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Prologue: The previous diary posted on the Human History of the Colorado Plateau ( as well as an Archeological Timeline diary ( denote an abridged account of the Ancestral Puebloan culture (including their Puebloan successors). What follows in this two-part series is therefore a more complete background...a cultural survey of sort...and presented mainly because so many Dkos community readers posed interesting questions concerning the long-standing cultural practices and achievements of Ancestral Puebloans over time.

Let it also be stated from the outset how any information about key ceremonies, including anything associated with religious practices, are not divulged in this two-part diary series. About the only thing any of us, as outsiders, are likely to discover is what modern day Puebloans are willing to share about their culture and their ancestors. Ergo, there will always remain exclusive information that is not dispersed, and for obvious reasons. What follows is also another timeline rendition of a culture that did not cease when the Ancestral Puebloans vacated their homeland sometime around the late 13th Century (that is, the majority of these people departed and left most of their possessions behind). This great diaspora took the Ancestral Puebloans south and east off the Colorado Plateau, where most of the various communities reestablished their culture, and later became known as the Puebloans. Each sovereign Puebloan Nation took a distinct name applied to their village locales that were established throughout parts of New Mexico (including one Puebloan village in Texas, as well as the Hopi people, who remained in their long established Hopi Mesa country, in Arizona. Thus names like the Taos Pueblo, Acoma Pueblo, Zia Pueblo, and so on that accounts for all twenty-one Puebloan tribal sects.

(Continues after the fold.)

From The Prehistoric To Historic And Contemporary: The historic and contemporary phase under the designate “Puebloans” connects directly to their ancestors, the “Ancestral Puebloans.” This modified name geared to a timeframe may be thought of as a surrogate designate for a culture so-called by cultural scientists (i.e., archeologists and anthropologists). However, we don’t know what name these people referred to their culture, except the Hopis do not endorse using Ancestral Puebloan, which, itself, partly originates from the Spanish, “pueblo,” meaning village (and more directly, a people from a village). Instead, they refer to their ancestors as the Hisatsinom, meaning “the old ones.” If the reader is curious why the former and popular term, “Anasazi,” is no longer fashionable, this explanation is presented further along in this diary. For now, suffice it to say this somewhat lyrical and popular name has been outmoded since around the 1990s. Even Puebloans tend to disregard such an appellation. In short, the use of the Navajo derivative, “Anasazi,” is considered culturally insensitive.

Additionally, the Ancestral Puebloan epithet, like Anasazi or the Tonto Basin’s Salado culture, is akin to a set of archaeological attributes specific to a period of time (in this case the prehistoric from around the start of the Common Era to the late 13th Century; also a name assigned to a region (in this case the Colorado Plateau). Therefore, the use of Ancestral Puebloans is not associated with a single group all speaking the same language. Neither is there a reference to a culture that is identified by a single name. These prehistoric people also married into various tribes of other nomadic people who lived off the Colorado Plateau. Thus an ongoing cultural convergence made from mixed and indigenous heritages best defines the Ancestral Puebloans culture.

As a note of interest, some of today’s Puebloan villagers are less inclined to maintain their previous labels of identity. For instance, the San Juan Pueblo changed to the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo, the Nambé Pueblo changed to the Nambé Oweenge Pueblo, and the Santo Domingo Pueblo changed to the Kewa Pueblo. Although the Puebloans still refer to their culture as Puebloans, it is nonetheless curious what each Puebloan group designates as a village in their varying languages. Indeed, it’s thought by some cultural scientists that the designate Ancestral Puebloan is even outmoded.

Staked-Out And Distinct Territories: The Ancestral Puebloans culture has been divided into three principle regions: Chaco Canyon (northwest New Mexico), Kayenta (northeast Arizona), and Northern San Juan (or Mesa Verde) in southwest Colorado. Modern Puebloan oral traditions hold that their Ancestral Puebloans originated to the north of their current settlements, from the “sipapu” (sometimes written “sipapuni”). The sipapu is a Hopi word referring to a small hole or indentation in the floor of kivas. The hole represents the underworld, namely the Third World that leads to the Fourth World of present time. According to their beliefs, for unknown ages those who emerged from the underworld were led by war chiefs guided by the spirits from afar. For a few hundred years the Hopis emerged from the sipapu and settled first in the regions where the Ancestral Puebloans (the “old ones”) tended to locate their various settlements. Afterward, the Hopis migrated to their current location (the Hopi Mesa country). Possibly, the same can be said for the Acoma Pueblo people, near present-day Grants, New Mexico and the Zuñi people living near present-day Gallup, New Mexico. All three settlements are west of the Rio Grande Valley.

