Ancestral Puebloans were an ancient Native American culture that
spanned the present-day
Four Corners region of the United States,
comprising southeastern Utah, northeastern Arizona, northwestern New
Mexico, and southwestern Colorado. The
Ancestral Puebloans are
believed to have developed, at least in part, from the Oshara
Tradition, who developed from the Picosa culture.
They lived in a range of structures that included small family pit
houses, larger structures to house clans, grand pueblos, and
cliff-sited dwellings for defense. The
Ancestral Puebloans possessed a
complex network that stretched across the
hundreds of communities and population centers. They held a distinct
knowledge of celestial sciences that found form in their architecture.
The kiva, a congregational space that was used chiefly for ceremonial
purposes, was an integral part of this ancient people's community
In contemporary times, the people and their archaeological culture
were referred to as Anasazi for historical purposes. The Navajo, who
were not their descendants, called them by this term. Reflecting
historic traditions, the term was used to mean "ancient enemies".
Contemporary Puebloans do not want this term to be used.
Archaeologists continue to debate when this distinct culture emerged.
The current agreement, based on terminology defined by the Pecos
Classification, suggests their emergence around the 12th century BC,
during the archaeologically designated Early Basketmaker II Era.
Beginning with the earliest explorations and excavations, researchers
Ancestral Puebloans as the forerunners of contemporary
Pueblo peoples. Three
UNESCO World Heritage Sites
UNESCO World Heritage Sites located in the
United States are credited to the Pueblos:
Mesa Verde National Park,
Chaco Culture National Historical Park
Chaco Culture National Historical Park and Taos Pueblo.
3 Cultural characteristics
4 Architecture – Pueblo complexes and Great Houses
4.1 Great Houses
5 Ceremonial infrastructure – Great North Road: the 30-foot
5.1 The Great North Road
5.2 Ancient religion and road building
Cliff Palace communities and design
7.2 Migration from the homeland
8 Anasazi as a cultural label
9 Cultural distinctions
10 See also
12 External links
Pueblo, which means "village" in Spanish, was a term originating with
the Spanish explorers who used it to refer to the people's particular
style of dwelling. The
Navajo people, who now reside in parts of
former Pueblo territory, referred to the ancient people as Anaasází,
an exonym meaning "ancestors of our enemies", referring to their
competition with the Pueblo peoples. The
Navajo now use the term in
the sense of referring to "ancient people" or "ancient ones".
Hopi people used the term Hisatsinom, meaning ancient people, to
describe the Ancestral Puebloans.
Map of Ancestral Pueblo and neighboring cultures
Ancestral Puebloans were one of four major prehistoric
archaeological traditions recognized in the American Southwest. This
area is sometimes referred to as
Oasisamerica in the region defining
pre-Columbian southwestern North America. The others are the Mogollon,
Hohokam, and Patayan. In relation to neighboring cultures, the
Ancestral Puebloans occupied the northeast quadrant of the area.
The Ancestral Puebloan homeland centers on the
Colorado Plateau, but
extends from central
New Mexico on the east to southern
Nevada on the
Areas of southern Nevada, Utah, and
Colorado form a loose northern
boundary, while the southern edge is defined by the
Colorado Rivers in
Arizona and the Rio Puerco and
Rio Grande in
New Mexico. Structures and other evidence of Ancestral Puebloan
culture has been found extending east onto the American Great Plains,
in areas near the Cimarron and Pecos Rivers and in the Galisteo Basin.
Major Ancestral Puebloan sites in the
Four Corners area
Terrain and resources within this large region vary greatly. The
plateau regions have high elevations ranging from 4,500 to 8,500 feet
(1,400 to 2,600 m). Extensive horizontal mesas are capped by
sedimentary formations and support woodlands of junipers, pinon, and
ponderosa pines, each favoring different elevations. Wind and water
erosion have created steep-walled canyons, and sculpted windows and
bridges out of the sandstone landscape. In areas where resistant
strata (sedimentary rock layers), such as sandstone or limestone,
overlie more easily eroded strata such as shale, rock overhangs
Ancestral Puebloans favored building under such overhangs
for shelters and defensive building sites.
All areas of the Ancestral Puebloan homeland suffered from periods of
drought, and wind and water erosion. Summer rains could be unreliable
and often arrived as destructive thunderstorms. While the amount of
winter snowfall varied greatly, the
Ancestral Puebloans depended on
the snow for most of their water. Snow melt allowed the germination of
seeds, both wild and cultivated, in the spring.
