Navajo pueblitos

The term Navajo Pueblitos, also known as Dinétah Pueblitos, refers to a class of archaeological sites that are found in the northwestern corner of the American state of New Mexico. The sites generally consist of relatively small stone and timber structures which are believed to have been built by the Navajo people in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

The sites are located within the cultural area known as the Dinétah, the traditional homeland of the Navajo tribe of Native Americans. Pueblitos [pweβˈlitos] (Spanish for "little villages"; cf. Pueblo Native Americans) are generally found in defensible locations along mesa rims and on isolated outcrops and boulders. The structures themselves can consist of from one to six rooms, and take the form of multi-storied towers, cliff dwellings, and fort-like enclosures.

FrancesCanyon 6
Frances Canyon Pueblito, New Mexico.


The majority of pueblito sites are located on lands administered by the United States Bureau of Land Management in Rio Arriba and San Juan counties, New Mexico. Pueblitos, as well as a large number of other early Navajo sites are clustered in the Largo and Gobernador canyons, which drain in a north and westerly direction to the San Juan River.

Pueblo influence

The sites, now in ruins, date to what archaeologists have named the Gobernador phase of Navajo history. This was a period of population movements which began with the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, during which the Spanish were driven from New Mexico by an alliance of various Rio Grande and Western Pueblo tribes. The Spaniards returned in 1692, and it appears that some Pueblo people fled to the mesas and canyons of the Navajo.

A large Puebloan influx to the Dinétah region was long seen by archaeologists as the impetus for a mixing of Puebloan and Navajo cultural traits which appears to have taken place in the 18th century. The presence of Pueblo refugees has also been generally credited as an important driving force behind the construction of the pueblitos.

There is, however, some debate over the evidence that any large number of Pueblo people lived with the Navajos in this period. Spanish reports seem to indicate that portions of several Tewa and two Jemez communities may have sought refuge with the Navajos. However, historical evidence from the Hopi Pueblos indicates that the majority of the refugees from the Rio Grande region went to Hopi, leading some scholars to believe that the number of Puebloans that fled to Navajo country may have been as little as a few hundred.

Defensive nature

Whether constructed by Navajos, Puebloans, or a combination of both, most scholars agree that the Pueblitos are highly defensive in nature. Dinétah was a frontier area at the beginning of the 18th century, held by Navajos and possibly Pueblo refugees against retaliatory Spanish expeditions and Ute-Comanche raids. The defensive strategies employed at Pueblito sites consist of two general elements; advance warning, and regulation of access. The location of sites allowed for good views of approach routes, and sites were often situated so that they could be visually linked.


Pueblitos are generally constructed as two-story masonry structures situated on rock outcroppings or cliff edges. The shape of the structures generally follows the contour of the outcrop on which it rests. The interior space is partitioned by abutting cross walls to the outer walls. In most cases the structures and rooms tend to have rounded corners. The masonry is usually of readily available unshaped sandstone blocks and slabs which are set in mud mortar.

Room interiors are often covered with hand pressed adobe mortar. Room ceilings are supported by piñon [piˈɲon] and juniper logs (vigas). Above the primary beams, slats of juniper and piñon are placed laterally latillas [laˈtiʎas]. Adobe is sometimes placed atop the latillas to form a floor. Spanish style hooded fireplaces are found in some sites. Many pueblitos are in good condition and walls often stand from 4 to 15 feet in height.

Forked-stick hogans occur throughout the Dinétah region, as well as in association with pueblitos. The hogans usually have a framework of three main posts that form a tripod. Split juniper slats are placed on the framework to form a cone. The juniper slats were originally covered with a layer of mud mortar, but this layer has since washed away from the structures of this period.

Important sites

Simon Canyon Pueblito, photo from Historic American Buildings Survey

Some of the larger and better documented pueblito sites include the following:

See also


  • Linford, Laurance D., Navajo Places - History, Legend Landscape The University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City, 2000. ISBN 0-87480-624-0
  • Marshall, Michael P. and Hogan, Patrick, Rethinking Navajo Pueblitos New Mexico Bureau of Land Management, Cultural Resources Series No. 8, 1991. ISBN 1-878178-09-1
  • Powers, Margaret A. and Johnson, Byron P., Defensive Sites of Dinetah New Mexico Bureau of Land Management, Cultural Resources Series No. 2, 1987. ISBN 1-878178-02-4

External links

Ancestral Puebloan dwellings

Hundreds of Ancestral Puebloan dwellings are found across the American Southwest. With almost all constructed well before 1492 CE, these Puebloan towns and villages are located throughout the geography of the Southwest.

