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About Anasazi


(excert from Encyclopedia of Anthropology: pp. 69-71: Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, CA.)

In the American Southwest, the four corners area of southern Utah, southwestern Colorado, northwestern New Mexico, and northern Arizona was home primarily to a culture typically referred to as the Anasazi. Now typically called Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi is a Navajo word meaning “ancient enemy.”) Thoughts of this culture bring to mind the cliff dwellings scattered throughout the northern American Southwest. While these architectural features are impressive, they are only one aspect of the rich and varied history of this culture.

Cultural History

Humans have inhabited the northern Southwest since Paleo-Indian times (ca. 11,000–7,000 BC). At approximately 7,000 BC, a shift to a warmer, drier climate resulted in a change in lifeways to what archaeologists refer to as a “broad-spectrum pattern of resource use.” Essentially, populations no longer relied on large game animals such as mammoth as a primary means of subsistence; rather, the focus shifted to use of smaller game and an increased reliance on varied plant resources. This period of time is referred to as the “Archaic”; research has traced Ancestral Puebloan history to the Archaic peoples who occupied the northern region of the Southwest until 500 BC, when the distinctive Puebloan culture developed as people began to supplement hunting and gathering with maize horticulture.

Following the Archaic, visibly Ancestral Puebloan traits emerge in the northern Southwest during a time known as the “Basket Maker period.” Archaeologists have summarized changes in Puebloan culture using a chronological system termed the Pecos Classification. The Pecos Classification was developed by A.V. Kidder and others at the first annual Pecos Conference (1927) in an attempt to organize these cultural changes in the northern Southwest. Originally intended to represent a series of developmental stages rather than time periods, it is the most widely accepted terminology in referring to temporal changes in the Ancestral Pueblo region of the Southwest. Although archaeologists no longer see the Pecos sequence as a reconstruction of adaptive change throughout the Southwest, it is still used to provide a general framework for dates and broad events within and affecting the Ancestral Puebloan region for each of the major time periods

Pueblo III: AD 1100–1300

The Pueblo III period is best known for the Mesa Verde area of the northern Southwest. Early archaeologists called this the “Great Pueblo period.” This is the time during which the well-known cliff dwellings were constructed. Chaco Canyon seems to have lost its place of importance in the Puebloan world, and population increased in and around Mesa Verde. This phase is marked by architectural continuity in the form of modular room blocks; however, multistoried pueblos appeared at this time, and the use of shaped stone masonry became common. Bi- and triwalled towers similar to those found at Hovenweep appeared during the Pueblo III period; the function of these structures is unknown, although their use as a defensive feature has been postulated. It is the abandonment of the Mesa Verde region that has led to speculation about the “mysterious disappearance of the Anasazi.”  Research tells us, however, that while the region was abandoned, the Puebloan people did not disappear.

About Chaco Anasazi (from

The Chaco Anasazi of the northern Southwestern United States emerged as a unique tradition between approximately A.D. 900 and 1150. This cultural tradition is marked by a variety of distinctive features, of which their architecture is the most prominent. Not only did the Chaco Anasazi build the most impressive above-ground masonry structures found in North America, they also constructed large subterranean Great Kivas that could measure up to 30 meters across. Archaeological investigations of Great Kivas have discovered that they were found within or near most Chaco Anasazi communities. Their scanty contents, consisting of unusual features such as large vaults, wall crypts, and imported pottery, suggest to archaeologists that the Great Kivas served as ritual centers that integrated Anasazi communities.