The Valley Temple and Osireion: Echoes of a Bygone World Culture?

Seeing is believing.

I gawked at the Valley Temple of Khafre in Giza and the Osireion in Abydos. Though they are in Egypt, they reminded me of monuments I saw in Peru, halfway round the world. Cyclopean blocks of unadorned stone were cut and tightly fitted to one another. Their colossal sizes hint at an accomplished civilization that knew how to manipulate gargantuan stones in ways that defy explanation.

Here’s where the prevailing thinking seems unbelievable, if not ridiculous. Stones of gigantic size were said to have been quarried, dragged or ferried over great distances, lifted into place and fitted with precision by sheer muscle, hammer, pounding stone and copper chisel. In places like Peru, where mountains and valleys present insurmountable obstacles, this explanation severely strains credibility. Was there instead a method of transportation and masonry that we haven’t yet discovered or identified? In our scientific and rational age, we tend to think of historical engineering achievements relative to a progressive timeline, from the use of simple tools (Neolithic Age) to today’s advanced industrial technology. Surely, the ancients didn’t have the wherewithal to use anything but unlimited human labor, rope and crude tools to build their magnificent edifices, did they?

And yet, we can’t prove, let alone reproduce, how some of the greatest ancient monuments of the world were built.

The Valley Temple and Osireion are such enigmas. They don’t look anything like other Egyptian temples that are colonnaded and embellished with beautiful art and hieroglyphs. Rather they have the starkness and aura of great age.

Valley Temple of Khafre

The Valley Temple sits a stone’s throw away from the Sphinx. We nearly didn’t have time to see it after a full day of taking in the Sphinx, Great Pyramid and Solar Boat Museum. With the second pyramid and the Great Sphinx, it forms a complex whose construction is attributed to King Khafre (4th dynasty). The sole evidence given to Khafre’s connection is the famous statue of him, now at the Cairo Museum, that was found buried in the Valley Temple. (That the statue was beautifully carved from diorite, a very hard igneous rock with a Mohs scale of around 7, is wondrous in itself.)

Statue of Khafre, Cairo Egyptian Museum

This is hardly proof, as some point out, only that the statue was found there. A New Kingdom stone slab called the Inventory Stela (factually disputed by some), found in Giza and dating to the 26th dynasty (roughly 2,000 years after Khafre), claims the Sphinx and Valley Temple were built before Khufu, Khafre’s father. If true, the temple’s construction could conceivably be pushed back to pre-dynastic times, or at least the Early Dynastic Period.

Inner courtyard, Valley Temple of Khafre

Whatever the uncertainty regarding dates, the physical facts are quite amazing. There are two layers of stone construction, granite and limestone. Limestone was laid first. Hundreds of them in the form of megalithic blocks form a surrounding wall. Some weigh 200 tons and some were lifted as much as 40ft up the temple’s eastern side. Evidence suggests they suffered long-term damage from former, heavy pre-dynastic rains, much like the weathering around the Sphinx and its enclosure. The limestone had been extremely eroded before granite casing stones were attached to the softer rock. Incredibly, they were cut (or manipulated?) to conform to the underlying limestones’ erosional patterns, all their peaks and troughs, to become the temple’s inner and outer walls. How was this renovation, or restoration, ever done? Again, hammer and copper chisel aren’t the answer. The technique is quite similar to shaping casing stones over the Great Pyramid’s irregular limestone core blocks.

Note the limestone layer at the top and granite walls below.

In addition to the retaining walls, there are two rows of gigantic, parallel granite posts that are topped with equally gigantic lintels.

The workmanship on the granite walls is exquisite, fitting tightly together with seams scarcely able to admit a needle point.

Aswan red granite casing stones

Other incredible features of some stones are their irregular shapes. Some are trapezoidal, others have notches, yet others curve around corners at right angles.

Note notching on second large granite block from the bottom and corner block above it. An upper stone is a parallelogram.
A closer look

What could possibly be the reason for fashioning stones with odd dimensions? Some suggest it was for earthquake-proofing. It surely wasn’t for simplicity.

The Osireion

When the Temple of Seti I in Abydos was being planned in New Kingdom times, the builders discovered a sunken monument buried in sand, now called the Osireion. How long it had been there was anybody’s guess. In 1902, it was discovered 50ft below ground by Egyptologists Margaret Murray and William Flinders Petrie. From the looks of it, the monument wasn’t built during the time of Seti, whose temple is in a classically Egyptian style. The temple’s design also has a unique, unorthodox L-shape that suggests Seti considered the Osireion sacred enough to avoid building his temple over it. Another fact: the Osireion is constructed of granite, the temple of limestone and sandstone.

