Wupatki Pueblo

Historic Building Fact Sheet

wupatki pueblo historic building

Wupatki Pueblo is the largest structure in Wupatki National Monument. (July 2014) Photo credit: Jarek Tuszyński

Need to Know Info

Built1100 (approximate)
Address1 Wupatki Rd
Flagstaff, AZ 86004
Coordinates35°31’15.9″N 111°22’22.1″W
Date Added to NRHPOctober 15, 1966 (as part of Wupatki National Monument)

Built between the 1100s-1200s CE, Wupatki Pueblo was once home to over 100 people and thrived as a vital center of agriculture and regional trade before being abandoned by 1225 CE due to environmental pressures. Today, the expansive ruins and landmarks like its grand ballcourt remain a sacred site cherished by Hopi and other native peoples for preserving cultural heritage.

The structure and its surrounding terrain — including numerous other archaeological sites of the Ancestral Puebloans — were protected when Wupatki National Monument was designated in 1924.

The In-Depth Story

Wupatki Pueblo: A Thriving Hub of Ancient Trade and Culture

Nestled between the arid Painted Desert and pine-forested ponderosa highlands of northern Arizona lies the remains of what was once one of the largest and most influential settlements of the region – Wupatki Pueblo. Built and inhabited between the early 1100s and mid 1200s CE, this expansive complex was home to over 100 people at its peak and played a vital role as a center of agriculture, ceremony, and trade.

The Origins of Wupatki

Archaeological evidence suggests the impetus for Wupatki’s establishment was a shift in regional climate in the 1100s CE to cooler, wetter conditions more suitable to agriculture. This weather change, coupled with an influx of volcanic ash from the eruption of nearby Sunset Crater between 1040-1100 CE, enriched the previously barren soil and attracted the Ancestral Puebloan peoples to migrate to the area.

Over the next century after Sunset Crater’s eruption, an estimated 2,000 indigenous settlers migrated into the Wupatki Basin to establish new lives and communities.

Layout and Major Structures

Spanning over two acres, Wupatki Pueblo contains over 100 ground-floor rooms constructed from native Moenkopi sandstone mortared together into multiline structures surrounding a central courtyard. Archeologists have determined it was built as a single, coherent structure around a natural rock outcropping. With its multiple stories in some areas, Wupatki is considered the tallest building in a 50 mile radius for its era.

In addition to its living spaces, Wupatki features a variety of notable ceremonial structures. These include an ornate open-air ballcourt similar to those found in Mesoamerican sites far to the south. This has been identified as the northernmost example of this iconic structure yet found in North America. Wupatki also contains a large open community room which, based on other Southwest US sites, was likely used for public dances, meetings, and rituals integrating the sacred and the social. Two smaller kiva-like buildings have also been discovered nearby.

A Bustling, Short-Lived Heyday

Its fertile fields and strategic trading location allowed Wupatki Pueblo to prosper and grow in its heyday. Archaeologists estimate between 85-100 people inhabited the site by 1182 CE, relying on steady agriculture of maize, squash and other crops. Clever irrigation techniques like collecting scarce rainwater allowed them to overcome the dry clime. The variety of exotic artifacts excavated here, like seashells and pottery from the Pacific and Gulf Coasts, indicates Wupatki was a nexus of vital trade networks distributing resources far and wide across the Southwest cultural sphere.

But the good times were not to last. By 1225 CE, Wupatki Pueblo was completely abandoned by its residents. Experts suggest this was likely due to environmental pressures — some years after Sunset Crater’s eruption, volcanic emissions of ash and lava likely gradually made living here untenable. Still, the site’s impressive remains continue to mark it as having once been the largest community around for many miles.

Enduring Significance for Native Peoples

Though it was deserted centuries ago and sits empty to modern eyes, for today’s native peoples of the Southwest, Wupatki Pueblo remains a meaningful landscape alive with history and spirits. The Hopi in particular consider it hallowed ground holding reminders of their ancestors’ footsteps.

Members of certain Hopi clans still periodically return to sites like Wupatki’s to enrich their living traditions and connect with those who came before. By caring for these enduring places, they ensure vital strands of cultural memory live on.

NRHP Reference #: 66000175