Ancient Puebloans of the Southwest
Puebloans (Anasazi) were
American civilization centered around the present day Four Corners
area of the Southwest United States. The ancestors of the modern
Pueblo peoples, including the
Zuni and the
Puebloans, do not prefer the term "Anasazi." Often referred to as the Ancient Pueblo people or Ancestral
call them "Hisatsinom"
(People of Long Ago).
The word "Anasazi”
is Navajo for
"Ancient Ones" or "Ancient Enemy."
Archaeologists still debate when a distinct Anasazi culture emerged, but
the current consensus suggests they first appeared around 1200 B.C. The Ancient
Puebloans first settled in the plateau area
where water was plentiful, with their initial locations at
Mesa Verde, and Kayenta. Later they spanned across the entire
plateau including northeastern
The earliest Ancient
Puebloans were nomadic hunters and gatherers, but later they
began cultivating crops and building permanent dwellings. Archeologists have split these different eras into two groups called
the Basket Makers and the Puebloans.
The Basket Makers
were the first to appear in the southwest, making numerous woven
baskets that were covered with mud and baked in order to make water
proof containers. They camped in the open or lived in caves as
they wandered the plains hunting with wood clubs, hunting sticks and
Historic Ancient Puebloans
dwellings dot the southwest, such as this
one at Cañon de Chelle,
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photographic prints and downloads
From 1200 B.C.
through the beginning of the new millennium, they increasingly began
to rely on cultivated gardens of corn and squash. From about 50
A.D. to 500 A.D., this cultural group began to construct shallow pit
houses that were mostly built underground, lined with rocks, and roofs
held up by vertical timbers, thatched with mud and branches. It
was also during this time that they began to construct storage bins,
lined with stones in order to protect their surplus food items.
The early Basket
Makers clothed themselves in fur or feather robes, string aprons,
loincloths and round-toed, plant-fiber sandals. They wore ornaments
made of shell, bone or stone. Women gathered wild food plants such as
amaranth, pinion nuts,
Indian rice grass, sunflower seeds and mustard seeds. Coarse stone basins were used to grind domesticated and wild seeds
into flour. The women prepared meals in pitch-lined baskets, cooking
with fire-hot stones dropped directly into the food mixture.
Around 500 A.D., the
first permanent villages were established with deeper pit houses and
some above-ground rooms. The bow and arrow soon replaced the
spear and the Basket makers began to make pottery, as well as adding
beans to their cultivated crops. Turning more and more to
agriculture, growing crops assumed a significant role in their
economy, making villages even more permanent.
The many settlements of this time were
scattered widely across the canyons and mesas of
generally consisting of a dozen or more structures.
Between the years of 750 and 900 A.D. the
Ancient Puebloans began a period of transition and advancement that changed
them from the Basket Makers to the Ancient Puebloans. Large masonry villages
and kivas began to appear as well as sophisticated pottery designs. Though
the deep pit houses continued to be used to a lesser extent, new structures
were built of jacal, a Spanish term, which refers to construction using
walls of close-set wooden stakes plastered with mud and roofed with straw,
rushes, or other materials. It was also in this period that populations
began to be concentrated in certain areas and smaller villages were
By the year 900, the area of
in the northwest corner of
had become the largest village of the Puebloans. Here, there was a
symmetrical village of above ground structures, following the same
architectural style, with roads leading from place to place. By the year
1050, the communities of Chaco Canyon
were at the peak of their activity.
From the years 1160 to 1340, large pueblos, cliff dwellings and towers
began to appear. It was during this time that the cliff villages,
such as in Mesa Verde National Park in
National Monument in
were built. Here the dwellings consisted of large communal
habitations built on the ledges of the canyon walls and the flat tops of
mesas. Highly defensible against nomadic predatory tribes, such as
the Ancient Puebloans
withdrew to their high perches in times of attack. Otherwise, the
cliff dwellers planted crops in the river valleys below, where they became
experts at irrigating the fields.
by Kathy Weiser-Alexander, June 2006.
This image available for photo prints & editorial downloads
However; by the year 1300
the Four Corners Area had been abandoned, though other pueblos further
south continued to be occupied. Many of these abandoned settlements
were left, as if the people planned to return, leaving behind beautiful
cooking pots and baskets.
Where did these ancient people go, and, why did they leave?
the turn of the last century, anthropologists proved what the local Indians
had known all long -- that those who had built the ancient ruins of the
Four Corners were the ancestors of the modern Pueblo peoples who live today
at Hopi, Zuni, Acoma, and many other Rio Grande Pueblo towns of New Mexico.
As to why they left, there are several theories. A known drought occurred
about 1275 A.D. to about 1300 A.D. Other causes may have been a
"nuclear winter" caused by a volcanic eruption, climatic fluctuations,
and it is known that the area was subject to increased violence and warfare by the newly-arrived
Navajo. In about 1325, the Kachina Phenomenon appeared. This was a religion that some believe
integrated the Puebloan society into the
When these conditions changed, scores of families, probably entire clans
moved and resettled as organized towns. The Four Corners region was
rapidly abandoned, with thousands of people leaving in only a few decades. By the year 1400 almost all the Ancient Puebloans
throughout the Southwest had aggregated into large pueblos scattered
through the drainages of the Little
and Rio Grande rivers in
By the year 1600, the
Spanish had virtually driven the Pueblo religion underground and the
number of Pueblos shrank from more than 100 observed in 1539 to just 20.
Today, a few descendants of the Ancient Puebloans
still continue to live in a few of the surviving pueblos.
The ancient civilization
of the Ancient Puebloans
is perhaps best-known for its adobe and sandstone dwellings built along cliff walls, the best-preserved of which include the cliff house at Mesa
Verde National Monument in
which also displays a half-million gallon reservoir; and the five-story
pueblo "apartment house" of 800 rooms at Chaco Cultural National Historic
New Mexico. Other remains of the Ancient
civilization include the Yucca House National Monument in
the Aztec Ruins National Monument in
portraying a huge sunken kiva with a 95-ton roof supported by four wooden
posts; the Hovenweep National Monument in
and the Canyon De Chelly, Casa Grande, Montezuma Castle and Wupatki
National Monuments in
These villages, called pueblos by Mexican settlers, were often only
accessible by rope or through rock climbing.
The Ancient Puebloans also
created many petroglyphs and pictographs, and are known for their unique
style of pottery.
of America, updated March, 2015.
Pueblo Indians -
Oldest Communities in the United States
Wupatki National Monument near
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