Except for these three Puebloan tribes, the Ancestral Puebloans left their long-standing homeland, the Colorado Plateau, sometime during the late 1300s. After an undisclosed period they eventually found a new territory to call home, most of whom settled in New Mexico. Various groups then staked out their respective homeland villages (pueblos), from the Rio Grande Valley (today’s Albuquerque-Rio Grande Valley region) and extending to the northern tier of the state (from Santa Fe to Taos). We can’t know all the historical record that leads backward from this, the so-called Pueblo V Era, but we have a reliable summary of those many centuries of cultural advancement that brought these people from a primitive society of nomads to the Puebloan settlements of today. The chronology and classification is discussed further along in this supplement.

Given all the above, what follows in this historical primer conveys an in-depth understanding of the Ancestral Puebloans culture. The material is factual and suitable for readers having varied interests in this subject matter. This text’s bibliography is also replete with highly recommended works that scrutinize various subject matter, including the prehistoric and historic people who have flourished in the Southwest for thousands of years.

Two Major Aspects Of Archeology: Most of the second half of the text is about archeology specific to the Ancestral Puebloans. It is therefore about history as it pertains to culture, not necessarily science (though archeology most certainly is an academic subject of science). An historical perspective is what culture tells us about its shaping forces. The study of culture is also texts and texts are about interpretation––not science. The science of archaeology is much more limited than some claim it to be.

Generally, people understand what archaeology and its timeline is all about. What archaeology is not about is that it does not uncover a culture's self-expressed ideas except in writing. The job of interpreting that writing lies in the humanities, not science. The non-literary cultural artifacts, such as art works or architectural remnants, are indirect statements of that culture since there are no words involved. In the modern sense, texts are reflected in more ways than in literary form, but the further we remove ourselves from ancient literature per se and place ourselves in the position of finding "cultural texts" in non-literary artifacts, and the further we move into earlier times where cultural artifacts of any kind are less and less plentiful, the more we explain them using our own texts. In other words, we imbue many artifacts with our modern notions of how they supposedly express eternal human archetypes because that makes sense to us. However, this is just one of our own "texts" and we have to be aware of this fact and treat it as such––an invasion into the ancient world.

In "ordinary" history, it is difficult enough to recreate the meaning of the original texts since we know so little about the contexts that give meaning to them. But when we rely only on non-literary cultural texts, the real issue is our right or ability to explain them at all. About the most meaningful insights come from the symbology in artistic remnants (as in the goddess images), from the existence of advanced architecture or engineering (as in the methods of creating large interior spaces), in other words from the level of sophistication revealed in early cultures or the evidence of religious beliefs in general. We can also look at key patterns between artifacts found at different cultural sites, and from these we can infer quite a bit more. But interestingly the most problematical are those very stories passed down through the oral culture and written down at a much later date. These have invariably undergone a complex and extensive revision in that retelling yet have become imbued with the reverence of fact after they have been written down.

This overall statement is presented as a reminder we are not dealing with a culture that left us a written recorded history. They left us with other clues about their culture, but nothing in the form of a text. These clues and other insights will follow in this introductory abstract of the Ancestral Puebloans.

A Likely Pathway Of The Ancestral Puebloans: Generally, cultural scientists begin with the Ancestral Puebloans culture sometime around 1200 BCE. These nomads wandered into a new region, then stayed until around the late 1300s. The fact we cannot be certain where these people originally came from, nor when they settled in parts of the Colorado Plateau, is likely a mystery we’ll never solve. Still, these researchers figure the nomadic hunter-gatherers were in place in parts of the Colorado Plateau around the start of the Common Era. They remained hunter-gatherers throughout their long stay here probably well into the late 1300s, with the exception they also were agriculturally based. Moreover, their activities as a timeline goes without a written history. Thus there are gaps in the historical record that are both obvious and discerning. Still, there is a reliance on an oral history passed down through the centuries and there is the heed of rock art––glyphs––painted or chipped into rock faces. These forms, symbols and figures suffice for graphic details about their culture, even to the point we understand something about the Ancestral Puebloans social and religious traditions. We also have a variety of means to discern what we know or assume about the mindset of these people as depicted through Ancestral Puebloans architecture, art work, farming and hunting tools and apparel. From the standpoint of cosmology, we even have the marvel of archeoastronomy through celebrated sites such as Chaco Canyon.

