Archaic Peoples

Archaic Foods

Pendego Cave

The Great Journey

Geology & Volcanoes

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      Welcome to Camp Internet's Explore the Ancient Southwest!

Ancient Peoples of the Southwest


The Southwest is famous for its ancient cliff dwellings, adobe pueblos, and traditional native arts that have been carried on for generations. In fact, the longest continually inhabited cities in North America are the Acoma and Taos Pueblos in New Mexico. The famous pueblos date back at least 800 years, and the cliff dwellings date back a thousand or more years.

But even further back in time, earlier First Peoples lived in what is now the Southwest, from California to Colorado to New Mexico and Baja California.

Let's go back in time to the Ice Age when massive sheets if snow and ice, stretching hundreds of miles, covered large areas of North America. Nearly no plants grew in the northern areas of the continent, and a few struggled to survive in the south. Large shaggy beasts roamed the land. The Ice Sheets that began up in the arctic reached down far into the middle of what is now the United States, but did not cover all of the Southwest, and early nomadic game hunting peoples made their camps in what is now New Mexico and Arizona.

Now-extinct animals were then living in the Southwest - the camel, the Shasta sloth, the horse, the lion and the mammoth. The time is during the Pleistocene 35,000 years ago.

Come meet the ancient ancestors of the Southwest, 33,000 BC -1500 AD - click on their picture, bold text, or image to learn more about each period of time and people.

The Great Journey - how North America may have come to be visited by the First People. Explore the Journey Here

35,000 - 55,000 years ago the Sandia people left the earliest evidence of S outhwest human existence in caves around Albuquerque. The Lucy site was found east of Albuquerque and the Hermit and Pendego Cave sites have human evidence that dates 15,000 - 55,000 years ago.
Enter Pendego Cave Here
This time matches other ancient sites found in South America and near the Bering land bridge that connected Asia and North America when the ocean waters were lower.

Santa Rosa
13,000 years ago, the earliest California Pacific peoples yet known lived out on Santa Rosa Island, accompanied most likely by dwarf pygmy mammoths soon to become extinct. On Santa Rosa, Arlington Woman's bones were discovered, and recent radio carbon dating has placed them at 11,000 BC.

13,000 BC - 1500 AD, one of the greatest concentration of native peoples in North America has established itself in the Channel Islands region, along the shores, along the inland rivers, and on the islands surrounding what is now Santa Barbara, from Malibu in the south to San Luis Obispo in the North, and inland to Cuyama. Now known as the Chumash, they lived in tule reed or sea grass round dome houses, enjoyed abundant foods with out agriculture, and had very detailed religious ceremonial customs. Their priest-astronomers studied the night sky and developed legends around the stars. The Chumash people created multi-colored cave paintings in the sandstones mountains 10-100 miles inland in their region, and sailed the Channel waters in ingenious canoes. They traded with the Tongva to the South for soapstone, among themselves for shell bead money, and in a wide trade network that brought distant goods from northern California, such as obsidian, and cotton treasured for clothing from the inland Southwest Hopi.

12,000 years ago Clovis hunters roamed the Southwest in search of Ice Age mammoths, bison, and other big game. They left behind fire pits and animal food and material preparation tools ...and many bones of the animals they caught.

10,000 years ago the Ice Age was coming to an end and the Folsom people were flourishing throughout the Southwest, hunting smaller mammals like deer, sheep and antelopes, and gathering wild grains as the earth warmed up and the Ice Age began to draw to a close.

The Clovis and Folsom people are names given to human inhabitants living all over North America during the Ice Age of the Pleistocene Period. But they are named after ancient sites discovered in the Rio Grande Valley of the Southwest. They are known for their carefully carved spear points that helped them hunt for food in those cold long ago times. Another name for them is Paleo-Indians.

Archaic Peoples

Between 10,000 - 500 BC an important technological revolution took place all over the world - and in the Southwest. The Archaic people began to cultivate corn, squash and later beans, bringing the first farming to he Southwest. This knowledge was passed north from tribes in South, central and Meso America over thousands of years, changing forever the health and lie span of the native peoples.

Los Gabrelinos 500BC, migrations of tribes were taking place along the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada, eventually brining tribes from Canada down around the south of the Sierras and into the Los Angeles basin. These non-farming people once called the Gabrielino, who now call themselves the Tongva, also learned to canoe out to the Channel Islands and resided on Catalina, San Clemente and San Nicholas Islands, replacing earlier inhabitants. Trade beads have revealed a long continuous trading system between the San Clemente Islanders, their mainland counterparts, and relations all the way up the eastern side of the Sierras.

