Prehistoric Cultures of the Southwest

There were actually several different (though related) groups of prehistoric Native Americans that lived on pueblo and cliff dwelling sites in the Four Corners area on into southern Arizona and New Mexico. The most well known of these cultures are the Anasazi, who lived in the Four Corners area for about 2,000 years. However, the Mogollon, Hohokam, Sinagua, and Salado occupied nearby regions of Arizona during much of the same time. Between AD 1300 and 1400, all of these prehistoric societies experienced significant cultural changes and/or relocations. Many of these abandoned settlements remain visible today.

The name "Anasazi" is derived from two historic Navajo words, ana- (not correct spelling) meaning "enemy" and sa- meaning "ancient" or "old" (also translated as the less bellicose "Ancient Ones"). Anasazi is used to describe the ancestors of the current Pueblo peoples of the Four Corners Region. Although the Southwest has been inhabited since Paleoindian times (12,500-8,000 B.C.), the characteristic Anasazi cultural traits did not start to appear until around AD 600. Their earliest lodgings were semi-subterranian sheters called pithouses. By their halcyon days of between AD 1000 through 1300, they were constructing sophisticated pueblo and cliff dwellings throughout the arrid canyon lands of the region. Around AD 1300, they abandoned their dwellings and moved away. The precise reasons are still uncertain, 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 archeologists 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.

The Mogollon (pronouncedmug'-ee-yone) (and a branch known as the Mimbres) lived in theupper drainage of the Little Colorado River in northern Arizona on down through southern Arizona from AD 500 through about AD 1450.

The Hohokam lived in the Phoenix basin at around 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 AD 1300), the early Pueblo peoples began 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. There is evidence that there was a trading network between these peoples and the early peoples of the Pacific coast and with cultures in northern Mexico.


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