Montezuma County Colorado
Photo courtesy of Sarah Kufleitner
On June 29, 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt established Mesa Verde National Park, the first national park consciously designed to "preserve the works of man.” Decades later, Mesa Verde remains one of the most spectacular parks anywhere in the world. With over 52,000 acres, it preserves more than 4,500 archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings, and over 3 million objects in the park’s research collection. Mesa Verde has international status as both a World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve. Recently, Mesa Verde National Park received two Save America's Treasures grants to preserve the archaeological collection and to conserve park cliff dwellings. [Source: National Park Service]
Photos courtesy of
©Barb and Mike Ziegenmeyer
Montezuma County was created out of the western portion of La Plata County by the Colorado Legislature in April, 1889. It was named in honor of a famous chief of the Aztec Indians in Mexico, Moctezuma II. The building ruins in Mesa Verde National Park were thought to be of Aztec origin at the time.
Mesa Verde National Park is a U.S. National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Montezuma County, Colorado, United States. The park occupies 81.4 square miles near the Four Corners and features numerous ruins of homes and villages built by the ancient Pueblo people known as the Anasazi. The Anasazi made these stone villages their home in the 1200s AD. It is best known for several spectacular cliff dwellings structures built within caves and under outcroppings in cliffs including Cliff Palace, which is thought to be the largest cliff dwelling in North America. The Spanish term Mesa Verde translates into English as "green table".
Mesa Verde National Park is located in the south-western corner of the state of Colorado.
Elevations in the park range from about 6,100 to 8,400 feet. The terrain in much of the park is dominated by ridges and valleys running roughly north and south; many of these ridges peak at an east west crest near the park's northern border which turns more northerly southerly towards the park entrance. The northernmost point is 13.2 miles farther north than the southernmost; the westernmost point is 11.9 miles farther west than the easternmost.
Although explorers from Spain went through the general region in the 18th century, actual sight of the cliffs dwellings by outsiders seems to have first occurred in the latter half of the 19th century. The fame of Mesa Verde soon began to spread thanks to the Wetherill ranchers and the archeological work of Gustaf Nordenskiöld. Vandalism led to the President Teddy Roosevelt's support of protecting the area as a national park in 1906.
Spanish explorers seeking a route from Santa Fe to California in the 1760s and 1770s were the first Europeans to reach the Mesa Verde (green table) region, which they named after its high, tree-covered plateaus. But they never got close enough, or into the needed angle, to see the ancient stone villages, which would remain a secret for another century.Located in Colorado.
Occasional trappers and prospectors visited, with one prospector, John Moss, making his observations known in 1873. The following year he led eminent photographer William Henry Jackson through Mancos Canyon, at the base of Mesa Verde. There Jackson both photographed and publicized a typical stone cliff dwelling. In 1875 geologist William H. Holmes retraced Jackson's route. Reports by both Jackson and Holmes were included in the 1876 report of the Hayden Survey, one of the four federally financed efforts to explore the American West. These and other publications led to proposals to systematically study Southwestern archaeological sites. They did not lead to action for some years.
Meanwhile, ranchers were beginning to settle the Mancos Valley. Some climbed up into Mesa Verde and observed more and larger stone structures. Looting of artifacts began, both for home display and for sale cheaply to visitors to the region. In a dismal two decades of despoliation, the most responsible ranchers were members of the Wetherill family, who also had the best relations with the local Ute tribe on whose territory Mesa Verde was located. The Wetherills collected artifacts for sale to the Historical Society of Colorado as well as private collectors, and began assembling a small library of relevant publications. They also saw the tourist potential of the cliff dwellings they now sought out systematically. Over several years they reoriented their ranch toward guiding tourists through the cliff dwellings, and became the first experts on them. Although they continued to dig in the ruins, knocking down some walls and roofs and gathering artifacts without extensive documentation, the Wetherill's actions were more responsible and considerate than those of the other looters that preceded them. Modern archaeological opinion generally agrees that the Wetherill family were reasonable caretakers in an era before archaeological standards and federal oversight and protection.