With educated inference seasoned with empirical evidence, ongoing conjectures and refutations debated among cultural scientists and the Puebloans presents a fairly reliable perspective of the Ancestral Puebloans as seen through a window of time dating back at least a thousand years. This long established record also delineates a progressive cultural advancement encapsulated in defining eras.

Why did they choose parts of the Colorado Plateau as a settled homeland, where precipitation is sometimes stingy, and intermittent drought cycles are fairly common? If, as some views hold, these prehistoric people came from somewhere in the adjacent basin and range topography, and who knows where before settling in that region, the invite of the Colorado Plateau territory was an obvious choice. Here the geography and geologic formations determines a varied natural history or a lack thereof; here there are deep incised canyons and great gulfs of deserts. The broken landscape of plateaus, mesas and buttes is as expansive as it can be difficult for settlement, sustainable conditions depending on ample precipitation and nutrient-rich soil. More importantly, there is mountainous terrain where rain and snowfall is more common compared to the seeming unending desiccated pavement of sprawling desert country. Rivers and streams flow here, sometimes great rivers like the Green and Colorado rivers, both sister drainages. It follows wherever this precious elixir––water––is found, there is also abundant game, trees and plants that augment sustainability.

These migrating people entered the Colorado Plateau territory and found a homeland that was favorable to their needs. This is why they settled here. As a larger immigrating group, they later fanned out in many directions, one group going here, another there, each staking out a settlement. They stayed for a period of time before moving on and tapping into new resources, then building new settlements. The concentration of these people favored the San Juan Basin country (the Chaco Canyon region), Comb Ridge (southeast Utah), and the axis points where the Four Corner states of present-day Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Arizona merge close to Cortez, Colorado. For the Ancestral Puebloans, life for a long stretch of time was a blessing, a bounty of resources, including the resourcefulness of learning how to cultivate a staple of crops, like corn, squash and beans in a predominant desiccated landscape. They became known as adept dryland farmers working the soil and coming up with clever ways to trap and store water. Even during short cycles of drought they managed to sustain their existence. The ancient ones who define this prehistoric culture were as enduring as they were adaptive.

The Pecos Classification System: This popular timeline reference codified a significant cultural advance going back thousands of years ago and continues into contemporary times. Throughout their Colorado Plateau settlement phases the Ancestral Puebloans left us with revealing clues of their presence, including what they were doing in favored locales of the Colorado Plateau. For instance, the changing architecture of their dwellings and settlements shows innovation through the centuries. The same holds true for their art work, pottery, even trade items established with distant neighbors far to the south of the Plateau. Cultural scientists rely on eras to mark these notable changes. These eras are also divided into two main groups: Basketmakers and Pueblo. Sometime around 750, which denotes the Pueblo I Era, the Ancestral Puebloans make noteworthy advances in a variety of ways. For instance, increased populations, growing village size, social integration, and a complex agricultural system of check dams and reservoirs that enables the growers to harvest abundant crops. Plainly, life is far different and more advanced compared to the previous Basketmaker III Era (500 to 750). The Pueblo II and III Eras to follow disclose even greater social advances, including religious practices. Pottery, although still utilitarian, takes on a new significance used for both trading and religious purposes. By the late 1300s, however, we note a drastic new change in cultural temperament. It appears the ancient inhabitants of the Colorado Plateau are summoned to leave their homeland. A mass diaspora for most of the people begins sometime around 1287. There are many theories why they departed their homeland, most leaving valuable artifacts behind as though they might one day return. But they never did return. The most popular theory is a combination of depleted natural resources, as instigated by a prolonged drought said to have set in around 1287 and lasting for scores of years, possibly decades. Like anything else, when there is no written history to confirm or deny this or that point, rebuttal, like conjecture, is common. Still, we know most of these people left and departed to the south and southeast of the Four Corners region. Most ended up living in the Rio Grande Valley. Some, like the Hopi, Acoma and Zuñi, remained in their established settlements and somehow found a way to sustain their existence. They still live in these places.

