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Cultures of the Southwest Indians
by
O. Ned Eddins

Mountains of Stone and The Winds of Change are now available as Kindle e-books on Amazon.  The Kindle edition of The Winds of Change is not footnoted and does not contain the Western Trivia chapter. The picture CD is not available with the Amazon books.

  Website Index       

Related Anasazi Website Articles:

Paleo-Indians    Meso-American Indians      Barrier Canyon Indians      Kayenta      Mesa Verde       Cedar Mesa-Grand Gulch      Fremont Indians     Indian Rock Art     Hovenweep     Monument Valley  

Anasazi       Mogollon        Hohokam        Sinagua       Chaco Canyon    Pueblo Bonita

Between  300 B.C. and 100 A.D., four distinct Indian cultures settled in the southwest: Anasazi, Mogollon, Hohokam, and Sinagua. A fifth culture, the Fremont Indians settled primarily in Utah in 400 A.D. The Fremont and Anasazi Cultures overlapped in Utah and Colorado.


                                            Prehistoric Four Corners Area Indians

The Anasazi, Mogollon, Sinagua, and Hohokam Indians did not range over the vast distances covered by the big game hunters of the late Pleistocene period, or the Archaic Indians. Between three hundred B.C. and one hundred A.D., the Southwest Indians turned toward agriculture to supplement their food source. During the late Archaic Period, corn and then beans and squash provided the means for a semi-settled village lifestyle. Corn, beans, and squash become so important in Indian cultures  they were known as...The Three Sisters. The three plants were planted together; the corn provided a stalk for the beans and the squash provided ground cover to reduce water evaporation.

The Southwest Pueblo Indians of today are direct decedents of Prehistoric Indian cultures that raised corn, hand irrigated fields, and built massive stone structures in Chaco Canyon, Mesa Verde, Cedar Mesa, Montezuma Castle, and Casa Grande hundreds of years before the first recorded Europeans saw North America.

The  prehistoric Southwest Indians had broad cultural similarities but had distinct languages and political unity. Except dogs and turkeys, these prehistoric tribes did not have domesticated animals, a system of writing, or the wheel. To varying degrees, the Anasazi, Hohokam, Sinagua, and Mogollon were influenced by Indians of central Mexico, especially the Toltec. In trade with Mesoamerica Indians, the Southwest Indians exchanged turquoise for parrot feathers, copper bells, maize (corn), beans, squash, and cotton (Taylor).


                                              Wolf Man Panel w/copper bells

Mogollon

The Mogollon (mo-ge-yon) people occupied mountainous areas of Arizona and New Mexico in approximately 200 B.C. The Mogollon culture eventually expanded to the southern rim of the Colorado Plateau. The Mogollon Indians were initially hunter-gatherers, but as their civilization advanced, the Mogollon acquired corn, squash, beans, tobacco, and cotton from Mesoamerica. The use of agricultural plants necessitated moving from pithouses to semi-permanent villages.

The mountainous region where the Mogollon lived between 900 and 1200 A.D. had good soil and abundant moisture for growing maize. Deer, antelope, and other wild game were plentiful in the Mogollon mountains. Despite this, the Mogollon Indians had abandoned the mountains by 1200 A.D. and moved south to Mexico.

Hohokam - Sinagua

The relationship between the Hohokam and the Sinagua Indians that built pueblos in the Flagstaff, Arizona, area is unclear. In many ways the history of the Sinagua Culture is similar to the Hohokam. The Sinagua borrowed heavily from the Mogollon and Anasazi cultures as well.

The most famous of the Sinagua Pueblos is Montezuma Castle. When white settlers first saw Montezuma Castle and the Anasazi pueblo, Aztec, the belief was these structures were built by the Aztec of Meso-America.


                                                       Montezuma Castle


                               Sinagua Pueblo  - Wupatki National Monument

The Hohokam Indians settled in the valleys of southern Arizona around 300 B.C.  Hohokam hunter-gatherer bands spread from the Tucson Basin through much of Arizona. The early Hohokam Indians built rectangular pithouses and lived in small villages.