House of Many Windows
One noteworthy early visitor was a New York newspaper reporter named Virginia McClurg, whose efforts over a period of years helped lead eventually to park status for Mesa Verde. Another, in 1889 and 1890, was photographer and travel writer Frederick H. Chapin. He described the landscape and structures in an 1890 article and 1892 book, The Land of the Cliff-Dwellers, whose many excellent photographs were the first extensive view of Mesa Verde available to the public. Like other visitors in the early years, he was guided by the Wetherills.
Perhaps the most important early visitor was Gustaf Nordenskiöld, son of Finnish-Swedish polar explorer Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld, in 1891. Nordenskiöld, a trained mineralogist, introduced scientific methods to artifact collection, recorded locations, photographed extensively, diagrammed sites, and correlated what he observed with existing archaeological literature as well as the home-grown expertise of the Wetherills.
Local opposition surfaced, however, and, after it was learned that Nordenskiöld's artifacts would be shipped to a museum in northern Europe, he was arrested and charged with "devastating the ruins." Rumors of lynching circulated. Only intervention by several Washington cabinet secretaries freed Nordenskiöld.
On return to Sweden, Nordenskiöld published, in 1893, the first scholarly study of the ruins, The Cliff Dwellers of the Mesa Verde, which put Mesa Verde on the map in the international community. Nordenskiöld's activities remained controversial for many decades but are generally recognized as highly valuable today. Nordenskiöld's collection of Mesa Verde artifacts in the National Museum of Finland is the largest outside the U.S. Former Mesa Verde National Park superintendent Robert Heyder summed up Nordenskiöld's contributions:
As concern grew over the archaeological well being of Mesa Verde's ruins, and those in other nearby sites, the area was established as a national park on June 29, 1906. As with all historical areas administered by the National Park Service, the park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966. It was designated a World Heritage Site on September 6, 1978. The park was named with the Spanish for green table because of its forests of juniper and piñon trees.
A set of six buildings built by the National Park Service in 1921, the Mesa Verde Administrative District, was designated a National Historic Landmark on May 29, 1987. It consists of the first buildings constructed by the National Park Service which are based on cultural traditions represented in the park area. The principal designer believed that structures could be used for interpretive purposes to explain the construction of prehistoric dwellings in the Park, and be compatible with their natural and cultural setting.
In the summers of 2000 (twice), 2001, 2002, and 2003, the park, which is covered with pinyon pine and Utah juniper forests, suffered from a large number of forest fires; parts of it were closed. All areas of the park have since re-opened, but some areas show significant damage from the fires.
Mesa Verde is best known for a large number of well preserved cliff dwellings, houses built in shallow caves and under rock overhangs along the 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 of Mesa Verde reflected a region-wide trend towards the aggregation of growing regional populations into close, highly defensible quarters during the 1200s.
While much of the construction in these sites conforms to common Pueblo architectural forms, including Kivas, towers, and pit-houses, the space constrictions of these alcoves necessitated what seems to have been 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 multi-family structures that grew to unprecedented size as populations swelled. Decorative motifs for these sandstone/mortar constructions, both cliff dwellings and non-, 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 socioeconomic system.
This ruin is the largest and best-known of the cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde. The site has 150 identified rooms and 23 kivas. Although this and other Mesa Verde sites are large and well constructed, they demonstrate a long history of occupation and their architectural design is an aggregation of dwellings and storage spaces that developed slowly and randomly. Accurate archaeological information from this site has been limited due to several decades of digging and collecting at the turn of the Twentieth century.
This ruin situated on Wetherill Mesa was professionally excavated in the late 1960s by archaeologist Arthur Rohn. The structure contains 94 rooms, in four levels, including a large kiva, with simple vertical walls and masonry pilasters. This ceremonial structure has a keyhole shape, due to a recess behind the fireplace and a deflector, that is considered an element of the Mesa Verde style. The rooms clustered around the kiva formed part of the courtyard, indicating the kiva would have been roofed.