FYI: For a more thorough background on the Pecos Classification System, read this diary:

We can only conclude from this overview how mystery and comprehension can be drawn from the same well drawing from time-the-river. We must be content with the missing pages of the Ancestral Puebloans that makes up the whole of a book that may have begun as far back as the 12th Century BCE (Before the Common Era), whose chronicle really begins around the turn of the Common Era.

Clearing Up The Muddy Anasazi Problem: What’s in a name? For cultural scientists, and like the Puebloans, the designate “Anasazi” is a linguistic quagmire to be avoided, at least since the 1990s the trend started. But why is it a problem? Puebloans generally tend to agree with cultural scientists alike who refer to their prehistoric Ancestral Puebloans as the Ancestral Puebloans, while the Hopi prefer using Ancestral Puebloans, the ancient ones. This begs the question what name did these prehistoric people call themselves? We must also ask from where did these Archaic Era (the 8th Century millennium to the 12th Century BCE) hunter-gathers migrate? Cultural scientists tell us these people, like all Archaic Era people roaming the North American continent, originated from the oldest tribal people, the Clovis Culture. This culture reaches back in time to some 13,500 years and was eventually replaced by several other later cultures, both regional and localized; the Folsom Culture, Cumberland and Redstone to mention some.

Historically, this designate, Anasazi, was once widely employed as a generic label for ancient dwellers of the Colorado Plateau. However, this title is outmoded due to its questionable translation––ancient enemies––as applied by the Navajo (who themselves prefer the name Dine (written with an accent over the “e” which for reason does not work for posting this diary), meaning “the people.” Ancestral Puebloans is arguably a more appropriate designate since the origin of pueblo is Spanish. Originating from the Dine, their designate, Anasazi, appears to be derogatory if it does imply ancient enemy as some linguists hold. However, this still popular and somewhat florid appellation was fashionable in the 19th Century and supposedly first been applied by Richard Wetherill. Cultural scientists also favored using the name. Wetherill was a rancher and trader from Mancos, Colorado, who was also the first Anglo to explore Mesa Verde’s ruins (in 1888 and 1889). He knew and worked with the Dine and understood what the word meant. The moniker was further sanctioned in archaeology when it was adopted by Alfred V. Kidder (1885-1963), an archeologist of great notoriety who established the above mentioned Pecos Classification System. He felt that the use of Anasazi as a common name for an ancient culture and race of people was less cumbersome than a more technical term he might have used. Thus the name given by the Dine and favored by Anglos remained and was virtually unchallenged until fairly recently.

Subsequently, some cultural scientists eventually voiced their concerns about its use, mainly because modern day Puebloans speak different languages (Tewa, Tiwa, Towa, Hopi, Keres, and Zuñi). There are also different words implied for “ancestor” among these Puebloans. Hence, any reference to Anasazi might be offensive to people speaking other languages. From continuing research on this matter, it turns out deciphering Anasazi’s etymology suggests a translation closer to meaning a people who are now scattered and may refer to a mass migration of people.

The fact is modern Puebloans object to using Anasazi. Nevertheless, there is still controversy among some of their counsels on a native alternative. For instance, some descendants of the prehistoric people choose to use the term Pueblo Peoples, while the Hopi use the aforementioned, Hisatsinom. As for theDine, and what they think on the matter, their stance has softened to the point any reports submitted for review by theDine Nation Historic Preservation Department no longer uses the designate Anasazi. Debates over this word continue, most supporting altogether deleting theDine word. There are others, like David Roberts, who feel differently. In his book In Search of the Old Ones: Exploring the Anasazi World of the Southwest, he explained his reason for using the term “Anasazi” instead of “Puebloan.” He noted that the latter term derives from the language of an oppressor who treated the indigenes of the Southwest far more brutally than the Dine ever did. The question why the modern day Puebloans even allow this Spanish term has also never been settled. With these thoughts in mind let it be understood anything discussed about the history of this prehistoric culture by any designate is bound to create a muddy problem regarding final accuracy.