                                            Pithouse - Boulder State Park

The Hohokam are best known for their agriculture. The Hohokam used sharp, wood-digging sticks, thin rock slab hoes, and the shoulder blades of large animals to construct over a thousand miles of canals. Some of the canals were up to fifty feet wide and dug with massive organized labor (Walker). The canals provided water for the villages and the Hohokam crops...the overwhelming majority of the plants were hand-watered from canals, catch basins, or seeps.


                                       Shoulder Bone Hoe- Knife - and Awl

Lithic Indians with primitive stone tools lacked the capability to flood irrigate agricultural fields. Successful flood irrigation requires canals, diversion ditches, temporary dams, and relatively level ground with a plant cover.


                                         Irrigation Diversion Ditches

 Level ground with a plant cover is lacking in a desert environment, and stone-tooled farmers could not divert water to flood irrigate a field. The Three Sisters (corn, beans, and squash) were planted in a series of earth mounds close to the canals similar to the milpas in Mesoamerica. Extended families hand-watered and cultivated the Three Sisters as well as cotton and other crops.

Anasazi migrants from the Colorado Plateau and the influence from Mesoamerican  cultures characterized the final period of Hohokam history. In the twelfth century, the Hohokam built concentrated settlements, some a half-mile square in area. The new Hohokam villages were solid clay walls reinforced with posts. Some of the new villages were massive multistoried houses with walls more than six-feet thick at the base. Entrance to the walled villages was by ladder or a single portal. Located between Phoenix and Tucson, the multistoried Casa Grande was built by the Hohokam.


                                                      Casa Grande ~ 1100 A.D.

Snaketown, the largest Hohokam pueblo, had about a thousand residents living in adobe row houses, some of them two and three stories tall. Snaketown was located on the Gila River in the area of modern day Phoenix, Arizona. Not all of the Hohokam lived in the large villages; small bands continued to build traditional lodges of post, brush and mud plastering over a shallow pit.

The Hohokam developed trade networks west to the California coast, eastward to the high plains of New Mexico and Texas, and southward to Mexico. The Hohokam traded pottery and cloth for seashells from the California coast. Agriculture products, seashells, and turquoise were traded to the Llano Estacado Indians of New Mexico and Texas. Turquoise and decorated seashells were traded in Mesoamerica for copper bells, polished plaques of iron pyrite, parrots, and macaws. Besides these extensive trade routes, the Hohokam traded with the Anasazi and the Mogollon.

Concentrated populations signaled the end of the Hohokam expansion. Between 1130 and 1190, a prolonged drought led to crop failure, starvation, and violent feuds. During the twelve hundreds, the Hohokam abandoned the large settlements and returned to a small band hunter-gatherer existence. Descendants of the Hohokam were in southern Arizona when first seen by Spanish explorers. The Spanish conquistadors referred to the Hohokam as Pima and Papago.

Anasazi: The Ancestral Puebloans

Anasazi is a Navajo word meaning ancient enemies. The new politically correct name for the Anasazi is Ancestral Puebloans.

In approximately 100 A. D., small hunter-gatherer bands of Anasazi settled on the Colorado Plateau. This large mountainous plateau region encompasses the Four Corners area, as well as, other parts of southern Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico.

Archeologists recognize two major periods in the archeological record of the Anasazi: the Basketmaker and Pueblo.

Basketmaker Period 1-750 A. D.  

The early Anasazi lived in shallow depressions in the ground covered by a canopy of brush and mud called pithouses. The Ancestral Puebloans used woven baskets as containers; some were woven tight enough to hold water. The Anasazi did not make pottery during this period, but they did raise Meso-American corn and squash with dry farming and some hand irrigation. The introduction of corn allowed the Anasazi to settle in one area. The corn was planted in small plots, and while it was growing, the people resumed their hunter-gather pursuits. Over several hundred years, Anasazi agriculture advanced to the point the people could sustain themselves in semi-permanent villages. During this time period, another Indian culture emerged to the north of the Anasazi...the Fremont Indians of Utah and the eastern Great Basin.


                                              Anasazi Basket - Mesa Verde NP

By 500 A.D., the Basketmaker villages showed significant changes in their culture. Larger villages were built with more storage bins, signifying increased yields of corn. In addition to improved farming methods, the Anasazi trading range expanded to the Pacific Coast, onto the Plains, and through the Mogollon and Hohokam to Mesoamerica. Beans were cultivated as a source of protein; however pinion nuts, yucca fruit, berries, and wild game were still a major part of the diet. Fibrous plants, especially yucca fiber, were used for baskets, clothing, and other tools.