Spruce Tree House
Located on Chapin Mesa, this cliff dwelling is easily accessible and well preserved. The ruins include a kiva with a restored roof which visitors can enter. Excavations indicate that this structure, like many other dwellings in Mesa Verde, was probably occupied for less than a century.
Square Tower House
The tower that gives this site its name is the tallest structure in Mesa Verde. This cliff dwelling was occupied between AD 1200 and 1300.
Mesa Verde Reservoirs
These ancient reservoirs, built by the Ancient Puebloans, were named a National Civil Engineering Historic Landmark on September 26, 2004.
Records indicate that the Balcony House was probably first rediscovered by an excavator, S.E. Osborn, sometime in 1884 - his name and the date "March 20, 1884" being found in a dwelling nearby. Furthermore, Osborn published a newspaper account of dwellings, including one that matches the description of Balcony House, in 1886. The site was excavated by archaeologist Jesse Nusbaum in 1910.
Who were the Ancestral Pueblo People (Anasazi) ?
They were the ancestors of the modern Pueblo people, today about 20 communities living in New Mexico and Arizona. There is extensive literature available about the culture of modern and historic Pueblo people.
There never was an "Anasazi tribe", nor did anyone ever call themselves by that name. Anasazi is originally a Navajo word that archaeologists applied to people who farmed the Four Corners before 1300 AD.
Archaeologists identify a culture through its artifacts, since members of a culture share traditions of architecture, crafts, symbolisms, etc. When the Anasazi or Pueblo culture began is a matter of definition, because there is no single event or trait which defines it. . The earliest traces of the culture date before AD 1 (perhaps as early as 1500 BC) in characteristic kinds of basketry, sandals, art, tools, architecture, settlement patterns, and incipient agriculture.
According to Pueblo oral traditions, different groups came from different directions and points of origin before meeting to form the clans and communities of today. Modern Pueblos speak several different languages and do not share a common term for their ancestors. The Hopi name is Hisatsinom.
The ancestral Puebloan homeland was centered in the Four Corners region of the Colorado Plateau-- southern Utah, northern Arizona, northwest New Mexico, and a lesser section of Colorado-- where their occupation lasted until 1280 or so. By 1300 AD the population centers had shifted south to the Rio Grande Valley of New Mexico and the Mogollon Rim in central Arizona, where related people had already been living for centuries. The Spanish who arrived in the 1500s named them the Pueblos, meaning "villagers," as distinct from nomadic people.
Modern Pueblo people dislike the name "Anasazi" which they consider an ethnic slur. This Navajo word means ancient enemy (or old-time stranger, alien, foreigner, outsider) although it has been in common use for about about 70 years. Here is an excerpt from Dr. William Lipe's comments on the subject:
"The earliest published reference was by Kidder in the mid-1930s.... J.O. Brew (1946) rails against the use of the term 'Anasazi' on the grounds that a Navajo term is inappropriate for an obviously Puebloan culture, that 'Basketmaker-Pueblo' or 'Puebloan' had precedence in the literature, and would do just as well for continued reference to this cultural tradition... My guess is that this Navajo word... caught on in the middle 1930s [with archaeologists because] it did not imply any particular cultural relationship... It was bad practice to pre-judge the historical conclusions by identifying a prehistoric archaeological complex with some historically or ethnographically known culture."
Today, however, no doubt remains that these prehistoric people were ancestral to modern Pueblos, who insist that their ancestors did not permanently "abandon" their former territories. Modern Pueblos still make pilgrimages to ancestral village sites, have oral histories about them, and maintain shrines in the Four Corners region.
What happened to these people ?
The Ancestral Puebloan farmers were relatively successful in the Four Corners area for over a thousand years, but by AD 1300 they had left the entire region. Long-term climate changes that reduced crop yield may have been among the reasons that the Ancestral Puebloans finally moved away from their former homeland.