In The Questionable Beginning: At some time during their immigration onto the Colorado Plateau the Ancestral Puebloans formed splintered groups, each with acquired maize (corn) seeds from traders in the south (either people from present-day Mexico or Mesoamerica). Corn and squash were the two main crops. Beans came later.

According to Kidder’s Pecos Classification, the designated timeline (1200 BCE) marks the Early Basketmaker II Era that concludes some fifty years into the Common Era, from whence begins the Late Basketmaker Era that concludes sometime around 500. Cultural scientists rely on archeological ruins and artifacts for evidence gauging where the Ancestral Puebloans lived, how long clans occupied settlements, and how these dryland farmers managed to fend for themselves through the centuries. From such evidence researchers turn to modern Puebloans to fill in some of the cultural missing details. Although this backward view remains dimly perceived in some ways, cultural scientists and Puebloans alike provide reliable guidelines of those nascent times for the Ancestral Puebloans emergence as a new culture scattered across the Four Corners region. The traditional link from the aboriginal to the contemporary provides a provisional human record of occupation, though the blank spaces in the cultural map remain unanswered.

From this brief depiction we see how the Ancestral Puebloans began their roots. They started small and lived in crude, though functional, pit-houses. With maize and squash they became stewards of their environment and tended to their fields.

Later, tepary beans were added to their customary diet (what became known as the "three sister crops"), supplemented by game, pinyon nuts, seeds and berries.

We assume each collective group kept in contact with the other by means of a boundless and reliable network of communication, both for the sake of maintaining cultural ties and for protection.

As the centuries passed, their culture became more sophisticated. In time, the Ancestral Puebloans became builders of stupendous complexes, such as Mesa Verde.

Eliot Elisofon's view of Mesa Verde (PD):

Their fascination and preciseness predicting the equinoxes and solstices (their archeoastronomy sites, like Chaco Canyon and Chimney Rock, in southwest Colorado, utilitarian tools for farming and innovative techniques for collecting and distributing water, basket weaving that was eventually replaced by learning how to make pottery vessels from clay and sand; also, a social-religious temperament that helped strengthen their adaptive culture from its primal Basketmaker Era stages through the Pueblo I, II and III classifications. Their trade network had also expanded as far west as the Pacific Ocean and as far south as Mesoamerica. Increased fertility exponentially increased their growth rate due in part to more productive farming methods with a higher crop yield. Their achievement as a cultural group that staked out a new homeland was remarkable, especially considering the arid climate and typical desert-canyon terrain where most of these people lived.

Toward the close of the 12th Century a change of climate was documented by tree-ring dating (also known as dendrochronology). Intermittent droughts were common during this period, only to be replaced by wet cycles. Sometime during the late 13th Century a prolonged drought affected the majority of the Four Corners region. It was this, the so-called “Great Drought”, whose adverse climate is believed to be the main cause and effect of driving the Ancestral Puebloans from their homeland.

Cultural scientists, including climatologists, generally agree the dry cycle was relentless by 1279. This presumed date also marks the time when these people either departed en masse from the Four Corners region, or more likely left in groups that traveled in the same general direction (south or southeast of the Colorado Plateau). Did these groups have a plan in mind, as to which direction they would follow? It stands to reason some smaller groups, perhaps scouts, were likely sent ahead to locate a new homeland where all the people could eventually gather. Upon their return such news was disseminated to all the Ancestral Puebloans communities. Since they all represented a collective cultural consciousness, for wont of a better description of their integrated community, most of these people ended up living in or around New Mexico’s Rio Grande Valley region, thus establishing new settlements. Those Puebloans who lived farther away and to the west (the Acoma, Hopi and Zuñi) were still part of the network, but chose to remain in their isolated community settlements. Certainly, with far less people living on the Colorado Plateau, sustaining the relative few who remained was apparently easier.

The Ancestral Puebloans occupation of the Four Corners region to their departure during the late 1300s provides us with an historical picture that’s fairly well perceived. However, the theories about why they left their homeland is what fuels the ongoing debates. The uppermost question on some minds is whether it really was a prolonged drought that drove most of these people away from their homeland. These theories will be examined further along.