Where sandstone layers overlay shale, snow melt could accumulate and
create seeps and springs, which the
Ancestral Puebloans used as water
sources. Snow also fed the smaller, more predictable tributaries, such
as the Chinle, Animas, Jemez, and Taos Rivers. The larger rivers were
less directly important to the ancient culture, as smaller streams
were more easily diverted or controlled for irrigation.
Pueblo Bonito, the largest of the Chacoan Great Houses, stands at the
foot of Chaco Canyon's northern rim.
The Ancestral Puebloan culture is perhaps best known for the stone and
earth dwellings its people built along cliff walls, particularly
during the Pueblo II and Pueblo III eras, from about 900 to 1350 AD in
total. The best-preserved examples of the stone dwellings are now
protected within United States' national parks, such as Navajo
National Monument, Chaco Culture National Historical Park,
National Park, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, Aztec Ruins
National Monument, Bandelier National Monument, Hovenweep National
Monument, and Canyon de Chelly National Monument.
These villages, called pueblos by Spanish colonists, were accessible
only by rope or through rock climbing. These astonishing building
achievements had modest beginnings. The first Ancestral Puebloan homes
and villages were based on the pit-house, a common feature in the
Ancestral Puebloans are also known for their pottery. In general,
pottery used for cooking or storage in the region was unpainted gray,
either smooth or textured. Pottery used for more formal purposes was
often more richly adorned. In the northern or "Anasazi" portion of the
Ancestral Pueblo world, from about 500 to 1300 AD, the most common
decorated pottery had black-painted designs on white or light gray
backgrounds. Decoration is characterized by fine hatching, and
contrasting colors are produced by the use of mineral-based paint on a
chalky background. South of the Anasazi territory, in Mogollon
settlements, pottery was more often hand-coiled, scraped, and
polished, with red to brown coloring.
Some tall cylinders are considered ceremonial vessels, while
narrow-necked jars may have been used for liquids. Ware in the
southern portion of the region, particularly after 1150 AD, is
characterized by heavier black-line decoration and the use of
carbon-based colorants. In northern New Mexico, the local "black on
white" tradition, the
Rio Grande white wares, continued well after
Changes in pottery composition, structure, and decoration are signals
of social change in the archaeological record. This is particularly
true as the peoples of the American Southwest began to leave their
traditional homes and migrate south. According to archaeologists
Patricia Crown and Steadman Upham, the appearance of the bright colors
on Salada Polychromes in the 14th century may reflect religious or
political alliances on a regional level. Late 14th- and 15th-century
pottery from central Arizona, widely traded in the region, has colors
and designs which may derive from earlier ware by both Ancestral
Pueblo and Mogollon peoples.
Ancestral Puebloans also created many petroglyphs and pictographs.
The pictograph style with which they are associated is the called the
Barrier Canyon Style. This form of pictograph is painted in areas in
which the images would be protected from the sun yet visible to a
group of people. The figures are sometimes phantom or alien looking.
The Holy Ghost panel in the Horseshoe Canyon is considered to be one
of the earliest uses of graphical perspective where the largest figure
appears to take on a three dimensional representation.
Architecture – Pueblo complexes and Great Houses
Main article: List of dwellings of Pueblo peoples
Pueblo people crafted a unique architecture with planned
community spaces. The ancient population centers such as Chaco Canyon
(outside Crownpoint, New Mexico),
Mesa Verde (near Cortez, Colorado),
Bandelier National Monument
Bandelier National Monument (near Los Alamos, New Mexico) have
brought renown to the Ancestral Pueblo peoples. They consisted of
apartment-like complexes and structures made from stone, adobe mud,
and other local material, or were carved into the sides of canyon
walls. Developed within these cultures, the people also adopted design
details from other cultures as far away as contemporary Mexico.
In their day, these ancient towns and cities were usually multistoried
and multipurposed buildings surrounding open plazas and viewsheds.
They were occupied by hundreds to thousands of Ancestral Pueblo
peoples. These population complexes hosted cultural and civic events
and infrastructure that supported a vast outlying region hundreds of
miles away linked by transportation roadways.
