The Kuaua Pueblo Ruins and the Coronado Historic Site

During Francisco Vasquez de Coronado’s expedition to New Mexico in the 1540s, he came into contact with the Tiwa people who lived in pueblos near modern-day Albuquerque. In the 1930s, archaeologists excavated the ruins of Kuaua, one of the largest pueblos. These ruins currently constitute a large part of the Coronado Historic Site.

Archaeologists located the Kuaua Pueblo ruins just north of Albuquerque, New Mexico along the banks of the Rio Grande River. Created as part of the 400th anniversary of Francisco Vasquez de Coronado’s entry into New Mexico, the Coronado History Site references the expedition’s interactions with local Tiwa villages. Kuaua, a name meaning “evergreen” in Tiwa, was one of the largest of these villages and may have been the site of Coronado’s winter headquarters during the expedition. Archaeologists have estimated that the Tiwa settled this village in the fourteenth century and likely contained more than one thousand people when they came into contact with Coronado. However, conflict over the years with Coronado and other Spanish explorers eventually led to the Tiwa’s abandonment of Kuaua Pueblo in the sixteenth century.

When the archaeological team excavated the Kuaua Ruins in the 1930s, they uncovered more than 1,200 adobe rooms, three ceremonial rooms, and six kivas. Several of the kivas contained a series of murals that many revere today as some of the best examples of Pre-Columbian artwork in the United States. Kuaua religious murals flourished throughout the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries, reflecting religious and cosmological iconography such as references to rain, rainbows, clouds, lightning, and ritual figures engaging in rain-making rituals. These rituals formed an important part of Pueblo culture and religion due to the region’s general climate of minimal precipitation.

Thanks to extensive conservation efforts since the 1930s, the murals have been preserved for modern viewing. The Coronado Historic Site includes a Visitor Center, which features fourteen examples of original mural artwork as well as Pueblo Indian and colonial Spanish artifacts. Several trails throughout the ruins of the pueblo and along the Rio Grande River provide exploration opportunities for visitors wishing to more authentically learn about the Tiwa Pueblo culture and lifestyle.

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