What is a Great Kiva?

A great kiva is a large, circular, usually subterranean or semisubterranean structure that was used by Pueblo Indians for important events such as ceremonies or political gatherings. Great kivas are one of the earliest examples of what archaeologists refer to as "public architecture." They are distinguished from ordinary kivas by their large size (more than 100 square meters in area), distinctive floor features (such as foot drums), and artifacts (for example, large serving bowls) that reflect communal feasting as opposed to everyday food preparation and consumption by the members of a household.

Great kivas continued to be built and used in the Mesa Verde region throughout the subsequent Pueblo I, II, and III periods, until the Pueblo people left the area in the late A.D. 1200s. Archaeologists have documented a few great kivas dating from the early A.D. 1300s in areas farther south, but, for the most part, this architectural form was discontinued after the massive population movements of the late thirteenth century.

Great kiva at Shabik'eshchee Village, Chaco Canyon.  

Basketmaker III great kiva at Shabik'eshchee Village, Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, excavated by Frank H. H. Roberts in 1927 (from Shabik'eshchee Village: A Late Basket Maker Site in the Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, by Frank H. H. Roberts, Jr., Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin, no. 92, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., 1929).

Photo shows partial structure; note the slab-lined wall and numerous floor features. Photo reproduced with permission of the Bureau of American Ethnology.