Multistory dwellings at Bandelier: Rock wall foundations and beam
holes and "cavates" carved into volcanic tuff remain from upper
Constructed well before 1492 AD, these Ancestral Pueblo towns and
villages in the Southwestern United States were located in various
defensive positions, for example, on high, steep mesas such as at Mesa
Verde or present-day Acoma Pueblo, called the "Sky City", in New
Mexico. Earlier than 900 AD and progressing past the 13th century, the
population complexes were a major center of culture for the Ancestral
Puebloans. In Chaco Canyon, Chacoan developers quarried sandstone
blocks and hauled timber from great distances, assembling 15 major
complexes. These ranked as the largest buildings in North America
until the late 19th century.
Evidence of archaeoastronomy at Chaco has been proposed, with the Sun
Dagger petroglyph at Fajada Butte a popular example. Many Chacoan
buildings may have been aligned to capture the solar and lunar
cycles, requiring generations of astronomical observations and
centuries of skillfully coordinated construction. Climate change
is thought to have led to the emigration of Chacoans and the eventual
abandonment of the canyon, beginning with a 50-year drought that
started in 1130.
Ancestral Puebloan Periods
Archaic–Early Basketmaker Era
7000 – 1500 BCE
Early Basketmaker II Era
1500 BCE – 50 CE
Late Basketmaker II Era
50 – 500
Basketmaker III Era
500 – 750
Pueblo I Period
750 – 900
Pueblo II Period
900 – 1150
Pueblo III Period
1150 – 1350
Pueblo IV Period
1350 – 1600
Pueblo V Period
1600 – present
Mancos Pitcher with Black on White Geometric Designs, Ancestral
Pueblo, 900–1300 AD, Brooklyn Museum
Immense complexes known as "great houses" embodied worship at Chaco.
Archaeologists have found musical instruments, jewelry, ceramics, and
ceremonial items, indicating people in Great Houses were elite,
wealthier families. They hosted indoor burials, where gifts were
interred with the dead, often including bowls of food and turquoise
As architectural forms evolved and centuries passed, the houses kept
several core traits. Most apparent is their sheer bulk; complexes
averaged more than 200 rooms each, and some enclosed up to 700
rooms. Individual rooms were substantial in size, with higher
ceilings than Ancestral Pueblo works of preceding periods. They were
well-planned: vast sections or wings erected were finished in a single
stage, rather than in increments.
Casa Rinconada, Chaco Culture National Historical Park, New Mexico
Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico
Houses generally faced the south. Plaza areas were almost always girt
with edifices of sealed-off rooms or high walls. Houses often stood
four or five stories tall, with single-story rooms facing the plaza;
room blocks were terraced to allow the tallest sections to compose the
pueblo's rear edifice. Rooms were often organized into suites, with
front rooms larger than rear, interior, and storage rooms or areas.
Ceremonial structures known as kivas were built in proportion to the
number of rooms in a pueblo. One small kiva was built for roughly
every 29 rooms. Nine complexes each hosted an oversized Great Kiva,
each up to 63 feet (19 m) in diameter. T-shaped doorways and
stone lintels marked all Chacoan kivas.
Though simple and compound walls were often used, great houses were
primarily constructed of core-and-veneer walls: two parallel
load-bearing walls comprising dressed, flat sandstone blocks bound in
clay mortar were erected. Gaps between walls were packed with
rubble, forming the wall's core. Walls were then covered in a veneer
of small sandstone pieces, which were pressed into a layer of binding
mud. These surfacing stones were often placed in distinctive
The Chacoan structures altogether required the wood of 200,000
coniferous trees, mostly hauled—on foot—from mountain ranges up to
70 miles (110 km) away.
Ceremonial infrastructure – Great North Road: the 30-foot wide
One of the most notable aspects of Ancestral Puebloan infrastructure
Chaco Canyon and is the Chaco Road, a system of roads radiating
out from many great house sites such as Pueblo Bonito, Chetro Ketl,
and Una Vida. They led toward small outlier sites and natural features
within and beyond the canyon limits.
Through satellite images and ground investigations, archaeologists
have detected at least eight main roads that together run for more
than 180 miles (300 km), and are more than 30 feet (10 m) wide.
These were excavated into a smooth, leveled surface in the bedrock or
created through the removal of vegetation and soil. The Ancestral
Pueblo residents of
Chaco Canyon cut large ramps and stairways into
the cliff rock to connect the roadways on the ridgetops of the canyon
to the sites on the valley bottoms.
The largest roads, constructed at the same time as many of the great
house sites (between 1000 and 1125 AD), are: the Great North Road, the
South Road, the Coyote Canyon Road, the Chacra Face Road, Ahshislepah
Road, Mexican Springs Road, the West Road, and the shorter
Pintado-Chaco Road. Simple structures like berms and walls are found
sometimes aligned along the courses of the roads. Also, some tracts of
the roads lead to natural features such as springs, lakes, mountain
tops, and pinnacles.