Tree-ring records and other indicators show that persistent drought and/or shortened frost-free seasons affected this region during several prehistoric periods, including the early 900s, the early 1100s, and the late 1200s. Each of these periods corresponds to shifts in settlement pattern. The last period (late 1200s) witnessed the final, widespread Puebloan migrations out of the Four Corners. Other factors responsible for this exodus may have been deforestation or other kinds of environmental degradation, a growing scarcity of land or other resources, and/or political conflicts related to these problems.
The Ancestral Puebloans may have reached the limit of the natural resources available to them. When crops consistently failed, the people moved to a better location. Archaeologists also see evidence of social changes over time, changes perhaps related to internal pressures or to outside competition from non-Pueblo groups.
In the Dolores Valley, research revealed that people began settling in small villages 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, as cooler temperatures made farming unreliable. Families began leaving the Dolores area to pursue agriculture and community life at lower elevations nearby. In later centuries the population rebounded and use of the area continued through the 1200s. In southwestern Colorado, some settlement areas persisted for centuries but with internal changes such as a trend toward concentration into larger, fewer villages.
While the Four Corners settlements declined, more southerly areas began to develop and grow. The Rio Grande pueblos and the pueblos of Acoma, Laguna, and Zuni grew in numbers after AD 1300, perhaps including people from this region. Evidence also exists for sudden population growth around the Homolovi area near Winslow, Arizona. The Acoma of New Mexico and the Hopi people of Arizona say that some of their clans came from the Four Corners region.
What language did they speak ?
No one knows what language the Ancestral Puebloans spoke. The culture was widespread in space and time, so it is likely that different languages were spoken.
Modern Pueblos speak several languages within the broad Uto-Aztecan language group, which also includes the Nahuatl or Aztec, Ute, and Tarahumara languages. Pueblo languages include
" Tanoan languages (including Tewa and Tiwa) spoken at pueblos of the Rio Grande area.
" Keresan, spoken at Acoma, Laguna, and Santo Domingo Pueblos
" Zuni, a unique language isolate
" Hopi, which is related to Shoshonean and Ute
What was Ancestral Pueblo architecture like ?
Pueblo people have created and lived in a variety of shelters over the last 2000 years. The earliest constructions were family unit pithouses, which were shallow excavations roofed over by earth and wood. The first hamlets and villages were usually a row or arc of small, square rooms, built of sticks and mud plaster, set behind a cluster of pithouses.
The Ancestral Puebloans generally did not make adobes or mud bricks. The earliest pueblos often had walls made of clay covering a lattice of sticks-- called jacal construction-- usually anchored to a row of foundation stones. Later villages had stone stem walls below upper jacal walls. Later still, walls were mostly stone masonry-- sometimes carefully shaped, sometimes not-- held together with mud/clay mortar. Roofing was layers of brush and clay over a frame of sticks and logs.
Later, multi-family "pueblos" were built with shaped stones. One major advantage to pueblo construction is that adding rooms to a pueblo is much easier than digging a new pithouse. The first pueblos were single story buildings, but evolved into larger multi-level complexes beginning about 900-1000 AD. Pueblo-type villages resemble modern apartment blocks, but with many rooms devoted to food storage. A classic, modern example is Taos Pueblo in New Mexico.
Pithouse-type villages and pueblo-type villages overlapped in time. The earliest pueblos were really an arc of storage rooms behind a cluster of pithouses. Gradually the above-ground storage rooms became living/sleeping/working rooms, while the pithouses became deeper and less numerous. After this transition, archaeologists often refer to them as kivas. Some kivas in the western Anasazi area were square rooms, as are Hopi kivas today.
There are several differences between the kivas in modern Pueblo villages and the "kivas" found at Ancestral Puebloan sites. The kivas in archaeological sites are much more numerous than kivas in modern villages, and may have had different functions. They may have belonged to individual families or clans. Since their form evolved from earlier habitations (pithouses), ancient kivas probably were used more often as working or sleeping quarters than are modern kivas.
It is worth pointing out that the actual "living room" space in Ancestral Pueblo villages was usually outside on a rooftop or plaza during good weather. Indoor areas were mainly for sleeping or working in wet, windy, or cold weather. Most of the rooms in a pueblo were storage rooms, like a house full of closets.
