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Tovakwa ruins

This was an….interesting….site to get to. One would think that knowing exactly where a site is (which I did) is the hard part and finding the way in relatively simple. Ummm…not so much. Turns out for a variety of reasons both the USGS topos and the Forest Service maps are seriously f’ed up in this area of the Santa Fe National Forest. Had I not used Google Earth beforehand, noted the location of critical intersections on the friggin’ aerial photo and loaded that into my GPS, there wasn’t a chance in hell I’d be able to use just a map to get to the site. This required some serious GPS work. It also required travel over 13 miles of dirt road, starting with some pretty decent stuff and deteriorating to gnarly 4WD action. Oh yeah, and the hike in after that. The upside is that this has served to keep the yahoos out and there’s little damage to the site and no litter that I could see.

In Harrington’s 1916 “Ethnogeography of the Tewa Indians” he translates “Tovakwa” as, “…place of tova’ (tova’ a word said when in certain ceremonies a cigarette is touched by one person to the foot of another…)“. So a strict translation would be “Place of the Tova ceremony”. But to translate it further into more recent vernacular, I suppose it would be “Place of the Hotfoot”.

Tovakwa is thought to have been occupied from around 1350 AD to 1650 AD, based upon dating of the pottery sherds present. It’s fairly high up, almost 8,000’, and situated in a beautiful forested area.

At an estimated 1,850 rooms, Tovakwa is believed to be the largest of the pueblos in the Jemez area. As a point of comparison, Pueblo Bonito, the largest Great House in Chaco Canyon, contained “only” 700 – 800 rooms. In fact, the total number of rooms in all 14 of the Chaco Canyon Great Houses combined total less than 2,500. So this single site, high on a remote mesa, had a room count that was three fourths of the entire Chaco Canyon.

Based upon the size of the mounds the walls have collapsed into, it’s estimated some areas were at least three stories high. While some mapping of the site has been done over the years, it’s never been formally excavated. Given that this site and the others in the Santa Fe National Forest are sacred ancestral homes to the adjacent Jemez Pueblo Indians, who have more than a little political juice, it’s highly unlikely it ever will be excavated. It probably holds some interesting secrets.

This place is huge. The ruins encompass an area of about 300 meters by 350 meters. There were at least 14 small kivas and one large kiva.

From a lay perspective (which is admittedly mine), aside from its massive size the site isn’t especially compelling. There is little in the way of standing, exposed walls. The collapsed wall mounds, while impressively tall, are covered by a thick layer of pine needles and other forest duff concealing what I expect would be some pretty remarkable stuff. But there were a couple of things that stood out.

The first were the kivas. There were 14 smaller kivas (probably “clan kivas”) located throughout the plazas of the site.  That’s a pretty good number. Most were partially filled in with debris, but a few had exposed wall portions and were deeply set into the ground.

This was especially true of what I’d call the Great Kiva. Technically speaking, to be called a “Great Kiva” certain other features need be present beyond it just being a big-ass circular hole in the ground. Given that the floor was still covered with crud, I don’t know if those features were present. But the structure was large and impressive, and looked Great to me. Hey, I’m not an archaeologist, so you can’t sue me.

In the north wall of the Great Kiva was a rectangular niche. It didn’t appear to be a ventilation structure, so perhaps it was ceremonial. Looking at the other three directional quadrants, there were hints there might have been niches at those locations too, but those areas had crumbled a bit and it was hard to tell. But generally the walls of this structure were impressive.

The other thing I found of note at the site were the very large areas of pottery sherds.  It was the most I had ever seen at a site to date. Mostly black on white, but some red ware also.  Mingled with the sherds were large quantities of stone flakes (obsidian, chert, quartz, etc). Amongst it all we found just the tip of a very beautifully worked quartz projectile point (Yeah, yeah, we left it there….)

Interesting logging camp found en route to Tovakwa. Probably from early 1900s.

Another of the several log cabins at logging camp.

Tovakwa Ruins (Adapted from “Overview and Synthesis of the Archeology of the Jemez Provvince, New Mexico, by M. Elliot, 1986

Typical mounding at Tovakwa caused by collapse of several story roomblock structure. Doesn’t look real interesting, does it?

Jeri at bottom of one of the small kivas.

Detail of small kiva wall.

An exposed wall that looked dug out. Signs of pot hunting?

Me in center of large kiva. Note niche in wall left of me.

Closer view of niche in north wall of large kiva.

Large kiva wall detail.

Panorama of large kiva, looking generally southerly.

Isolated roomblock a hundred meters north of main site. Very rectangular and “barracks-like”.

Close up of a room in the north ruins roomblock.