The Great North Road
Main article: Great North Road (Ancestral Puebloans)
The longest and most well-known of these roads is the Great North
Road, which originates from different routes close to Pueblo Bonito
and Chetro Ketl. These roads converge at Pueblo Alto and from there
lead north beyond the canyon limits. No communities are along the
road's course, apart from small, isolated structures.
Archaeological interpretations of the Chaco road system are divided
between an economic purpose and a symbolic, ideological role linked to
ancestral Puebloan beliefs.
The system was first discovered at the end of the 19th century. It was
not excavated and studied until the 1970s. By the late 20th century,
archeologists' assessments were helped by satellite images and
photographs taken from plane flights over the area. Archaeologists
suggested that the road's main purpose was to transport local and
exotic goods to and from the canyon. The economic purpose of the Chaco
road system is shown by the presence of luxury items at Pueblo Bonito
and elsewhere in the canyon. Items such as macaws, turquoise, marine
shells, which are not part of this environment, in addition to
imported vessels distinguished by design, prove that the Chaco had
long-distance commercial relations with other distant regions. The
widespread use of timber in Chacoan constructions was based on a large
and easy transportation system, as this resource is not locally
available. Through analysis of various strontium isotopes,
archaeologists have realized that much of the timber that composes
Chacoan construction came from a number of distant mountain ranges, a
finding that also supported the economic significance of the Chaco
Ancient religion and road building
Prehistoric roads and great houses in the San Juan Basin
Other archaeologists think instead that the main purpose of the road
system was a religious one, providing pathways for periodic
pilgrimages and facilitating regional gatherings for seasonal
ceremonies. Furthermore, considering that some of
these roads seem to go nowhere, experts suggest they can be
linked—especially the Great North Road—to astronomical
observations, solstice marking, and agricultural cycles.[citation
This religious explanation is supported by modern Pueblo beliefs about
a North Road leading to their place of origin and along which the
spirits of the dead travel. According to modern Pueblo people, this
road represents the connection to the sipapu, the place of emergence
of the ancestors or a dimensional doorway. During their journey from
the sipapu to the world of the living, the spirits stop along the road
and eat the food left for them by the living.
Astronomy played an important role in Chaco culture. Many ceremonial
structures were deliberately built along, a north-south axis
alignment. The main buildings at Pueblo Bonito, for example, are
arranged according to this direction. They likely served as central
places for ceremonial journeys across the landscape.
Sparse concentrations of ceramic fragments along the North Road have
been related to some sort of ritual activities carried out along its
expanse. Isolated structures located on the roadsides, as well as on
top of the canyon cliffs and ridge crests, have been interpreted as
shrines related to these activities.
Long, linear grooves were cut into the bedrock along certain roads,
but do not seem to point in any specific direction. These have been
proposed to be part of pilgrimage paths followed during ritual
Archaeologists agree that the purpose of this road system may have
changed through time, and that the Chaco Road system probably
functioned for both economic and ideological reasons.
Cliff Palace communities and design
Plan of entire Spruce Tree House from above, cut from laser scan data
collected by a CyArk/
National Park Service
National Park Service partnership
Laser scan section of the four-story Square Tower House, data
collected by a CyArk/
National Park Service
National Park Service partnership
Section view of
Kiva A in
Mesa Verde's Fire Temple, cut from laser
scan data collected by a CyArk/
National Park Service
National Park Service partnership.
Since Fire Temple was at least partially built to conform to the
dimensions of its cliff alcove, it is neither round in form nor truly
subterranean like other structures defined as kivas.
Throughout the southwest Ancestral Puebloan region, and at
the best-known site for the large number of well-preserved cliff
dwellings, housing, defensive, and storage complexes were built in
shallow caves and under rock overhangs along canyon walls. The
structures contained within these alcoves were mostly blocks of hard
sandstone, held together and plastered with adobe mortar.
Specific constructions had many similarities, but were generally
unique in form due to the individual topography of different alcoves
along the canyon walls. In marked contrast to earlier constructions
and villages on top of the mesas, the cliff dwellings at
reflected a region-wide trend during the 13th century toward the
aggregation of growing regional populations into close, highly
Common Pueblo architectural forms, including kivas, towers, and
pit-houses are included in this area, but the space constrictions of
these alcoves resulted in a far denser concentration of their
populations. Mug House, a typical cliff dwelling of the period, was
home to around 100 people who shared 94 small rooms and eight kivas,
built right up against each other and sharing many of their walls.