Between AD 1200 and 1300 in the Four Corners region, many large and small pueblos were built into shallow caves. Known today as "cliff dwellings," these village sites offer several environmental advantages: They shelter the buildings from rain and snow, they usually have a good solar orientation (shade in the summer, sun in the winter), a spring is often found at the back of these caves, and cave villages do not occupy scarce agricultural land. However, the absence of cliff dwellings before AD 1200-- and their sudden, widespread adoption throughout the Four Corners region after that date-- indicate other motivations for this change. Many cliff dwellings have very defensible locations and defensive architecture; the difficulty of access must have been a disadvantage to some inhabitants. Recent evidence indicates that malnutrition and famine were not uncommon during this period, and that violent events sometimes took place, so cliff dwelling architecture may represent a response to social stres
What kind of government and social structures did they have ?
Modern Pueblo groups share certain social patterns. Traditionally they are all matrilineal, meaning that clan affiliation is reckoned through the female line, and children "belong" to the mother's clan. They are matrilocal, meaning that husbands traditionally move into the bride's family household. Their society is matriarchal, meaning that homes and farm land are owned by and inherited from the mother, and a wife has the right to divorce and evict her husband. However, some kinds of civil and religious authority are usually reserved for men. Among the Hopi, for instance, the village chief or kikmongwi sometimes has been a woman, but usually the kikmongwi is a man.
Archaeological evidence is indirect, and does not usually reveal much about a people's beliefs, religion, political system, or social customs. Sometimes the geographic patterning of settlements in the landscape-- or the placement of buildings within a village-- are indicators of social relationships. Otherwise, we can only assume that many cultural patterns are the same now as they were a thousand years ago, and the Pueblos tell us they were. For example: In recent times, men were the weavers, and they socialized in the kivas. In archaeological sites, we often find evidence of weaving in kivas. But our understanding of Anasazi rules of property and authority are still too vague to be certain about them. At least there is nothing that would indicate that roles have been reversed.
Many modern Pueblo people believe their 13th century ancestors were organized into clans and were governed by clan elders. Some archaeologists doubt that the clan system existed at that time because they see little evidence for it. They theorize that clan formation was a response to social and geographical dislocations ca. AD 1300 - 1400, and to a need for a new way to define relationships between new neighbors. In this view, clans represent people who previously migrated as a group and then settled with other groups to form a larger community.
It is common to find popular references to "Anasazi cities." According to the narrowest definition, a city is a large settlement of non-farmers who make their living through trade and/or the manufacture of specialized products. The clustered settlements within Chaco Canyon, New Mexico during the period AD 1000-1100 might have approached the definition of a true city. However, the Anasazi culture region was much wider than Chaco's sphere of influence. The vast majority of Anasazi settlements are better defined as farming villages.
Recent research indicates that, as the landscape grew more crowded over time, dispersed settlements aggregated into larger communities with smaller hamlets surrounding the core villages. There is also evidence of status differences among the later Ancestral Puebloans, as seen by differences in architecture and burial possessions. However, compared to many ancient societies, the Ancestral Puebloans appear to have been relatively egalitarian without well-defined class distinctions.
What were their religious activities like ?
Archaeology does not reveal much about beliefs, religion, political system, or social customs of a people, so evidence about ancient religion is necessarily indirect. But many early religious ideas and traditions are no doubt preserved in the modern Pueblo culture.
Pueblo religion is still based on maintaining harmony with the natural world, which was the key to survival for ancient people. Like today, the Ancestral Puebloans probably held public and private ceremonies intended to benefit the group as a whole. Different segments of society may have been responsible for different events, each one important to the spiritual and material well-being of the community. Some modern villages ritually divide themselves into "summer people and winter people," or "squash people and turquoise people" with each half assuming different religious responsibilities. .