Geography And Who Lived Where: The indigenous people of the Four Corners region, the Ancestral Puebloans, are one of four major prehistoric tribes, whose archaeological traditions are recognized in the American Southwest. The others are the Mogollon (pronounced “mug-ee-own” and derived from Arizona’s Mogollon Mountains), Hohokam (meaning “those who are gone”), the Patayan (meaning “old people”), and the later Salado culture who lived in the Tonto Basin (southeast Arizona). Each will be discussed further along in this text. Only the Ancestral Puebloans occupied the Colorado Plateau during their long stay, or so it is presumed. Although their homeland centers on this territory of geographic and topographic extremes, the Colorado Plateau also extends from central New Mexico on the east to southern Nevada on the west. Areas of southern Nevada, Utah and Colorado form a loose northern boundary, while the southern edge is defined by the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers (in Arizona) and the Rio Puerco and Rio Grande rivers (in New Mexico). Structures and other evidence of the original dwellers on the Colorado Plateau have also been found extending east onto the Great Plains. For instance, in areas near the Cimarron and Pecos rivers, also the Galisteo Basin. The best preserved examples of ancient dwellings and villages are found in places like Betatakin and Kiet Siel (present-day Navajo National Monument), Aztec and Salmon ruins (near Chaco Canyon), Sand Canyon and Hovenweep (both fairly close to Cortez, Colorado).

Terrain (specifically, land relief) and resources within this 130,000-square-mile territory of the Colorado Plateau vary greatly. The various stair-stepped plateaus are generally high, with elevations ranging from 4,500 to 8,500 feet. Mesas throughout the region are like arboreal islands capped by sedimentary formations, most supporting woodlands of junipers, piñon, ponderosa and yellow pines. Like the elongate plateaus, mesas and the relatively smaller buttes also spread out over different elevations. This region is also famous for its myriad recessed canyons, like worlds unto themselves. Wind and water erosion have created these steep-walled thoroughfares carved into a mostly sandstone pavement, like scrimshaw artistry. Here the usual riparian floor of these sinuous corridors are lush with desert scrub boasting a lively assortment of flora and fauna. In areas where erosional resistant strata, such as sandstone or limestone that overlie more easily eroded strata, rock overhangs formed. These overhangs were later favored sites for shelters and building sites, like the famed cliff dwellings that make places like Mesa Verde and Navajo National Monument what they are today––impressive as they are mesmerizing.

Despite the Colorado Plateau’s predominant aridity for most of the year, nearly all the Ancestral Puebloans settlements experienced cyclic periods of drought (see above chart for climatology reports on same). Summer rains were welcomed as these slaked the thirst of nature and humans alike. Monsoonal rains could likewise be undependable, often arriving in destructive monsoonal downpours thereby creating ephemeral floods. While the amount of winter snowfall varied greatly throughout the Four Corners region, each plateau sector depended on snow accumulations for most of the colder season’s precipitation. Snowmelt also allowed the germination of seeds, both wild and cultivated in the spring. Where sandstone layers overlay shale, snowmelt could accumulate and create seeps and springs which the people used as alternate water sources. Snow also fed the smaller, and more predictable, tributaries, such as the Chinle Wash’s Rio de Chelly, the Animas, Jemez and Taos rivers. The larger rivers were less important to the Ancestral Puebloans, mainly because smaller bodies of water were more easily diverted or controlled for irrigation. For instance, a series of check dams and smaller reservoirs in key locales intended for irrigating dry landscapes on varying terraced levels.

Human Activities Over Time: Mentioned previously was a genetic connection of the Ancestral Puebloans to the Clovis Culture, or some later generation of this Paleo-Indian culture. Sometimes referred to as the Llano culture the Clovis people are considered by cultural scientists to be the Ancestral Puebloans of all indigenous cultures of North and South America. However, this general classification has since been contested by newer archaeological discoveries. Nevertheless, the Clovis people represent a prehistoric culture that first appears sometime around 13,500 BCE which marks the end of the last glacial period of the Pleistocene (about 110,000 to 10,000 years ago). Cultural scientists note a differing length of the fluting on projectile points traced from the oldest to youngest of these emerging new cultures, like the Folsom Culture. There are other theories proposed to the adaptations of tribal people seen in archeological evidence. The evidence is mainly attributed to other prehistoric cultures such as post-glacial climatic changes with numerous extinctions and new life forms emerging in an increasing warmer and drier climate. It’s further thought the Clovis people, which represents big game hunters, may have arrived in the Southwest sometime around 10,000 BCE. As a nomadic people, they were characterized by the manufacture of so-named Clovis points and distinctive bone and ivory tools.