Builders in these areas maximized space in any way they could and no
areas were considered off-limits to construction.
Not all of the people in the region lived in cliff dwellings; many
colonized the canyon rims and slopes in multifamily structures that
grew to unprecedented size as populations swelled. Decorative
motifs for these sandstone/mortar constructions, both cliff dwellings
and not, included T-shaped windows and doors. This has been taken by
some archaeologists, such as Stephen Lekson (1999), as evidence of the
continuing reach of the
Chaco Canyon elite system, which had seemingly
collapsed around a century before. Other researchers see these
motifs as part of a more generalized Puebloan style and/or spiritual
significance, rather than evidence of a continuing specific elite
During the period from 700–1130 AD (Pueblo I and II Eras), a rapid
increase in population was due to consistent and regular rainfall
patterns supporting agriculture. Studies of skeletal remains show that
this growth was due to increased fertility rather than decreased
mortality. However, this tenfold increase in population over the
course of a few generations could not be achieved by increased
birthrate alone; likely, it also involved migrations of peoples from
surrounding areas. Innovations such as pottery, food storage, and
agriculture enabled this rapid growth. Over several decades, the
Ancestral Puebloan culture spread across the landscape.[citation
Ancestral Puebloan culture has been divided into three main areas or
branches, based on geographical location:
Chaco Canyon (northwest New Mexico)
Kayenta (northeast Arizona), and
Northern San Juan (
Mesa Verde and Hovenweep National Monument)
Colorado and southeastern Utah)
Modern Pueblo oral traditions hold that the Ancestral Puebloans
originated from sipapu, where they emerged from the underworld. For
unknown ages, they were led by chiefs and guided by spirits as they
completed vast migrations throughout the continent of North America.
They settled first in the Ancestral Puebloan areas for a few hundred
years before moving to their present locations.
Migration from the homeland
Chaco Culture bowl, 11th to 13th centuries, Pueblo Alto, Chaco Canyon
Ancestral Puebloans left their established homes in the 12th
and 13th centuries is not clear. Factors examined and discussed
include global or regional climate change, prolonged periods of
drought, cyclical periods of topsoil erosion, environmental
degradation, deforestation, hostility from new arrivals, religious or
cultural change, and influence from
Mesoamerican cultures. Many of
these possibilities are supported by archaeological evidence.
Current scholarly opinion holds that the
Ancestral Puebloans responded
to pressure from Numic-speaking peoples moving onto the Colorado
Plateau, as well as climate change that resulted in agricultural
failures. The archaeological record indicates that for Ancestral
Puebloans to adapt to climatic change by changing residences and
locations was not unusual. Early
Pueblo I Era
Pueblo I Era sites may have
housed up to 600 individuals in a few separate but closely spaced
settlement clusters. However, they were generally occupied for 30
years or less. Archaeologist Timothy A. Kohler excavated large Pueblo
I sites near Dolores, Colorado, and discovered that they were
established during periods of above-average rainfall. This allowed
crops to be grown without requiring irrigation. At the same time,
nearby areas were abandoned that suffered significantly drier
Ancestral Puebloans attained a cultural "Golden Age" between about 900
and 1150. During this time, generally classed as Pueblo II Era, the
climate was relatively warm and rainfall mostly adequate. Communities
grew larger and were inhabited for longer periods of time. Highly
specific local traditions in architecture and pottery emerged, and
trade over long distances appears to have been common. Domesticated
After around 1130, North America had significant climatic change in
the form of a 300-year drought called the Great Drought. This also
led to the collapse of the
Tiwanaku civilization around Lake Titicaca
in present-day Bolivia. The contemporary Mississippian culture
also collapsed during this period. Confirming evidence dated between
1150 and 1350 has been found in excavations of the western regions of
the Mississippi Valley, which show long-lasting patterns of warmer,
wetter winters and cooler, drier summers.
Ancestral Puebloan ruins in Dark Canyon Wilderness, Utah
In this later period, the Pueblo II became more self-contained,
decreasing trade and interaction with more distant communities.
Southwest farmers developed irrigation techniques appropriate to
seasonal rainfall, including soil and water control features such as
check dams and terraces. The population of the region continued to be
mobile, abandoning settlements and fields under adverse conditions.