It’s striking that the Osireion has a stylistic similarity to Khafre’s Valley Temple, not only because of the megalithic stonework but its design of two parallel rows of pillars flanking a central hall. It also is the monument that at its base may sit in greenish water depending on the Nile water table (also see below). There is physical evidence that the floor of the Valley Temple likewise saw water. Today, the Osireion looks like an open-air structure. Incredibly it used to be roofed over by two rows of thick stone slabs, before they collapsed or were destroyed by a natural catastrophe.

For some reason, visitors aren’t allowed to get close to the Osireion. This could hopefully change in the future. Our tour group had to be content with gazing at it from an overlook. It’s roped off for now, unfortunate for those of us who want a closer look.

As far as is known, these two structures are the only ones in Egypt built in this massive post-and-lintel style.

Peru Connection?

Both monuments reminded me of stonework I saw in Peru, if not in the details. While the Egyptians favored horizontal lines, Peruvian courses of equally large stone were often laid non-linearly yet with the same, exacting fit tolerances. Echoes of a common stone-working technology seem to reverberate across the ocean.

Pisac, Peru
Ollantaytambo, Peru
Sacsayhuaman, Cusco (Peru)

And, for good measure:

Megalithic blocks, Japan (screen capture from YouTube)

What the Nub is Going On?

The image below shows casing stones at the entrance to Menkaure’s pyramid in Giza, the smallest of the three. (Unfortunately, our tour group didn’t have the opportunity to visit it.) The stones have different characteristics than the casing stones used on the other two Giza pyramids, namely, their surfaces are not flat and knob-like appendages (nubs) protrude along the bottoms of many.

Pyramid of Menkaure (image from Pinterest)

One wall of the Osireion shows the same kind of nubs.

The stones on the rear wall have nub protrusions (image from

What’s intriguing is that this same stone feature is found abundantly in Peru.

Machu Picchu (Peru)
Ollantaytambo (Peru)
Stonework, including the famous 12-sided stone, Cusco (Peru)

No one has been able to figure out what those nubs were used for. They randomly appear along the bottom edges of some (not all) stones, which means they weren’t used for lifting or any other utilitarian purpose. It’s safe to say they weren’t decorative and it would shock me if the masons went to the trouble of purposely carving them that way. Could they be the by-product of an undiscovered process?

What’s intriguing is that nubs like these also appear on stone in India, China, Japan, Syria, Turkey and elsewhere, including Micronesia. Likewise, ancient megalithic construction, analogous to the Valley Temple and Osireion, shows up across the globe, the most humongous being in Lebanon.

Stone nubs, Bulgaria (screen capture from YouTube)

Am I missing something, or are there hints of a global phenomenon, a worldwide architectural legacy? A common, megalithic stone-shaping (and transportation) technology was being practiced, or handed down, all over the world that has been lost to us long ago. Our current global, cross-pollinating culture was not the first in human history, it seems.

Because rocks don’t lend themselves to carbon-dating, we don’t know for sure when the Valley Temple and Osireion were built. They look (and likely are) contemporaneous. But from plentiful circumstantial evidence (from the fields of geology, astronomy, geometry, written and oral history, lichenometry, masonry), the ancients had a level of sophisticated knowledge and technologies for which we give them little credit and which we cannot satisfactorily explain.

The Roman Ruins at Volubilis, Morocco

The ancient ruins of Volubilis near Meknes, Morocco, are one of the best preserved of the ancient Roman Empire. Only partially excavated and surrounded by wheat fields, the Romans established a colony on this southeastern edge of the empire before finally being abandoned in the third century.

Basilica (also above)

Triumphal Arch

The Amazing, Colossal Sanctuary of Ollantaytambo

Streets in the old part of Ollantaytambo are narrow, cobble-stoned, inaccessible to cars and trucks. Along one side, water flows in ancient Inca canals, still used today, no more than a foot wide. Quechua is spoken more than Spanish. Life goes on here as it has for centuries. There is no indication that less than a half mile away, a crush of tourists descend everyday on the railway station to board trains for Aguas Calientes, gateway to Machu Picchu. What many don’t realize is that Ollantaytambo has some of the most impressive megalithic ruins in the world.