Careful observation of the sun, moon and stars was essential for planning activities such as when to start planting and when to prepare for winter. Important religious concepts and events were associated with seasonal tasks like farming (in spring and summer) and hunting (in fall and winter). As in many other agricultural societies, rituals were keyed to annual events like the winter solstice or the beginning of the harvest season. Animal figures pecked or painted images on rock walls may have been connected to prayers or magical rituals for successful hunting.
Shamans and shamanic practices are rarely found in Pueblo society. True shamans usually belong to nomadic cultures. Shamans seek visions for healing, warfare, finding game, predicting the future, etc. Shamans may be marked from an early age by physical deformities, epileptic seizures, and/or hallucinations.They use intoxicants, hypnotic chanting, prolonged dancing, or pain to reach the spirit world and communicate with spirits on behalf of their people. There is evidence that ancestral Pueblos occasionally sought visions-- seeds of the hallucinogenic Datura plant were recovered from a kiva at Mesa Verde, and some pottery vessels imitate Datura seed pods-- but vision quests are not now considered part of traditional Pueblo culture.
By contrast, Pueblo religious specialists draw wisdom from inherited traditions rather than from ecstatic visions. They are often chosen by family lineage. Their power comes from their responsibility for ceremonies, their initiation into religious societies, and their possession of secret knowledge.They are expected to be exemplary members of the community. Pueblo priests bring rain through ceremony and prayer. Like shamans, they are thought to have a special level of communication with the spirits and deities through their profession and personal character.
Spirit beings called Kachinas (or Katsinas) are important within all modern Pueblo villages. Kachinas are ancestor spirits who bring rain, and who appear as masked dancers in Pueblo villages during the summer. The earliest trace of kachina imagery in rock art appears in west Texas, southern New Mexico, and central Arizona. However, the archaeological record indicates that the concept of kachinas came relatively late into the Pueblo world. There is no evidence of them at communities in Colorado and Utah during the 1200s and before.
Did they study astronomy ?
Probably all Ancestral Puebloans anticipated and marked the summer and winter solstices. Careful observation of the sun, moon and stars was essential for planning activities such as when to start planting and when to prepare for winter. As in many other agricultural societies, important rituals were keyed to annual celestial events like the solstices and equinoxes.
Several known rock art sites mark the solstices, and perhaps the equinoxes as well. At Hovenweep National Monument, a narrow shaft of light crosses the center of a spiral marking on the bedrock near Holly Pueblo.
Among the most famous solstice markers is the so-called "Sun Dagger" at Chaco Canyon. This delicate site is not normally open to the public.
Most remarkably, the alignment and construction dates of the structures at the Chimney Rock archaeological site near Pagosa Springs, Colorado offers strong evidence that the ancient people understood and anticipated an 18.6 year lunar cycle.
Dr. J. McKim ("Kim") Malville, a professor of astronomy at the University of Colorado, has published extensively on Anasazi astronomical alignments.
Did the Ancestral Puebloans communicate and trade with other groups ?
Ancestral Puebloan communities were not isolated from each other, or from other cultures in western North America. They participated in a far-reaching network of trade that brought exotic items from as far away as the Pacific coast, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Great Plains. Such items probably traveled by passing from person to person, or group to group. There is no evidence they intentionally organized a widespread regional trade network, except maybe within the Chaco canyon system during the11th century.
Trade items arrived from other cultures to the south, but most trade took place among different Anasazi areas stretching from Colorado to Nevada. The Puebloans obtained California sea shells, parrots, and copper bells made in western Mexico. Mogollon people were probably a conduit for the Mexican bells and parrots. The Hohokam area around Phoenix produced cotton, which the Anasazi ultimately received, but apparently most other goods did not arrive via the Hohokam.
On the more local level, a potter might find her wares in demand, as would a successful farmer with surplus corn. Marriage partners probably came from neighboring villages. Such activities kept open lines of communication between groups.
Information exchange was an important by-product of trade. What were other communities doing? How was the climate in other areas? How did others irrigate? How did other people make kivas? Such communication was involved in learning to make pottery, learning new farming techniques, acquiring the bow and arrow, and other important advances.