By 600 A.D., farming was the mainstay of the Ancestral Puebloan economy. Agriculture revolved around corn, beans, and squash. Enough corn was raised to create a surplus; large storage rooms were prominent features of the Pueblo communities. By the late Basketmaker phase, the Anasazi had more possessions, stored food, adopted the bow and arrow, domesticated turkeys, and made pottery. Storage containers of plain gray, and occasionally black on white pottery, appeared for the excess food.


                                                         Anasazi Cup - Mesa Verde NP

The pottery containers, or baskets, were stored inside masonry structures in the village or in small granaries tucked under overhangs on narrow ledges for emergency use. These storage granaries are occasionally spotted on high cliff ledges.


                                                           Canyonlands Granary

A good deal of archeological studies of the Anasazi centers on pottery. Pottery contains hidden clues about the people who made it. Temper (gritty binding material) in the clay may be traceable to the geologic area where the pottery was made. The surfaces of bowls may retain pollen from food plants, or scrapings from a meal. Consequently, ceramic fragments (sherds) can indirectly show when a household or village was occupied. Archeologists use broken pieces of pottery to reveal information on social groups and  trade networks.



                                                                     Anasazi Pots

Some pottery made in the Colorado plateau area carried bold black-on-white designs, while other kinds included plain and textured, or corrugated cooking vessels. Black-on-red pottery from northern Arizona was traded throughout the Four Corners, as was red-on-buff styles from Utah. Shapes included jars, bowls, pitchers, ladles, canteens, figurines and miniatures. The style and design of pottery changed through time and varied across regions. Broken pieces of pottery are called sherds.


                                                               Pottery Sherds

Pueblo Phase 750-1300 A.D.

The term Pueblo refers to an Indian culture unique to the Southwest not to a particular tribe. Even though the Pueblo Indians shared many common elements, each Pueblo village had its own social order and religious practices. The early Pueblo period was a time of territorial expansion and cultural transition. Cotton cloth, aboveground houses, and improved pottery all came about during this period.

At the start of the Pueblo era, the Anasazi built the traditional pithouses lodges and semi-subterranean kivas. In addition, above ground storage structures called Jackals were being built. Eventually, the Pueblo families moved out of the pithouses into the Jackals.


                                        Reconstructed Mesa Verde Jackal

Around 750 A.D., an "elite group" started to build in Chaco Canyon. The Chaco Indians were either from, or strongly influenced by the Toltec Culture of central Mexico. The "elite group" brought with them knowledge and technological advancements (Southwest Indian Council).  The area west and north of Chaco Canyon had two wet seasons, rain in the summer and rain or snow in the winter; to the south and southeast, there was a single rainy season in the middle to late summer (Walker). The people of Chaco Canyon were perfectly situated to carry on an extensive corn trade between the two regions.

During this time period, an extensive trade developed in turquoise, pipestone, shells, carved flutes, mosaic baskets, and fine pottery, as well as, copper bells and macaw feathers developed with Mesoamerica...over a wide  time period several great Indian cultures developed and disappeared in the western hemisphere: Norte Chico in Peru and from central and southern Mexico the Olmec, Zapotec, Teotihuacan, Mayan, and Toltec.

Many archeologists agree on a wide trade network between the Southwest Indians and Mexico, especially with the Toltec, but discount an Anasazi migration from Mexico. These archeologists believe the Southwest Indians emerged from the archaic period (Stone).

Over the next two centuries (800-1000 A.D.), the Anasazi spread across the San Juan Basin; more than ten thousand separate sites have been identified. Archaeologists have discovered at least one hundred and fifty great house style structures outside of Chaco Canyon; these Pueblos are referred to as Outliers.

Percentage wise few people lived in Chaco Canyon itself, perhaps twenty-five hundred to three thousand. The Chaco elite gained control over the surplus corn trade through the Chaco priests. Priests convinced the farmers they controlled the seasonal rains.  By gaining power over the corn, the Chacoans controlled a vast region of the Southwest (Walker). The Chacoans themselves made relatively little pottery, or grew much corn; they were the corn brokers.