Water canals line one side of the streets in old Ollantaytambo

That Ollantaytambo lies between Cusco and Machu Picchu is why it gets short shrift by tourists who’d rather spend their time at those popular destinations. A shame really because Ollanta, which locals call it for short, has its own important history and architecture. The town used to be the royal estate of emperor Pachacutec. It was here in 1537 that during the Inca rebellion, Manko Inka Yupanqui defeated an invading Spanish army led by Hernando Pizarro, Francisco’s half-brother. Like a spectacular movie battle scene, volleys of arrows, slingshots, spears and stones rained down on the Spanish troops from high terraces and water flooded the valley that the Incas somehow diverted from Rio Urubamba. Despite the historic battle, Fortaleza de Ollantaytambo had more than a defensive purpose.

This was the first town in Peru where my wife and I stayed last year (2016), following the Amazon rain forest. Like all tourists, we were here to take the train to Machu Picchu. Still, I was also looking forward to spending a day to see ancient megalithic ruins that some regard as the equal of any in the world. No matter where we walked, The Fortress, as it’s sometimes called, loomed over the entire town.

The first thing I noticed was the impressive terracing (andene) that looks from the bottom like one side of a gigantic stepped pyramid, an illusion of perspective. Andenes are one hallmark of Inca engineering.

Terraces at Ollanta

A long stairway on the left side leads to the top. From anywhere along the climb, it’s easy to see why researchers think they served some agricultural purpose, much like the terracing at Moray; the surfaces are broad, deep and flat. Because they’re oriented toward the sun, it’s believed that the terraces were solar energy collectors to provide heat for crops, long after the sun set. Not only that, the resulting microclimates made it possible to grow corn, potatoes and quinoa at different altitudes.

Did the Incas use these terraces for agricultural purposes? Note their scale relative to people.

Near the top, we turned left to a stairway that led past incredible stonework that I saw time and again in Peru. Immense, polygonal stones were fitted together with such precision that no mortar was necessary. This section contains The Ten Niches (Diez Hornacinas). Why go to so much trouble to build a ‘fortress?’ The complex must have served more important ceremonial or astronomic functions.

Stones are fitted so tightly that a razor can’t be inserted in the seams. These have rounded edges.

Some edges are beveled (bottom, left). The planar surfaces are amazingly flat.

Why are these stones so non-linear? The enigmatic ten niches (Diez Hornacinas) are to the left and in the topmost image.

The much-photographed portal

Look at the precise vertical cuts in this joinery.

The Temple of the Sun (Templo del Sol) is the site’s stunning architectural achievement. Monoliths weighing up to 50 tons and rising 15ft (4.6m) high form a six-section wall made of pink granite (rhyolite), transported from the Cachicata quarry 4mi (6km) away, each stone separated from its neighbor by shim-like inserts. Again, the seams are unimaginably tight. How were these stones brought here across the 1000-ft (300m) deep Urubamba river valley and dressed so beautifully? These are not the handiwork of Bronze Age tools.

Temple of the Sun (image from Note the chakana pattern and the smoothing marks as if the surfaces were wet concrete.

The wall might have once been part of a larger structure. Where’s the rest of it? I noticed the ground nearby littered with other gigantic pink stones. Some researchers suggest that the ‘temple’ was left unfinished when the Spanish invasion happened, others feel that the rubble was the aftermath of a massive earthquake or other catastrophe that toppled the structure long ago.

Do these massive stones mean the Temple of the Sun was left unfinished or suffered a massive catastrophe?

The rest of the complex consists of Inca-era walls, buildings and passageways of mortared field stones that, while impressive and extensive in scale, clearly don’t match the technical sophistication of Templo del Sol or Diez Hornacinas. Why is there such a big difference?

The construction here is not as sophisticated as the Diez Hornacinas or Templo del Sol.

The stones are considerably smaller with lots of mortar holding them together.

We wandered through this sprawling area until we got to an area called Inka Misana. The crowds were sparse. Most visitors don’t go through this part, though it’s not far from the main entrance. More large blocks of impressively finished stone were on the ground. Equally incredible were what appeared on the hillsides. You could even say, what didn’t appear. Large cubed sections had been skillfully and smoothly removed from solid rock, with no visible gouge marks, as if the stone were cut by some sort of machinery or unknown technology.

Excavations in rock, some appearing as cubed cutouts, others like stairs.

The planed surfaces are flat with no gouge or chisel marks.