Along with the change in precipitation patterns, the drop in water
table levels was due to a different cycle unrelated to rainfall. This
forced the abandonment of settlements in the more arid or overfarmed
Evidence suggests a profound change in religion in this period.
Chacoan and other structures constructed originally along astronomical
alignments, and thought to have served important ceremonial purposes
to the culture, were systematically dismantled. Doorways were sealed
with rock and mortar.
Kiva walls show marks from great fires set
within them, which probably required removal of the massive
roof – a task which would require significant effort.
Habitations were abandoned, and tribes were split and divided and
resettled far elsewhere.
This evidence suggests that the religious structures were deliberately
abandoned slowly over time. Puebloan tradition holds that the
ancestors had achieved great spiritual power and control over natural
forces. They used their power in ways that caused nature to change,
and caused changes that were never meant to occur. Possibly, the
dismantling of their religious structures was an effort to
symbolically undo the changes they believed they caused due to their
abuse of their spiritual power, and thus make amends with
Most modern Pueblo peoples (whether Keresans, Hopi, or Tanoans) assert
Ancestral Puebloans did not "vanish", as is commonly portrayed in
media presentations or popular books. They say that the people
migrated to areas in the southwest with more favorable rainfall and
dependable streams. They merged into the various Pueblo peoples whose
descendants still live in
Arizona and New Mexico. This perspective was
also presented by early 20th-century anthropologists, including Frank
Hamilton Cushing, J. Walter Fewkes, and Alfred V. Kidder.[citation
Many modern Pueblo tribes trace their lineage from specific
settlements. For example, the San Ildefonso
Pueblo people believe that
their ancestors lived in both the
Mesa Verde and the Bandelier areas.
Evidence also suggests that a profound change took place in the
Ancestral Pueblo area and areas inhabited by their cultural neighbors,
the Mogollon. The contemporary historian
James W. Loewen agrees with
this oral traditions in his book, Lies Across America: What Our
Historic Markers and Monuments Get Wrong (1999). No academic consensus
exists with the professional archeological and anthropological
community on this issue.
Pecos Glazeware bowl, Pecos National Historical Park
Environmental stress may have been reflected by changes in the social
structure, leading to conflict and warfare. Near Kayenta, Arizona,
Jonathan Haas of the Field Museum in Chicago has been studying a group
of Ancestral Puebloan villages that relocated from the canyons to the
high mesa tops during the late 13th century. Haas believes that the
reason to move so far from water and arable land was defense against
enemies. He asserts that isolated communities relied on raiding for
food and supplies, and that internal conflict and warfare became
common in the 13th century.
This conflict may have been aggravated by the influx of less settled
peoples, Numic-speakers such as the Utes, Shoshones, and Paiute
people, who may have originated in what is today California. Others
suggest that more developed villages, such as that at Chaco Canyon,
exhausted their environments, resulting in widespread deforestation
and eventually the fall of their civilization through warfare over
A 1997 excavation at
Cowboy Wash near Dolores,
Colorado found remains
of at least 24 human skeletons that showed evidence of violence and
dismemberment, with strong indications of cannibalism. This modest
community appears to have been abandoned during the same time
period. Other excavations within the Ancestral Puebloan cultural
area have produced varying numbers of unburied, and in some cases
dismembered, bodies. In a 2010 paper, Potter and Chuipka argued
that evidence at
Sacred Ridge site, near Durango, Colorado, is best
interpreted as warfare related to competition and ethnic
This evidence of warfare, conflict, and cannibalism is hotly debated
by some scholars and interest groups. Suggested alternatives
include: a community suffering the pressure of starvation or extreme
social stress, dismemberment and cannibalism as religious ritual or in
response to religious conflict, the influx of outsiders seeking to
drive out a settled agricultural community via calculated atrocity, or
an invasion of a settled region by nomadic raiders who practiced
cannibalism. Such peoples have existed in other times and places, e.g.
Androphagi of Russia according to Herodotus.
