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Chaco Canyon
Pueblo Alto Complex
      Spanish for "high town", this Late-Chacoan great house on the mesa above the canyon approximately one-half mile north of Pueblo Bonito. Pueblo Alto is also known as Old Alto to differentiate it from New Alto, a McElmo-style great house about one-quarter mile to the west and connected to Old Alto by a low wall. A similar wall extends east of the great house and then turns south toward the canyon.
      Construction of this classic D-shaped great house began around A.D. 1020 and continued into the late 1000s through several additions. The front arc of rooms was added in the early 1100s. Today the structure has almost no exposed standing walls, a result of its windswept mesa-top location and the fact that it was never more than one story high.
Original Alto Photos


Pueblo Alto is the sixth largest of canyon great houses in total area and has about 120 rooms and 18 kivas. Unlike most other great houses of the same time, Pueblo Alto does not appear to have a great kiva.
      Pueblo Alto's mesa-top location may have been purposefully selected for communication with other great houses. Una Vida, Tsin Kletsin, and Peñasco Blanco can be seen from Pueblo Alto, and Peñasco Blanco, in turn, is visible from a number of canyon bottom great houses.
      Pueblo Alto was also the focal point for a number of Chacoan roads leading toward the canyon from the north, including the Great North Road. Several of these roads converged on a narrow opening in a wall extending from the northeast corner of the great house, while another road passed just to the west of the building.
      The site was selected for partial excavation by the Chaco Center, and major work was carried out there from 1976 to 1978 by Thomas Windes and several other Chaco Project archaeologists. This undertaking included trenching the enormous refuse mound at the structure's southeast corner. The same mound was trenched in 1927 by Frank Roberts Jr., who was attempting to establish a Chacoan ceramic sequence based on the stratigraphy of great house trash mounds.
      New Alto, a small McElmo-style great house, is located on the mesa to the north of Pueblo Bonito and a few hundred yards west of Pueblo Alto (also known as Old Alto). This building follows the typical plan of single-unit McElmo buildings, having one kiva in the center surrounded by two or three rows of rooms on all sides. New Alto had thirty-two ground-floor rooms, all of which were two-story except for the front row of six one-story rooms facing to the south. The masonry veneer is McElmo-style. There is no associated great kiva. No Chacoan roads lead to New Alto; however, several roads converge on nearby Pueblo Alto. Three tree-ring dates in the early 1060s are almost certainly from reused beams, because construction of McElmo-style buildings has been firmly pegged to the early 1100s. The site has not been excavated.
      The relationship of McElmo-style great houses to the earlier classic great houses such as Pueblo Bonito has not been well studied, but the proximity of New Alto and Pueblo Alto provides an enticing research opportunity. Their relationship is made even more intriguing by the presence of a long, low wall that connectsthe rear of both buildings and extends well beyond them to the east and west. This unusual feature suggests that the buildings not only were linked, but that they stood within a defined great house precinct.
Text from Ancient Ruins of the Southwest - David Grant Noble 2000.