Traders traveled on footpaths, and there must have been a vast network of these. The "roads" extending from Chaco Canyon have excited much interest and speculation, but some archaeologists feel they should not be considered as genuine roads at all. The Chacoan network was apparently quite limited in time and space. The "roads" found so far only connect a few Chaco sites to one another, not to more distant culture areas. They are more clearly marked and constructed at either end than in their remote middle parts. They run very straight, sometimes intersecting cliffs and canyons, so they are not practical for foot travel. (Compare the Inca roads of South America, which really were functional for commerce.)
What did they wear ?
Little clothing has been found because it is so perishable. Some knowledge of early clothing comes from comparing archeological evidence to the traditional clothing of the historic Pueblo Indians.
The people wove textiles from cotton obtained in trade from southern areas. Weaving on large upright-frame looms was probably done mostly by men working in the kivas. They also wove blankets, shirts, robes, aprons, kilts, breechcloths, socks, and belts using various vegetal fibers, animal hair, and human hair. They also made thick robes using split feathers or fur strips wrapped around a yucca fiber core. Matted fiber from juniper bark was used for diapers and menstrual pads, and for insulating sandal-clad feet during cold weather.
Footwear included sandals, moccasins, and possibly snowshoes. Sandals were usually made of plaited or woven yucca fibers and came in a variety of styles. Animal hides may have provided material for some clothing, but very few leather moccasins or other leather garments have been found.
Jewelry was common. Necklaces, earrings, bracelets, arm bands, hair combs, and pins were made from wood, bone, shell (including abalone), coral, jet (coal), and stone beads made of turquoise, slate, and other minerals. Some ornaments may have had ritual significance as badges of office. Jewelry probably helped define social status, especially in larger communities.
How did the Ancestral Puebloans farm ?
This region's earliest inhabitants were originally hunters and gatherers. In time, agricultural knowledge came north from Mexico. Evidence exists for some corn agriculture by 1500 BC. By AD 1, people we call the Basketmakers began to rely on dry farming (using soil moisture from melted snow, summer rainstorms, and occasional springs). The first farmers probably did not plant crops and leave them to survive on their own. Most archaeologists believe that agriculture requires people to settle down in order to be successful. Corn usually needs periodic care and protection throughout the growing season. Major crops eventually included corn, beans, and squash.
Farming became the mainstay of the Ancestral Puebloan economy and supported a large population. Although it is difficult to estimate accurately, the Montezuma County area may have been occupied by as many as 20,000 people during the peak years between AD 1000 and 1300 roughly the same number as live there today. Each person is estimated to have needed about one acre's worth of corn per year as an adequate food supply.
Most settlements in our area were found at elevations around 6800 ft (2100 m) above sea level, where both precipitation and growing season are favorable for farming, and the hunting and gathering is also good. At higher elevations the growing season is usually too short for most crops to mature, and lower elevations are often too dry for successful dry-farming.
Like their historic and modern Pueblo descendants, the Ancestral Puebloans probably cared for the plants periodically throughout the spring and summer. They rarely practiced river irrigation, except near the Rio Grande in New Mexico, but they often captured rain runoff for agricultural use. Community planning and labor went into water control projects such as reservoirs and small dams.
The Puebloans farmed mesa tops, plains, or canyon bottoms, depending on local variables. They farmed intensively, planting large and small patches of land wherever there was sufficient water, warmth and light to support a few plants. Archaeologists' experiments suggest that the Dolores people might have been able to produce up to 40 bushels of corn per acre through careful management and under ideal conditions. Modern dry-farming methods produce about 14 bushels per acre.
The Ancestral Puebloans gradually farmed more and hunted less over time, but they continued to hunt and gather wild plants long after they had settled in year-round villages. The weather in this region has always been erratic, and crop failures were probably fairly common even in the best of times.
Drought and other climatic changes were constant threats. Surplus corn was stored to provide food during bad years. Large storerooms became prominent features of communities. Changing precipitation patterns, shortened growing seasons, and/or cool summers could, and probably did, spell disaster for many local settlements. Extended drought was one factor which caused them to finally leave the Four Corners region.