Many of these dwellings included various defensive positions, like the high steep mesas such as at the ancient Mesa Verde complex or the present-day Acoma "Sky City" Pueblo. Earlier than 900 CE progressing past the 13th century, the population complexes appear to have been major cultural centers for the Pueblo peoples. There were also settlements scattered throughout the region of varying sizes.

Aztec, New Mexico

Aztec (Navajo: Kinteel) is a city and county seat of San Juan County, New Mexico, United States. As of the 2010 census, the city population was 6,763. The Aztec Ruins National Monument is located on the north side of the city.

Christmas Tree Ruin

The Christmas Tree Ruin is an archaeological site containing a Navajo pueblito, a defensive structure built in a high cliff wall approximately 200 feet above the floor of Gobernador Canyon in northwestern New Mexico, United States. The ruin, which is believed to have been built by the Navajo, dates to the 18th century, and was probably used for defensive, storage, and habitation purposes.The site is situated on a ledge and within a rock shelter. The ruin consists of a walled rock shelter and a burned rock pile. The walled area is accessible only by ladder.


Dinétah is the traditional homeland of the Navajo tribe of Native Americans. In the Navajo language, the word "Dinétah" means "among the people" or "among the Navajo" (diné is the Navajo word that refers to the Navajo people; it also means "people" in the generic sense; -tah means "among, through, in the area of"). In the geographical sense, Dinétah encompasses a large area of northwestern New Mexico, southwestern Colorado, southeastern Utah, and northeastern Arizona. The boundaries are inexact, and are generally marked by mountain peaks which correspond to the four cardinal directions.


The Navajos (; British English: Navaho, Navajo: Diné or Naabeehó) are a Native American people of the Southwestern United States.

At more than 300,000 enrolled tribal members as of 2015, the Navajo Nation is the second-largest federally recognized tribe in the U.S. (the Cherokee Nation being the largest) and has the largest reservation in the country. The reservation straddles the Four Corners region and covers more than 27,000 square miles of land in Arizona, Utah and New Mexico. The Navajo language is spoken throughout the region, and most Navajo also speak English.

The states with the largest Navajo populations are Arizona (140,263) and New Mexico (108,306). More than three-quarters of the enrolled Navajo population resides in these two states.Besides the Navajo Nation proper, a small group of ethnic Navajos are members of the federally recognized Colorado River Indian Tribes.

Navajo Nation

The Navajo Nation (Navajo: Naabeehó Bináhásdzo) is a Native American territory covering about 17,544,500 acres (71,000 km2; 27,413 sq mi), occupying portions of northeastern Arizona, southeastern Utah, and northwestern New Mexico in the United States. This is the largest land area retained by a Native American tribe, with a population of roughly 350,000 as of 2016.

By area, the Navajo Nation is larger than West Virginia, Maryland, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Delaware. The original territory has been expanded several times since the 1800s. In 2016, under the Tribal Nations Buy-Back Program, some 149,524 acres (605.10 km2; 233.63 sq mi) of land were returned by the Department of Interior to the Navajo Nation for tribal communal use. The program is intended to help restore the land bases of reservations.

The Navajo Nation has an elected government that includes an executive office, a legislative house, and a judicial system, but the United States federal government continues to assert plenary power over all decisions. The executive system manages a large law enforcement and social services apparatus, health services, Diné College, and other local educational trusts.

The population continues to disproportionately struggle with health problems, unemployment, and the effects of past uranium mining incidents.

Old Fort Ruin

Old Fort Ruin is an archaeological site located in Rio Arriba County, northwestern New Mexico, United States, on lands owned by the State of New Mexico. The site consists of the ruins of a Navajo pueblito and associated hogans and artifacts. The site is included on the National Register of Historic Places in New Mexico.

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