The Enigma of the T-Shaped Doors in Southwest
If you have been to Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon, you have seen many T-shaped doors at that site. What they represent and why they were designed that way is still a mystery in Ancient Southwest studies today. The foremost expert on this phenomenon is Steve Lekson, Professor Emeritus at the University of Colorado. The T-shaped doors phenomenon stretches from Chaco Canyon to Aztec Ruins and Mesa Verde 160 miles north of Chaco, and all the way south to Chihuahua, Mexico, 700 miles south, and into the high cliffs of the Sierra Madre north of the site of Paquime in Chihuahua.
The first T-shaped doors constructed at Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico were built between 850-1125 CE. The Chacoan complex disintegrated and the next construction of T-shaped doors appeared at Mesa Verde and Aztec Ruins 160 miles to the north, constructed between 1110-1275 CE. The last set of T-shaped doors were constructed 700 miles south at the site of Paquime between 1250-1450 CE, and high up in cliff houses in the Sierra Madre in the same time period.
Steve Lekson has written about a concept he calls the Chaco Meridian to explain these time periods. The Chacoan complex population emptied out at around 1125 CE. North for 160 miles, there is a florescence of big construction including T-shaped doors at Aztec Ruins and Mesa Verde starting at the time Chaco was depopulated. Construction techniques including the T-shaped doors were similar to Chaco. In 1275, that complex collapsed and 700 miles to the south at the large site of Paquime, T-shaped doors appear again from 1280-1450 CE. And there are more T-shaped doors there – hundreds appear there. Lekson can show with his Chaco Meridian theory that if you walk directly south from Aztec ruins to Paquime, it is a very straight line just as it is from Chaco to Aztec. So large populations from these three areas walked in straight lines between one complex to the other over 150 years.
The T-shaped doors at Chaco are found only in the Great Houses at Chaco in prominent exterior places looking out over plazas. When new construction took place at Aztec and Mesa Verde, a democratization of the doors took place. They then appear in big houses and smaller houses as well, and some are interior doors rather than all being exterior doors. At Paquime in the last phase, they become universal.
In the cliff sites of the Sierra Madre at the same time, there is room for one T-shaped door in these cliffside spaces. In some, murals of the serpent are painted around the doors. Murals of these serpents have been found at the sites to the north. There are also a few cave drawings in this general area of these T-shaped doors. And at Mesa Verde, mugs have been found with the T-shape carved into the ancient cups. At Paquime, there are T-shaped smaller altars that are portable.
So What Do They Mean?
Obviously, the doors mean something socially. The early construction was at Great Houses only at Chaco. So they were meant only for the elite. So they are socially important. But then they became democratized at phase 2 and 3. So the elite were not the only ones that could make these doors for their abodes, perhaps indicating a change in political and/or religious structure. But beyond that, we find the serpent murals surrounding these doors in some places, and the T-shaped portable altars and in ceramic mugs. So the meaning behind this shape has to still come into view.
A Maya Origin?
And finally, the newest research being done in this shape comes into view far to the southwest at the Maya site of Palenque in Chiapas, Mexico by archaeologist Mark Callis. There are several T-shaped windows found there dating to 600 CE that certainly look like the same T-shape from the southwest. Callis believes this is related to the God of wind, spirit and water, reminiscent of the plumed serpent. Wind and water would be important at the Ancient Southwest sites as well.
So here is a new piece of the puzzle that I do not have space to discuss now. I have created a photo album for you so you can see all that I have talked about here