Anasazi as a cultural label
The term "Anasazi" was established in archaeological terminology
Pecos Classification system in 1927. It had been adopted
from the Navajo. Archaeologist Linda Cordell discussed the word's
etymology and use:
The name "Anasazi" has come to mean "ancient people," although the
word itself is Navajo, meaning "enemy ancestors." [The
Navajo word is
anaasází (<anaa- "enemy", sází "ancestor").] The term was first
applied to ruins of the
Mesa Verde by Richard Wetherill, a rancher and
trader who, in 1888–1889, was the first Anglo-American to explore
the sites in that area. Wetherill knew and worked with Navajos and
understood what the word meant. The name was further sanctioned in
archaeology when it was adopted by Alfred V. Kidder, the acknowledged
dean of Southwestern Archaeology. Kidder felt that it was less
cumbersome than a more technical term he might have used. Subsequently
some archaeologists who would try to change the term have worried that
Pueblos speak different languages, there are different
words for "ancestor," and using one might be offensive to people
speaking other languages.
Many contemporary Pueblo peoples object to the use of the term
Anasazi; controversy exists among them on a native alternative. Some
modern descendants of this culture often choose to use the term
"Ancestral Pueblo" peoples. Contemporary
Hopi use the word Hisatsinom
in preference to Anasazi.
Boy in doorway, Balcony House,
Mesa Verde National Park
Archaeological cultural units such as Ancestral Puebloan, Hohokam,
Patayan, or Mogollon are used by archaeologists to define material
culture similarities and differences that may identify prehistoric
sociocultural units, equivalent to modern societies or peoples. The
names and divisions are classification devices based on theoretical
perspectives, analytical methods, and data available at the time of
analysis and publication. They are subject to change, not only on the
basis of new information and discoveries, but also as attitudes and
perspectives change within the scientific community. It should not be
assumed that an archaeological division or culture unit corresponds to
a particular language group or to a socio-political entity such as a
Current terms and conventions have significant limitations:
Archaeological research focuses on items left behind during people’s
activities: fragments of pottery vessels, garbage, human remains,
stone tools or evidence left from the construction of dwellings.
However, many other aspects of the culture of prehistoric peoples are
not tangible. Their beliefs and behavior are difficult to decipher
from physical materials, and their languages remain unknown as they
had no known writing system.
Cultural divisions are tools of the modern scientist, and so should
not be considered similar to divisions or relationships which the
ancient residents may have recognized. Modern cultures in this region,
many of whom claim some of these ancient people as ancestors, express
a striking range of diversity in lifestyles, social organization,
language and religious beliefs. This suggests the ancient people were
also more diverse than their material remains may suggest.
The modern term "style" has a bearing on how material items such as
pottery or architecture can be interpreted. Within a people, different
means to accomplish the same goal can be adopted by subsets of the
larger group. For example, in modern Western cultures, there are
alternative styles of clothing that characterize older and younger
generations. Some cultural differences may be based on linear
traditions, on teaching from one generation or "school" to another.
Other varieties in style may have distinguished between arbitrary
groups within a culture, perhaps defining status, gender, clan or
guild affiliation, religious belief or cultural alliances. Variations
may also simply reflect the different resources available in a given
time or area.
Defining cultural groups, such as the Ancestral Puebloans, tends to
create an image of territories separated by clear-cut boundaries, like
border boundaries separating modern states. These did not exist.
Prehistoric people traded, worshipped, collaborated, and fought most
often with other nearby groups. Cultural differences should therefore
be understood as "clinal", "increasing gradually as the distance
separating groups also increases".
Departures from the expected pattern may occur because of unidentified
social or political situations or because of geographic barriers. In
the Southwest, mountain ranges, rivers, and most obviously, the Grand
Canyon, can be significant barriers for human communities, likely
reducing the frequency of contact with other groups. Current opinion
holds that the closer cultural similarity between the Mogollon and
Ancestral Puebloans, and their greater differences from the Hohokam
and Patayan, is due to both the geography and the variety of climate
zones in the Southwest.
Agriculture in the prehistoric Southwest
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
Prehistoric Southwestern cultural divisions
^ a b c "Ancestral Pueblo culture." Encyclopædia Britannica.
Retrieved 4 June 2012.
^ Cordell, Linda; McBrinn, Maxine (2012).
Archaeology of the Southwest
^ a b Hewit, "Puebloan Culture", University of Northern Colorado
^ "Anasazi". U*X*L Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes. U*X*L.
2008. Retrieved August 14, 2012 from HighBeam Research:
^ The Anasazi or "Ancient Pueblo" Archived August 28, 2015, at the
Wayback Machine., from CP-LUHNA, Northern
^ Adams, Karen R.; Stewart, Joe D.; Baldwin, Stuart J. (2002).