How did the Ancestral Puebloans make their living besides farming ?
Hunting and gathering, the primary food resources of the earliest people, were never totally abandoned. When crops were reduced by drought or cold weather-- or as the population grew larger-- communities were forced to rely more on game and wild plants to make up the difference. Meat remained the major source of protein. Piñon nuts, yucca fruit, berries and other wild plants were still part of the diet. The people also gathered plant materials to make baskets, clothing and tools.
Garden plots actually made hunting easier by attracting rabbits, birds and mice. The people also hunted deer and elk in the mountains, and antelope and bighorn sheep at lower elevations.
The Ancestral Puebloans did not move seasonally to the lowlands to hunt or gather wild plants. Lower elevations in this region are mostly desert, with few game animals or food plants. If they did make extended hunting and gathering trips, it is more likely they went uphill toward the mountains, but we have not found evidence of seasonal camps at higher elevations.
What did they eat, and how did they prepare their food ?
Although the Anasazi were farmers of corn, beans, and squash, they also hunted and gathered wild plants for food. Studies indicate that sometimes people depended more on wild foods than on farmed crops.
Corn was dried and stored on the cob. Strips of dried squash hung in the storage rooms. Wild plant foods were also stored and prepared for cooking. Piñon nuts, sunflower and other seeds had to be winnowed and hulled before they could be cooked and eaten.Corn kernels were parched in jars that lay on their sides near the fire.
Women spent hours each day grinding corn into flour with manos and metates. Beans were soaked then cooked in large jars. Vessels full of stew or mush may have been placed directly over fires, or hot rocks were dropped into the contents. They probably made paper-thin piki (a Hopi word) by spreading corn meal batter on a hot greased rock.
Mice and rabbits were probably more important sources of meat than larger game such as deer or bighorn sheep. Among the larger game animals, wild sheep apparently were more abundant than deer. Large animals were butchered at the kill site. Back at home the meat was roasted, stewed, or dried for jerky. Long bones were cracked to extract marrow, and hides were cured for other uses.
Turkeys were domesticated and used mainly for feathers, or as pets. They also were good for keeping bugs out of gardens. There is little evidence that turkeys or turkey eggs or dogs were eaten.
What was Ancestral Puebloan pottery like ?
Pottery and agriculture usually appear in ancient cultures at about the same time. Pottery is more practical for settled people who do not move frequently. Nomads commonly use baskets for storage and transport, but pottery better protects stored food from insects and rodents.
Much of the earliest Puebloan pottery is not decorated, but simple decorations (lines, dots, zigzags) appear at almost the same time as the undecorated pieces, around AD 575 in the Four Corners. In general, designs become denser and more precise over time up until about 1250-1300 AD, which is the end of the Anasazi (or Pueblo) period in Colorado. Pottery designs from Colorado usually are bold geometric patterns in black-on-white, although sometimes they include obvious representations of birds or lizards, or humans. These geometric motifs seem to have originated from basketry decorations, in which straight and right-angle lines and stepped patterns were easier to create than curving forms.
We do not know what the geometric designs mean. According to the Pueblos, some of them signify clan affiliation. They may also represent family or village affiliation, or simply the potter's imagination. Many have been identified by Hopis and other Pueblo groups as symbolic of clouds, birds, bear claws, spider webs, water, friendship, migration, etc.
Other kinds pf pottery included plain-surfaced and textured or corrugated cooking vessels. Black-on-red pottery from northern Arizona was traded throughout the Four Corners, as were Red-on-buff styles from Utah. Shapes included jars, bowls, pitchers, ladles, canteens, figurines, and a variety of miniatures.
Firing was done with wood fuel at relatively low temperatures, and apparently took place in earth trenches. To achieve a black-and-white result, the firing environment must be oxygen-deprived (reduction atmosphere) but without excess carbon which would produce an all-black surface.
[Source: Colorado BLM]
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