How in the world did the builders accomplish this? Certainly not with hammer and chisel. I’ve wondered before about the different building styles at Machu Picchu. I think the same applies here in Ollantaytambo. Is it so hard to imagine that different peoples may have been responsible for the three styles, the Incas being the most recent, calling into question everything we think we know about human history and its technological achievements?

ollantay pan

(Click to enlarge)

Ollantaytambo should be on everyone’s travel bucket list.

Baby alpaca at the entrance

Related posts

Chaco Culture National Historic Park (NM)

In 2009, we avoided it because of its remoteness and the difficulty of getting there on unpaved roads. This time, we reversed course and decided to visit Chaco Culture National Historic Park (a mouthful, but it used to be called Chaco Canyon National Monument). This is the mother lode of all ancient Puebloan ruins, having begun building early in the 9th century and thought to have served as a major crossroads to travel and trade with peoples as far away as Mesoamerica. It is one of the cultural and archaeological treasures of the National Park Service, yet no plans, let alone funds, have been drawn up to improve access or facilities. Is this a good thing or bad? Making it easier for more tourists to come—and come they will if given the chance—would certainly have a major impact. With only a small campground for overnight stays, the vast majority of travelers can only make this a day visit. Still, visitors come from all over the world.

During my Southwest trip-planning, I made sure to secure a campsite in advance.

The most-photographed alignment in Chaco

The most-photographed alignment in Chaco

Chaco boasts the largest preserved series of ancient Puebloan complexes. The architectural achievements alone are enough to marvel at. The scale and detail of the masonry are impressive. Five distinct styles can be seen that evolved over centuries, all using stone tools, eventually developing into a matrix of large sandstone blocks chinked with smaller stones set in mortar. To support the multi-levels above, the walls of some structures were built a yard thick at the base, then tapering as they went upward. Chaco shows signs that it had connections with civilizations as far south as Mesoamerica in some architectural influences, which means there must have been considerable travel and sharing of ideas over vast distances.

Several masonry styles are employed here

Several masonry styles are employed here

Pueblo Bonito, the most famous of the complexes, is estimated to have had around 600 rooms and 40 kivas, but archaeologists think that only a very few people lived there relative to its size, implying a residence for elites. Of course, this is all speculation because there was no written record left behind. There are other structures throughout the Chaco valley that seemed to have been inhabited by many more people. There is also evidence that Chaco engaged in trade with peoples to the south and in Mesoamerica. All this illustrates how much we don’t know about ancient America, the likely rich heritage and far-flung civilizations that left behind no records, all gone by the time Columbus arrived in the Americas. The Hopi, Zuni, Navajo and other tribes all claim ancestry to the Chacoans.

One of over a hundred rooms in Pueblo Bonito

One of over a hundred rooms in Pueblo Bonito

Damage to Chaco’s architecture, as throughout the Southwest, is extensive. Nature will takes its course since sandstone and mortar are not resistant to water and wind damage. We saw quite a few leaning structures or walls that tilted one way or the other. Behind Pueblo Bonito, a large sandstone block collapsed within the last 70 years that destroyed a back portion of the complex. It was called Threatening Wall for the longest time, and it lived up to its name. Humans, including early archaeologists, have also contributed to damage by removing or otherwise damaging some of the material, not to mention plundering ancient artifacts. One great 400-foot D-shaped wall behind Pueblo Bonito is supported by buttresses and modern cements used in places to prevent erosion, but there is internal debate within the Park Service as to how much it should intervene when modern-day Puebloans and Navajos urge that the structures be allowed to disintegrate on their own and “returned to the earth.”

Buttresses shore up sagging walls in Pueblo Bonito

Buttresses shore up sagging walls in Pueblo Bonito

To see the Great Kiva at the Chetro Ketl complex is to see the largest kiva ever constructed in the Southwest. It must have held hundreds of people during ceremonies, impressive in both scale and effort to create it. As a community, it was second in size to Pueblo Bonito, consisting of over 500 rooms.

Chetro Ketl's Great Kiva

Chetro Ketl’s Great Kiva

To our complete surprise, we had the good fortune of serendipitously having timed our arrival with the autumnal equinox. The campground filled up fast with people who arrived for this very purpose. We got up early to observe this astronomical phenomenon. At dusk on the mornings of September 23 and 24, at Casa Riconada (another complex) as you gaze eastward through two portals that are aligned east-west, the sun rises precisely through the center of the portals. Also, the leading edge of a bluff on the horizon marks exactly where the sun will rise. Furthermore, looking westward over the easternmost wall, its portal shadow will frame the western portal dead center. No one can say for sure whether this feature was intentional or not, but it is compelling enough that a volunteer archaeo-astronomer spends quite a bit of time studying and giving lectures about all the astronomical alignments throughout Chaco.

