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The Anasazi

The most famous of the Ancient Southwest Peoples have been called the Anasazi since the early American explorers discovered their mysterious abandoned stone ruins in the 1880s. There were also other advanced societies living in all areas of the Southwest during this same time, called the Pueblo Period, that are important to study and understand - the Hohokum, Mogollon, Mimbres and Casa Grandes. It is very interesting to consider why this time period saw a sudden population growth - increasing 20 xs the number of people living in the Southwest - and an increased sophistication in building, pottery, adornment, and ceremonial practices all over the Ancient Southwest. To explore this mystery, we will first start with the Anasazi.

What makes the Anasazi so famous ?

The Anasazi are known world wide for two unique things :

1. For the remarkable stone architecture they built on a grand scale - from hidden cliff houses high up in the walls of sandstone canyons to 3 acre compounds 5 stories high with giant underground kivas.

2. For the mystery they left behind - why did they leave so suddenly and where did they go ?

In order to better understand the Anasazi, we need to consider the big picture :

When did they live ? 700-1200 AD

Where did they live ? In the Four Corners area of the Colorado Plateau where Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico now meet.
Click here for map of Anasazi Great Houses

Were they only tribe the in the region ? No, they had a sphere of influence and geographic spread of villages that was the largest in the Southwest.

Where did they come from ? Directly preceding the Anasazi stone villages and cities, their ancestors belonged to the period now known as Basketmakers and live in semi-underground houses called pit houses, often right in the same area where the stone cities and villages were later built.

What did they eat ? They learned from their Ancestors to grow corn, beans and squash that they grew themselves, usually in small plots along a rivers edge, but other times in plots that were hand watered with spring water carried to the site, or were fed by ingenious canal systems. They also hunted small game with delicate arrowheads and strong bows.

Who did the Anasazi trade with ? The Anasazi had trade routes that spanned the western part of North and Meso-America. The traded for parrots and seashells brought up from Mexico and over from California, and they owned valuable turquoise and copper mines that gave them prize trade goods to make their exchanges with. Anasazi turquoise and copper has been found in Mexico, and parrots and seashells from the Gulf of Mexico have been found in the Anasazi ruins.

Where does the name Anasazi come from ? It is a Navajo word used to describe the ancient peoples of the Four Corners who had lived on the land years before the Navajos arrived in the 1400s. Today, descendents of the Anasazi prefer to call these early native peoples the Ancestral Puebloans, meaning the ancestors of the Rio Grande pueblo people. There is current debate about the use of the name Anasazi - some translate it to mean Ancient Ones, others translate it from Navajo to mean Ancient Enemies. Due to historical conflicts between the Navajo and Pueblo people since the 1400s, the Pueblo People are choosing to give their own ancestors a name from their own world - Ancestral Puebloans.

Why was there such a population growth in the Pueblo Period ? Scientists suggest several reasons why the population increased to 20xs what it had been in the Basketmaker time period. One is that more children were being born now that life had settled into villages and towns, making it safer for families to bear and raise children. Another fact is that this period had unusually heavy rainfall for the area and food crops were plentiful. And yet another maybe that the improvement in the diet by introducing beans to the corn and squash helped improve their health and increased their fertility.

Now, let's learn more about these Ancient Ones, which we will at times call Anasazi and other times call Ancient Puebloans - both terms describing the same people.

From Pit Houses to Cliff Dwellings and Pueblos

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