Life adventures, inspiration and insight; shared in articles, advice, personal chats and pictures.
When is an Aztec not an Aztec? Sounds like a riddle. It’s a question directly related to Aztec Ruins National Monument. According to the park brochure, “others” (perhaps the Spanish who were more concerned with greed at the time than historical accuracy) stumbled upon the remnants of an elaborate ancient site and assumed it had been built by Aztec people. They were wrong. My question is why is the site still called Aztec Ruins National Monument centuries later? (Beware! Mistakes stick!)
Admittedly, the word “Aztec” has a certain charm. The adjacent town is Aztec, New Mexico–which seems to have adopted its name from the Native site. Who wants to live in a town called “Ancient Pueblo People”? Can you imagine writing that on your online order forms? And what would you call your local football team? The APPs? Too technological.
My husband and I recently followed road signs to visit what we expected to be a monolith dedicated to the Aztec people. We had no idea we had stumbled upon an ancient community, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The self-guided tour currently runs for a half mile and a considerable portion of the site remains unexcavated. The Great Kiva was reconstructed in 1934 and is an impressive reuse of 900-year-old roof timbers. The site is in geographic line with the more famous sites at Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon and is likewise aligned with the movement of the sun through the seasons. It was probably erected by the same people now called the Anasazi.
The experience my husband and I shared was as bizarre as the inappropriate name. Since the site is sacred and spiritual to the modern people who have descendants’ claim to it (some Pueblo peoples believe the ancient ones are still present), visitors are asked to be respectful. Nature had arranged to make our visit dramatic, because the complex of rooms and kivas stood before a backdrop of menacing black clouds and strong winds, not far from a swollen river. With a little creepy music, we could’ve been wandering into one of those mystical movies in which the protagonists fall through a wall that’s really a time portal. As we walked, my cell phone sounded. I jumped. (I had neglected to mute it.)
As I stood in modern day New Mexico in the footsteps (or perhaps the shadows) of ancient people who had lived and worshipped around me, I read a text from a friend in Massachusetts who was worried that I had been caught in tornadoes that were happening in Colorado. I was struck by the absurdity of scoffing at the fluidity of time and space. I could almost hear ancient Pueblo people muttering around me. They might have been laughing.
There is no moral to my story except that we should remember how easily human mistakes are preserved and often repeated before we speak of our absolute truths. Human history—the story of our global family–is edited and often twisted by ego, cultural and gender pride, sloppy record keeping, and plain old ignorance. We all make mistakes.