On the autumnal equinox, the sun rises through two portals aligned precisely east-west

On the autumnal equinox, the sun rises through two portals aligned precisely east-west

We were originally going to spend two nights camping at Chaco but decided to move on after a single night of freezing temperatures and soul-deadening freeze-dried food. We’re wimping out in our old age. One phenomenon we got to experience was the heavenly vault of the Milky Way in all its glory, a sight we modern humans rarely get to see. There were no clouds or light pollution to obscure all the stars in the sky as well as the belt of clouds that comprise billions of stars at the outer edge of our galaxy. It was really humbling.

Wupatki National Monument (AZ)

An hour north of Flagstaff lies Wupatki National Monument. From Page, it was a leisurely hour and a half drive to the entrance. There are some 800 ruins within the monument, a staggering number even if you expected a large settlement. Only a few are open to the public. The largest and most impressive, Wupatki Pueblo, is close to the visitors’ center and easily accessible by a short paved path. There are over 100 rooms in the structure, constructed of flat Moenkopi sandstone rocks that have a characteristic reddish color.

There is even a large “ball court” that anthropologists feel suggest an influence from ancient Mesoamerican civilizations.

Ball court

There are curious “blowholes” throughout Wupatki whose ancient uses remain a mystery. Scientists explain that they are openings (or “cracks”) in the surface to underground sandstone chambers, possibly caused by earthquakes or shifting, that suck air in or blow it out, depending on outside temperatures. You could say that the earth is breathing.

Wupatki is linked to Sunset Crater by a loop road off Highway 89. It is generally thought that the ancients were driven from the Sunset Crater area, some 2,000 feet higher in elevation and therefore more verdant, when the crater exploded in the 11th century, and forced to settle in the more inhospitable Wupatki area to the north.

Hovenweep National Monument (UT)

Hovenweep Castle

Hovenweep Castle

Not too far from Mesa Verde is a complex of ancient communities that was built at the headwaters of box canyons and situated in a remote area stretching across both Colorado and Utah—Hovenweep National Monument. We set aside a few hours to visit the monument en route to Blanding. We would have been able to spend more time here were it not for bogus directions by our GPS unit that led us to a back road far from the park entrance. While our Garmin guided us flawlessly throughout most of our trip, the lesson is not to rely solely on technology. After backtracking through Cortez, we got to Hovenweep the old-fashioned way — using a map.

With little time left in the day, the ranger at the visitors’ center recommended that we visit the Holly group of towers. But, to get there, with ranger-provided directions in hand, we had to find the correct unimproved road off Route 10 and drive in over 8 miles of rutted, washboarded dirt road to reach the trailhead.

Much of what remains in Hovenweep National Monument are multi-storied towers, similar to those on display at Mesa Verde. Like all ancient ruins throughout the Southwest, their placement on sites normally unsuitable for habitation puzzles archaeologists. They speculate that they served defensive purposes based on the small sizes of their windows (almost like peepholes) and tight entry portals. A curious architectural variation here is that many towers have a “D”-shaped cross-section for reasons unknown. It seems logical that because these complexes were built next to seeps or natural springs in this generally arid environment, it would be reason enough to defend them against competitors at a time when an extended drought plagued the region.

A few towers were built on the most inexplicable foundations, such as on top of huge boulders or irregular rock slabs. Boulder House is one example. In fact, one tower was erected on an immense boulder that probably fell eons ago.

Structure built on top of fallen boulder

Structure built on top of fallen boulder

The trail connects to the one featuring the Horseshoe and Hackberry groups. The Twin Towers are notable for their elaborate masonry and respective shapes, one like a “D” and the other an oval.

Twin Towers constructed in different shapes

Twin Towers constructed in different shapes

Of all the beautiful flora we saw in the wild, the most spectacular had to be the claret cup cactus (also known as the hedgehog cactus). It is the most photographed cactus in the Southwest for its splendid scarlet color that can easily be spotted along the trails. Hummingbirds, primary pollinators of the claret cup, get their heads covered with pollen when reaching the nectar deep inside the flower. The finest example we came across was here in Hovenweep, a single cluster that immediately caught our eye. Since the flowers only last for a few days, we were lucky to have seen a few.

