Ancient Indians of Arizona

They are the ancestors of modern Pueblo Indians now living in New Mexico and Arizona. They settled and farmed in the Four Corners region between about AD 1 and AD 1300, producing fine baskets, pottery, cloth, ornaments and tools. Their architectural achievements included cliff dwellings and pueblos (apartment-house style villages). As the population grew and spread out, communities exchanged goods through an elaborate trade network. Regional differences developed as communities adapted to their surroundings in slightly different ways. We recognize several distinct branches of the culture, including Northern San Juan, Chaco, Kayenta, Virgin, and Rio Grande.

grand canyon ruins

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Anasazi is a Navajo word meaning "the ancient ones" or "the ancient enemies." Modern Pueblo people object to that name in reference to their ancestors. Their own languages do not share a common name for them, so the term "Ancestral Puebloans" is currently used when speaking English.

For hundreds of years, the first farmers were quite successful in the Four Corners area. But by AD 1300 they had left the entire region. Why?

Research shows that people began settling the Dolores area in small numbers around AD 500. The settlements were heavily populated between AD 600 and 900 when conditions were most favorable for agriculture. The number of households, hamlets and villages increased as the population grew.

Environmental conditions began to change around AD 900. Frequent droughts and killing frosts made farming unreliable. Families began leaving the Dolores area to pursue agriculture and community life elsewhere. Some use of the area continued, such as at Escalante Pueblo, during the 1100s.

The Ancestral Puebloans may have reached the limit of the natural resources available to them. When crops consistently failed, the people moved away or became more dependent on hunting and gathering. Archaeologists also see evidence of social changes over time, changes perhaps related to internal pressures or to outside competition from non-Pueblo groups.

In southwestern Colorado, some areas were gradually abandoned over many generations. The movement was not as sudden as previously thought. While the Northern San Juan settlements declined, other areas began to develop and grow. For instance, evidence exists for population growth around the Homolovi area in Arizona, near Winslow.

The Rio Grande pueblos and the pueblos of Acoma, Laguna and Zuni grew in numbers after AD 1300, perhaps including people from this region. The Hopi people of Arizona believe some of their clans came from the north. Environmental hardships in the Northern San Juan region probably made these areas in Arizona and New Mexico more attractive. A different climate and more reliable water sources offered hope of a better life.

The ANASAZI Heritage Center
The WUPATKI National Monument

Anasazi is a Navajo word meaning "ancient people who are not us". The Anasazi have been determined to be direct descendants of the Hopi. The roots of the Anasazi are not clear, but in theory have grown out of the northern Archaic group of hunters and foragers. Sometime between the first and second century the first signs of the Anasazi culture became visible as the Anasazi emerged from the hunter-foragers to agriculturists.

Around 500 A.D., three major changes revolutionized their lives; the bow and arrow, pottery and the permanent pit house. Agriculture became important. Maize (corn), beans, squash and cotton became a reliable food source. The Anasazi became bound to the soil.

Large villages started to be formed and with that the need of agriculture became increasingly important. The need to predict the unpredictable rains showers of the monsoon seasons became critical for survival. Understanding the seasons and the influence of the Sun became necessary. The shaman or high priest had this responsibility. If he could accurately predict the seasons and the coming of the rains, he then could assure the survival of the community with a fruitful harvest (see skywatchers).

By 700 A.D. a major architectural shift occurred. Pit houses were being replaced by above ground structures, the pueblo. For 500 years the pueblo architecture became the standard dwelling form. By the time of the Anasazi's cultural peak, they were by far the most extensive and influential of the other three cultures in the southwest.

Around 1300 the Anasazis started to abandon the cities and move elsewhere, most likely because of the extended drought between 1275 and 1300. By the time of the arrival of Coronado in 1540, the Anasazi all but disappeared. Many of their cultural traits such as their architecture can be seen all around, from the Hopis to the Rio Grande peoples.

feather There were actually several different (though related) groups of ancient Indians that left pueblo and cliff dwelling ruins in the Four Corners area on into southern Arizona and New Mexico. The most well known of these are the Anasazi, who lived in the Four Corners area for about 2000 years. However, the Mogollon, Hohokam, Sinagua, and Salado occupied nearby regions of Arizona during much of the same time. And after they all disappeared, the early Pueblo peoples (thought to be descendants of the Anasazi and Hohokam) also built pueblos and cliff dwellings whose ruins are visable today.

The word "Anasazi" is a Navajo word meaning "ancient ones" or "ancient enemies" and is used to describe the ancestors of the current Pueblo peoples of the Four Corners Region. Although the region has been inhabited since Paleoindian times (12000-8000 B.C.), the Anasazi probably came into the region somewhere around 700 B.C., and the characteristically Anasazi architecture, pottery, etc. did not appear until nearly 700 A.D. Their earliest lodgings were covered pits. By their halcyon days of between A.D. 1000 through 1300, they were constructing sophisticated pueblo and cliff dwellings throughout the arrid canyon lands of the region. Around 1300, they abandoned their dwellings and moved away. The reasons are still unknown, although there is speculation that prolonged drought played a major role. They left thousands of ruins across the Four Corners area, and many of these have been excavated by scientists and partially restored.

Most Anasazi ruins take the form of pueblos (multi-room, sometimes multi-story, stone-constructed, free-standing dwellings) or (more rarely) cliff dwellings (buildings built in cavernous openings along the cliff faces of the many canyons). Almost all Anasazi ruins also include kivas, which are circular semi-underground ceremonial rooms. Some sites also feature Great Kivas (very large, public ceremonial rooms) and towers.

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The Mogollon (pronounced mug'-ee-yone) (and a branch known as the Mimbres) lived in the upper drainage of the Little Colorado River in northern Arizona on down through southern Arizona from 500 A.D. through about 1450 A.D. The Hohokam lived in the Phoenix basin at about the same time. The Sinagua lived in the San Francisco Peaks area (near Flagstaff) on into the Verde River valley. The Salado lived in the Tonto Basin and Globe-Miami areas of Arizona. After the Anasazi and Hohokam moved out of the Four Corners area (around 1300), the early Pueblo peoples started inhabiting the Rio Grande River valley.

Although there are many similarities in the several cultures, there were many differences including architectural styles, artistic designs used in pottery, basketry and pictographs/petroglyphs, farming techniques, etc. It is clear from many artifacts found that there was a trading network between these peoples and the early peoples of the Pacific coast and with Meso-Americans.

Michael L. Holder (

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The Hohokam peoples occupied a wide area of south-central Arizona from roughly Flagstaff south to the Mexican border. They are thought to have originally migrated north out of Mexico around 300 BC to become the most skillful irrigation farmers the Southwest ever knew.

The ingenious Hohokam developed an elaborate irrigation network using only stone instruments and organized labor. Before modern development obliterated this system, their predecessors commonly referred to them as the Canal Builders.

The Hohokam were creative artisans who became famous for their intricate work with shells obtained from the Gulf of California and the Pacific coast. They created a coiled pottery finished with a paddle and painted with red designs. They retained a great deal of Mesoamerican influence as can be seen in their use of ball courts and decorative feathers.

They also became entrepreneurs in a thriving trade with their neighbors, the Anasazi and the Mogollon. Their fate is unclear, but they seem to have disappeared from the archeological record between the first half of the 15th century and the time when the Spanish first came upon their descendents, Pima-speaking Indians still using the ancient irrigation techniques. Some of their original irrigation canals are still being used in the Phoenix area today!

To Cochise, Geronimo, Apache Kid

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This page is a composit of many great sites found on the internet. Thank you to those that I have 'borrowed' from to make this page interesting.

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