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Betatakin Ruin, Navajo National Monument | by Ken Lund
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Betatakin Ruin, Navajo National Monument

Betatakin means "House Built on a Ledge" in Navajo. In Hopi, the name of the place is Talastima, or "Place of the Corn Tassel". Betatakin is smaller than nearby Kiet Siel, with about 120 rooms at the time of abandonment. However, like Kiet Seel, Betatakin was constructed of sandstone, mud mortar, and wood. Today only about 80 rooms remain, due to rock falls inside the alcove. Betatakin only has one kiva, whereas Kiet Siel has several. Betatakin was built in an enormous alcove measuring 452 feet high and 370 feet across between 1267 and 1286. The first excavations occurred in 1917 under Neil Judd, and continued into the 1950s and 1960s under archaeologists like Jeffery Dean. During its two-decade heyday Dean estimated a maximum population of about 125 people.


The structures contained within this cave site were constructed mainly of sandstone blocks plastered together with mud and mortar. In marked contrast to earlier constructions and villages on top of the mesas, the cliff dwelling of Navajo National Monument reflected a region-wide trend towards the aggregation of growing regional populations into close, highly defensible quarters during the mid to late 13th century.


While much of the construction in this site remains similar to common ancestral Pueblo architectural forms, including such features as Kivas, a circular tower (at Kiet Siel), and pit-houses, the limited space that this site presented created a much more densely populated living area. At its peak, Kiet Siel had more than 150 rooms and 6 kivas, while Betatakin had about 120 rooms and only one kiva.

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Taken on July 4, 2010