About 1000 A.D., the seasonal rains arrived with more consistency. This rain pattern continued for the next one hundred and thirty years; large surpluses of corn filled  Chaco storehouses. The Chacoans exploded in a building frenzy that turned Chaco Canyon into the greatest settlement in North America. This period is referred to as the Chaco Phenomenon.


                                                               Pueblo Bonita (2003)

Pueblo Bonito is the most celebrated of the Chaco Canyon great houses. Along its back perimeter, the rooms stood five stories high. Pueblo Bonita had seven hundred or more rooms, thirty-seven family kivas, and two community kivas. Built in several stages, Pueblo Bonita covered over four and one-half acres. The Pueblo Bonita workers shaped an estimated one million blocks of sandstone weighing some thirty thousand tons in constructing Pueblo Bonito.

An elaborate road and trail system connected the outlying villages with Chaco Canyon. Despite having over four hundred miles of roads, there is no evidence Chaco Indian used the wheel. A study by University of Arizona researchers showed the workers hauled spruce and fir timbers more than fifty miles to construct the floors and roofs. The timbers were packed from the Chuska Mountains to the west and the San Mateo Mountains to the south (Sharp).


                                
Artists drawing of Pueblo Bonita in 1100A.D.

The Chaco Culture Brochure states:

 In contrast to the usual practice of adding rooms to existing structures as needed, many archeologists believe the great houses in Chaco Canyon were planned from the start. Construction on some of these buildings spanned decades. These great houses were not traditional farming villages occupied by large populations. They may instead have been impressive examples of "public architecture" used periodically during times of ceremony, commerce, and trading when temporary populations came to the canyon for these events.

This information from the Chaco Canyon Brochure is difficult to believe. If these great houses were built over decades, to pre-plan them would require some type of "blueprint" or written record. There is no evidence the Anasazi had any type of writing or communication through symbols. Even if these structures were built with slave labor, it is implausible these massive houses were built to impress visitors...from where?


                                                                  Fajada Butte

There is evidence of astronomical observations in Chaco Canyon. In 1977, Dr. Anna Sofaer discovered the Sun Dagger on Fajada Butte. A large circular spiral and a small spiral are pecked in the cliff behind three large stone slabs. At midday on the summer solstice, the sun shines between the stone slabs and creates a dagger of light that bisects the large spiral. On midday of the winter solstice, two daggers bracket the large spiral. During the spring and the fall equinoxes, a small dagger of light bisects the small spiral. The slabs also cast shadow on the large spiral that marks the moon’s eighteen point six years cycle of its orbit (Chaco Culture Brochure).


                                                   Fajada Butte Sun Dials

 

The unraveling of the Chaco society began with a prolonged drought beginning around 1130 A.D. Lack of rain depleted the storehouses and made the farmers question the power of the Chaco priests. The Chaco Phenomena was over. One group built the Salmon Pueblo, which soon failed. Migrants from Salmon and Chaco Canyon built a five hundred room pueblo on the banks of the Animas River.


                                                              Aztec Pueblo 

When white settlers first saw the ruins of this large pueblo, they called it, Aztec. The settlers could not believe indigenous Indians had built such an elaborate village. (Walker). As the Chaco system begin to fail, the Chaco population scattered in a series of migrations to outlying areas. Some places in the Four Corners area such as, Mesa Verde, Hovenweep, Cedar Mesa, Kayenta, etc. increased in population.

Archeologists put forth many reasons, especially drought, for the decline of the Anasazi Indians. Environmental conditions, or warfare, often triggered the collapse of a culture, but the basic problem was stone-tooled farmers lacked the ability to grow, transport, and distribute enough food to support large numbers of people living in population centers. A lack of domesticated work animals limited the ability of stone-tooled farmers to support large communities, such as, Pueblo Bonita, Casa Grande, Mesa Verde, and the Kayenta pueblos, etc., the pre-historic Americas lacked large animal that could be domesticated for agriculture use.

The Anasazi article was written by O. Ned Eddins of Afton, Wyoming. Permission is given for material from this site to be used for school research papers.

Citation: Eddins, Ned. (article name) Thefurtrapper.com. Afton, Wyoming. 2002.

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