Claret cup cactus

Claret cup cactus

Mesa Verde National Park (CO)

You hear a lot about the Southwest’s ancient cliff dwellings and wonder what they are about. What possessed the builders to create these permanent and elaborate structures in such inaccessible places? We ventured out to the most famous complex of them all, Mesa Verde National Park, to look at them first hand. To see these complexes up close is a remarkable experience. Fortunately, the warnings to expect huge crowds of tourists never materialized, in all likelihood because the peak season hadn’t quite begun yet.

The drive from Cortez or Mancos, the closest towns, to the park’s attractions is time-consuming. Past the park entrance, it’s another 14 miles and a climb to 8,000 ft on a winding road before reaching the visitors’ center. At the recommended speed limit, this takes about a half hour. If you plan to visit Mesa Verde for a few days and want to avoid this drive every day, my recommendation is to stay at the Far View Lodge in the park. We stayed in Mancos for the first night before getting a room at the Far View. Before moving, we had the good fortune of enjoying a wonderful breakfast at the Absolute Bakery in town.

Three of the ruins require advance ticket purchases ($3 per adult) and are led by park rangers. We were able to get on two tours (Cliff House and Balcony House). Long House is located in a section of the park that was closed due to staffing limitations, no doubt a reflection of the unfortunate budgetary constraints placed on our national park system.

Cliff House (top photo) is said to have 217 rooms and 23 kivas, making it the largest complex. As we wandered through here on the guided tour, we marveled at the size and sophistication of the architecture and the quality of the masonry. Though this and other ruins have endured since their construction in the 13th century, it’s sad that before their protection many artifacts were removed and many of the walls vandalized, some even knocked down, by thoughtless tourists.

One of 23 kivas at Cliff House

One of 23 kivas at Cliff House

Balcony House was built on a smaller scale than Cliff House. It has far fewer rooms, about 35 to 40 and is so named because of its preserved balcony. The other unique aspects of this tour are the modes of ingress and egress. To get to the ruins, you descend a 32-foot ladder that vertically scales the cliffside. And, in order to leave, you crawl on hands and knees through a tight space (claustrophobes beware!) and finally climb a 60-foot ladder.

Balcony House

Balcony House

Spruce Tree House is experienced on a self-guided tour (no charge) that features a kiva with a restored roof. It is the third largest complex with about 130 rooms and 8 kivas.

In Mesa Verde, it is possible to see the evolution of the types of community construction. The park’s various archaeological sites clearly show a progression from the sixth-century pithouses …

Sixth-century pithouse

Sixth-century pithouse

… to the more elaborate pithouses of the 8th- through 10th-centuries …

8th- to 10th-century pithouse

8th- to 10th-century pithouse

… to the final forms — the rooms, towers and kivas — for which the Puebloans are now famous.

Final pithouse construction built into cliffsides

Final pithouse construction built into cliffsides

Archaeologists are still not sure why the more elaborate structures were built in virtually inaccessible alcoves just below the mesa tops. Though there is evidence that people lived on the mesa tops, did conditions change during the 13th-century to force families to move to protected alcoves, a possible hint that warfare became more prominent?

There are other mysteries, too. Why, for example, were many openings built T-shaped? One proffered explanation is to provide easy passage for people carrying loads on their backs, but really no one knows for sure.

Why were some openings T-shaped?

Why were some openings T-shaped?

And why were the axis-lines through the firepit, ventilator hole and sipapu aligned precisely south? To serve an astronomical function?

Kivas may have possible astronomical alignments

Kivas may have possible astronomical alignments

Incredibly, there are some 4,700 known archeological sites in the park.

The Puzzling Departure: No one knows for sure where the Ancient Puebloans went after they abandoned their cliff communities. The current thinking is that they migrated to lower ground and became the pueblo tribes of today. But the mystery of their departure remains. Although the theory of a serious drought has been popular, many archaeologists now have doubts that this is a viable single reason.

The emergence from an extinction event: You can’t help but be astonished that legends the world over tell of a series of catastrophic events that took place within recent human memory. Massive flooding, conflagrations, and extreme weather conditions are all described in tales that have been handed down orally for a very long time. The outlines of what took place are remarkably similar among all cultures. All of them describe the near extinction of humankind. The modern-day Native Americans, who include the Navajo, Hopi and Zuni, all have traditions that describe the survivors’ emergence into the present world after the catastrophe. The sipapu is a Hopi word for the “place of emergence” and is symbolically represented as a hole in the floor of all the kivas of the ancient Puebloans (for example, the hole at the bottom center of the very last photo above).