archaeological site located in CHACO Culture National Historical Park, New Mexico.

The true origin and meaning of CHETRO KETL is unknown.  Although most of the names given to CHACOAN Ruins are either Spanish or Navajo, CHETRO KETL is neither.  A Mexican who worked for the first American expedition in 1849, translated it as RAIN TOWN.  In 1889, Navajo historian Washington Mathews reported that in Navajo Mythology, the building is referred to as KINTYEL or KINTYELI, which means BROAD HOUSE.  Other Navajo translations include HOUSE IN THE CORNER & SHINING HOUSE.
Construction on CHETRO KETL began in c.990 and was largely completed by 1075.  Following the onset of a severe drought, most Chacoans emigrated from the canyon by 1140.  By 1250, CHETRI KETL’S last inhabitants had vacated the structure.  The Great House was re-discovered, in 1823, by the Spanish Governor of New Mexico and explored in 1849 by the US Army Corps of Engineers.  Scholars estimate that it required more than 500,000 man-hours, 26,000 trees and 50million sandstone blocks to erect CHETRI KETL.

Chaco Canyon

The building contained around 400 rooms and was the largest Great House, by area, in CHACO CANYON, covering nearly 3acres.  The Great House is a D-shaped structure —— its east wall is 280ft long and the north wall is more than 450ft.  The perimeter is 1,540ft and the diameter of the great KIVA (round room) is 62.5ft.  CHETRI KETL lies 0.64km from Pueblo Bonito, in an area that archaeologists call downtown CHACO, they theorize that the area may be an ancestral “sacred zone”.

CHETRI KETL contains architectural elements, such as a colonnade and Tower Kiva, that appear to reflect MESO-AMERICAN influence.  It may have been occupied primarily by groups of priests and, during times of ritual, pilgrims from outlying communities.  Archaeologist Stephen H. Lekson believes CHETRI KETL was a Palace inhabited by CHACOAN Royalty, and the scale of its construction was motivated by, what architects call, MASSING (building imposing structures with the intent to impress onlookers).


CHETRI KETL is located opposite a large opening in the Canyon known as SOUTH GAP, which helped maximize the building’s exposure to the sun, while increasing visibility and access to the south.  Its rear wall runs parallel to the Canyon, at less than 100ft from the cliffs, its proximity allowed the inhabitants to benefit from passive solar energy emanating from the rocks.  CHETRI KETL is not perfectly aligned to the cardinal directions, but its nominal southerly orientation further enhanced solar exposure to its “tiered rooms”.  By 1085, the CHACOANS had constructed Great Houses at CHETRI KETL, Pueblo Alto & Pueblo del Arroyo, during what is described as “a time of extraordinary growth and outreach”.

The most commonly harvested tree species was PONDEROSA PINE, and approximately 16,000 trees were felled for use at CHETRI KETL, and now the species is now absent from the Canyon.  Archaeologists believe that the trees were processed where they were cut, then carried back to Chaco Canyon.
CHETRI KETL’S walls were constructed using three “bulk materials” : stone, clay-sand and water.  Two types of stone were used ——– a hard grey-brown tabular sandstone that forms the bench above Chaco Canyon’s cliffs, and a softer, tan, massively-bedded sandstone that forms the cliffs themselves.  The people preferred the harder tabular stone, as it was easier to shape, but much of it had to be dug up and levered out of the ground with wooden poles.  Then, clay or clay-sand and water was used  to make mortar and the clay-sand was accessed by digging large pits, then mixing mortar in the pits and carrying the mix to the construction site in baskets.  Water is scarce in Chaco Canyon and construction probably took place during the late summer and early fall rainy season, when it was more readily available.  Water was also collected from small reservoirs in the slick rock and deep wells in the bed of Chaco Wash.

Chaco Canyon

CHETRI KETL is described as “notoriously sterile”, while several major artefacts, including baskets, sandals, painted wood fragments, digging sticks, arrowheads, and crushed pots were found there, the whereabouts of most of these items is “one of the great archaeological mysteries of the Southwest”.  The Museum of New Mexico holds several items excavated from CHETRI KATL, including pieces of turquoise, a black-on-white pottery canteen and a 14-ft long stone-and-shell necklace.


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