"Pottery Paint and Other Uses of Rocky Mountain Beeweed (Cleome
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Archæological Record, and Elemental Composition". Kiva. Leeds, UK:
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^ a b Cordell, pp. 98
^ Cordell, Linda (1994). Ancient Pueblo Peoples. St. Remy Press and
Smithsonian Institution. p. 20. ISBN 0-89599-038-5.
^ Cordell, p. 142-143
^ Strutin 1994, p. 6
^ Fagan 2005, p. 35
^ Fagan 1998, pp. 177–182
^ a b Sofaer 1997
^ Fagan 2005, p. 198
^ Stuart, David E. (2000). Anasazi America. University of New Mexico
Press. p. 115. ISBN 0-8263-2178-X.
^ a b Fagan 2005, pp. 119–121
^ Sofaer 1999
^ a b c Kantner, John (2004). "Ancient Puebloan Southwest", pp.
^ "Chacoan Roads." National Park Service. Retrieved 4 June 2012.
^ English, Nathan B., Julio L. Betancourt, Jeffrey S. Dean, andJay
Strontium isotopes reveal distant sources of architectural
timber in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico." Proceedings of the National
Academy of Sciences. 15 Aug 2001. Retrieved 4 June 2012.
^ Lekson, Stephen (1999). The Chaco Meridian: centers of Political
Power in the Ancient Southwest. Walnut Creek, California: Altamira
^ Phillips, David A., Jr., 2000, "The Chaco Meridian: A skeptical
analysis", paper presented to the 65th annual meeting of the Society
of American Archaeology, Philadelphia.
^ Diamond 2005, pp. 136−156.
^ The first to surmise this was John W. Powell, Canyons of the
Colorado, 1895, Flood & Vincent.
^ Spelling, Kemp, Wyatt, Monroe, Lipe, Arndt, and Yang (Feb 1, 2010)
"Ancient mitochondrial DNA analysis reveals complexity of indigenous
North American turkey domestication", PNAS
^ Diamond 2005, pp. 152.
^ "Mountains of Evidence", in
American Scientist Archived September
25, 2015, at the Wayback Machine.
^ Diamond 2005, pp. 153.
^ a b Christy Turner, Steven LeBlanc (17 May 2000). Secrets of the
Cannibalism in the Canyon (Motion Picture). PBS. Retrieved 21
^ LeBlanc p.174
^ Tim White, Prehistoric
Cannibalism at Mancos 5MTUMR-2346, Princeton,
1992, ISBN 0-691-09467-5
^ Potter, J.M., Chuipka, J.P. "Perimortem mutilation of human remains
in an early village in the American Southwest: A case for ethnic
violence." J. Anthropol. Archaeol. (2010),
^ Alexandra Witze (1 June 2001). "Researchers Divided Over Whether
Anasazi Were Cannibals". National Geographic. Retrieved 22 November
^ One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text
from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed.
(1911). "Androphagi". Encyclopædia Britannica. 1 (11th ed.).
Cambridge University Press. p. 976.
^ Cordell, pp. 18–19
^ Pueblo culture Archived January 25, 2016, at the Wayback Machine.,
^ Plog, p. 72.
Childs, Craig House of Rain: Tracking a Vanished Civilization Across
the American Southwest. Little, Brown and Company, February 22, 2007.
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Smithsonian Institution, 1994. ISBN 0-89599-038-5.
Diamond, Jared (2005), Collapse: How societies choose to fail or
succeed, London: Viking Penguin, ISBN 978-0-1431-1700-1
Fagan, Brian M. "Ancient North America: Tha
Archaeology of a Continent
(part five)." Thames and Hudson, Inc., New York City, 1991.
Fagan, B. (2005), Chaco Canyon: Archaeologists Explore the Lives of an
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Text by Michele Strutin; photography by George H.H. Huey. (1994),
Chaco: A Cultural Legacy, Southwest Parks and Monuments Association,
A 1,200-year perspective of 21st century drought in southwestern North
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Media related to Ancient Pueblo peoples at Wikimedia Commons
Bandelier National Monument
Bandelier National Monument Virtual Museum Exhibit and Lesson Plans,
from National Park Service
Chaco Culture National Historic Park Virtual Museum Exhibit, from
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People of the
An Early Population Explosion on the
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1054 Supernova Petrograph
The Chaco Meridian
Life Lists at SmithsonianMag.com:
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Indigenous peoples of Arizona
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Southern Ute Indian Reservation
Ute Mountain Ute Tribe
Battle of Beecher Island
Sand Creek massacre
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Ancient Pueblo (Anasazi)
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