Southwest basketmakers 100-700AD, ancient cave dwellers began making baskets, sandals and clothing from plant materials native to the Southwest. Their materials have been found in ancient caves in New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona. These First People are called the Basketmakers.

Early Pottery 300AD, the Mogollon of Arizona and New Mexico introduced another technology revolution - pottery. Fired clay pots enabled the people to better cook and store their food, again helping to improve their nutrition and health. The Mogollon lived in the southern region of the Southwest, and had the closest ties to traders from Mexico who might have taught them how to gather clay, form vessels, and fire them. Also at this time the first settlements began to appear ion the form of semi-underground pit houses. To the north, the Anasazi also were establishing pit house villages and learning to make pottery.

By 700-1200AD the northern Anasazi Culture, now known as the Ancestral Puebloans, left behind their pit house dwellings and began building astounding cliff houses, towns and stone cities on the Colorado Plateau's mesa tops, canyon floors and in its canyon walls. They created astronomical observatories, developed a trade network down into Mexico, and built 30-foot wide roads in precise directions linking their outliers to their central cities. They traded turquoise from their mine in Cerrillos, New Mexico for seashells from the Gulf and Pacific shores, and for goods brought up from Mexico. In Canyon de Chelly, at Mesa Verde, and in Chaco Canyon, the heights of their civilization flourished, reaching its peak in the two hundred ears between 1000 and 1200AD.

In the Southern regions in this early village period of 700-1200AD, the Mimbres developed remarkable ceramics in southwestern New Mexico, and the Hohokam built and elaborate network of canals and ball courts in central and southern Arizona. The Salado developed beautiful polychrome pottery and weaving techniques on the border of Arizona and New Mexico at this time. While their architecture was not as spectacular as the Ancestral Puebloans to the north, these southern cultures faced different challenges and developed ingenious solutions to the climate and social development situations they thrived in.

1200-1400AD the largest city in North America was thriving in the deep Southwest, in today what is Northern Mexico. This little known city site covered 88 acres, 27 times the size of Pueblo Bonito, the largest Puebloan town to the North. Paquime is the name of this huge adobe city, and it has proven to have been a major hub for trade between the Toltecs to the south and the Ancient Puebloans and other tribes to the north. Rare, exotic scarlet and green macaws have been found in abundance, birds brought up to the North from forests in the lower Sonoran (green macaws) or from even further away from the humid Caribbean shores of the Gulf of Mexico (scarlet macaws). Paquime, also called Casas Grandes (large houses), was a site where tons of shells, hundreds of pieces of turquoise and hundreds of copper bells and amulets were stored every year for trade to the north and to the south. Paquime mysteriously burnt and was never re-inhabited around 1400AD.

The Pueblos 1200-1500, the Ancestral Puebloans left their elaborate stone cities, huge underground kivas, and ingenious cliff palaces on the Colorado Plateau and began moving to the adobe Pueblos situated along the Rio Grande River. From this period the oldest continually occupied cities and apartment dwellings in North America can be dated. And these pueblos also added kivas, ceremonies, art, technology, and culture brought from the Colorado plateau to their daily life. 1500 to present, the Pueblo cultures have withstood the devastating impact of foreign settlement and have retained their unique cultures, religious practices, art, agriculture and way of life. Their ways are studied by Anthropologists to understand both pueblo life today and the ways of their long distant ancestors.

During this time period, 1200-1500AD, the Sinagua, who settled in the Flagstaff and Sedona areas of Arizona, also rose and fell. Having first survived the huge blast in the San Francisco Peaks that created Sunset Crater around 1064-65AD, they then developed small stone villages in the region. By the 1400s, they were unable to maintain a healthy village life and their villages disbanded.

In Baja California larger-than-life rock art murals cluster in remote rocky canyon caves and cliff walls. The Indians living there today do not claim them, and refer to 'a race of giants who came down from the north' in the past and painted them. The area shows habitation as long as 9,000 years ago, and the immediate rock art sites have human occupation from 500-1500AD.

Ancient Ruins
Ancient Arts and Crafts
Ancient Archaeoastronomy
Ancient Religions
Ancient Trade Routes
Ancient Foods and Recreation
What is an Anthropologist?
Meet and Anthropologist
What is an Archeologist?
Meet an Archeologist
Ancient Peoples Hands-on Projects
Ancient Peoples Quizzes