Frequently Asked Questions

long house
Long House (on the Main (Pueblo) Loop Trail) was built at the bottom of the cliff wall and was at least 3 stories tall in some areas.

Photo by Sally King

Who used to live here and where did they come from?
Most people agree that the Ancestral Pueblo culture emerged from hunter and gatherer societies that had been living in the Four Corners area for thousands of years. The introduction of domesticated maize from the Valley of Mexico allowed a more sedentary lifestyle and the beginnings of more permanent architecture. At Bandelier archaeological evidence indicates hunter-gatherer occupation dating back into the Paleo-Indian period. A Clovis point found at Bandelier is the oldest artifact. The major Ancestral Pueblo People reoccupation of the area dates from A.D. 1150 to 1550, perhaps partly as a result of migration from the Four Corners area.

What is the connection between Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon, and Bandelier?
All were sites occupied by people of the Ancestral Pueblo culture, but during different time periods. Mesa Verde: A.D.500-1300 Chaco: A.D. 500-1300 Bandelier- A. D. 1100-1550 Each area reached its residential apex at different times, with Chaco and Mesa Verde prior to Bandelier. During these centuries there was trade and exchange of ideas and migration occurred between these areas. For example, Mesa Verde inhabitants may have briefly reoccupied Chaco sites. Generally speaking there was an overall movement toward areas with more water including the Rio Grande. Some Pueblo migration stories recount how their ancestors moved from place to place, including these well known areas, over time.


Where did the people go?
When the Spanish arrived in the southwest in the 16th century, they encountered numerous active villages which they called “Pueblos” meaning “town” (literally). Today the word Pueblo is also used as name for the group of people who are decendents of thoses who lived in these towns. The Pueblo people of the Rio Grande Valley trace their ancestry back to the Ancestral Pueblo culture. Present day pueblos of San Ildefonso and Cochiti identify ancestral ties to the sites at Bandelier and other locations. They track their relationships to Bandelier through oral traditions such as songs referring to sacred sites with the Pajarito plateau.

What language did the Ancestral Pueblo People of Frijoles Canyon speak?
Bandelier was home to two groups of Pueblo people who spoke different languages. These groups, the Tewa and the Keres, share many commonalities in their cultures. Their languages, however, are quite distinct from one another. Today, Tewa speakers live to the north of the park and Keres speakers to the south. The large ancestral village in the main canyon of Bandelier retains its Keres name, Tyuonyi. Some Keres speakers say the name Tyuonyi means a place of meeting or treaty, referring to the possibility of mingling of these two languages in the area. The main Tewa ancestral village, Tsankawi Owinge, means the village near the narrow gap in the mesa and the round cactus.

cavate view
Winter view from a cavate on the Main (Pueblo) Loop Trail

Photo by Sally King

What is a cavate?
“Cavate” is a combination of the words cave (a hollow or natural passage into the earth) and excavate (to make a hole in; hollow out). In 2001, the cavates in Los Alamos and Sandoval counties were listed among the Most Endangered Places in New Mexico by the New Mexico Heritage Preservation Alliance. With the help of this attention, the park was allocated a grant specifically for preservation of cavate architecture.

What is the cause of the blackened ceilings in the cavates?
The blackened ceilings are due to soot stains, most of which we believe to be intentional. The soot would help seal the crumbly volcanic tuff and help prevent grit and dirt from constantly sifting down onto the floor.

What did the Ancestral Pueblo People use to build their living structures?
The blocks of stone that you see in Big Kiva, Tyuonyi and Long House are all made from the volcanic tuff here in the canyon. The volcanic tuff is crumbly and can be shaped rather easily.

Why are there dwellings on the canyon floor and along the cliff wall?
We believe that these two types of dwellings would have been lived in simultaneously, that they date to the same period of inhabitance. There may have been some variance due to seasons. The village on the canyon floor would have been ideal for summer inhabitance. It was closer to Frijoles creek and the crops that would have existed on the canyon floor. In the wintertime, because the caveats face south, the canyon wall would catch a lot of sunlight and is typically 13 degrees warmer than the canyon floor.

How many rooms are there in Tyuonyi village?
There are 245 ground level rooms. Looking at other Ancestral Pueblo dwellings such as Long House, in which we can see rooms stacked two or three stories high, we believe the same architectural style would have been utilized within Tyuonyi. But unlike Long House, where support holes for roof beams (called viga holes) of stacked rooms can be seen lining the canyon wall, we have no way of knowing just how many rooms were stacked on top of the 245 ground level rooms.

Why are the houses and rooms so small?
It may be important to point out that the houses and rooms seem small from the standpoint of current visitors. For the Ancestral Pueblo People, the size was sufficient for their usage patterns and their material possessions. Small living rooms were easier to heat in the winter. Some of the small rooms may have been used for storage of domestic crops, for example corn, beans, squash and pinion nuts. Also, they had plenty of workspace outside, in the plaza for example, or on their rooftops.

Where does the name Bandelier come from?
Adolph Francis Bandelier was a Swiss-born scholar who grew up in Illinois and came to the Southwest at age forty to pursue a life-long dream of exploring the ancient sites of the Pueblo Indians. By mastering foreign languages easily, Bandelier communicated with the native peoples and in 1880 became the first to study and report on the dwelling sites in Frijoles Canyon. Along with scientific reports, he also published The Delight Makers, a fictionalized version of Pueblo life before the arrival of the Spanish. With the aid of more prominent archeologists, Bandelier illuminated the importance of preserving the heritage in Frijoles Canyon and was recognized by President Woodrow Wilson who established the area as a national monument and named it after him. Always the adventurer, Bandelier’s life ended in Spain; however his ashes were spread here in the canyon in 1980.

Last updated: June 5, 2024

Park footer

Contact Info

Mailing Address:

Bandelier National Monument
15 Entrance Road

Los Alamos, NM 87544


505 672-3861 x0

Contact Us