One gathers from such archeological accounts tribal people during this time were similar in most ways. They roamed in search of food, be it plants, berries, nuts or game, large and small. They camped in the open, or else found natural shelters, like caves. They may even have built a cruder version of wickiups which begin to appear throughout Native American cultures much later in time. They never remained in one area too long. Such long term settlement would come only after there was something to plant and harvest. These wandering people lived this way for centuries––nomads. The people who later became the Ancestral Puebloans culture also began as nomads, yet they are the first major culture in the Southwest to settle down. It was also no accident that they did. In the ascent of humankind there must always be something that changes a migrant culture into a permanent society. Namely, cultivating the land and building settlements.  

From Transients To Dryland Farmers: Sometime during the Early Basketmaker Era the Ancestral Puebloans built their dwellings and permanent or semipermanent settlements near gardens and fields. They grew squash, the easiest and most common vegetable, and later something entirely new for their diet, maize. In its crudest form, corn was also easy to grow, also nutritious. Cultural scientists refer to this term––flint corn––because each kernel has a hard outer layer to protect the softer endosperm, and therefore likened to being hard as flint. The stretch from 1200 BCE to 50 CE signifies many years during which the Ancestral Puebloans had finally settled down and became farmers, dry farmers to be exact due to the aridity throughout much of the new region where they began their settlements. We don’t know when this new change to their culture took effect. We only know something literally stopped them in their wandering tracks.

We also know they used manos and metates––grinding stones––to crush the corn.

Because pottery doesn’t appear in the historic record until many centuries later, they also made fine-woven baskets from plants (hence, the epithet, “Basketmakers”).

These improvements for their survival took them just this side of the Common Era. During the later stage of the Basketmaker Era they had improved on living conditions by creating storage bins, cists and building shallow pit-houses for dwellings. There is evidence that suggests sometime between 50 to 500 the beginning of religious ceremony enters into the Ancestral Puebloans mindset. This assertion does not insinuate these people had no prior beliefs based on religion. Rather, religious ceremonies of some unknown nature become more important. Perhaps the reason lies in the fact these people were settled into villages, their communities finally established in one locale (until they moved on and built new settlements). It is further presumed elders (or ceremonial leaders as they are sometimes referred), perhaps even a cult oriented shamanism, was coincident with the reformed religious societies. Rock art also appears and indicates ceremonial structures (kivas) are an integral part of Ancestral Puebloans society. Their communities continue to grow, their population numbers strong. More than likely satellite communities of the Ancestral Puebloans are linked by larger-scale decision-making policies and leaders who handle such tribal affairs.

This emergent culture was renowned for taming the land and innovative improvements that made life easier, though of course still laborious and iffy considering the extremes of climate. As dryland farmers, growing crops literally had sown deeper roots into the fabric of their expansive society. They had entered a new and important phase that would seed their culture in settlements throughout the new territory they wandered into, possibly by accident. It’s also presumed their presence on the Colorado Plateau was not challenged by other tribal people that might have previously settled there. If they had, then assimilation is likely what happened. As previously mentioned, the label for these people, Ancestral Puebloans or by any other name, simply applies to a set of archeological traits, a period of time and to a region. Therefore, not to a single group of people who referred to themselves by one name.

Note: Regarding this matter of assimilation, the Fremont Culture is a prime example. They were a pre-Columbian people who appear in the Southwest some 2,500 years ago. They were roughly contemporaneous with, though distinctly different from the Ancestral Puebloans. Around 1250 the Fremont begin to disappear from the archeological record. Perhaps they had already assimilated with the Ancestral Puebloans, or perhaps they integrated with the Numic-speaking Great Basin culture. The point is it’s unlikely an entire culture vanishes from the historical record. The same can be said for the Hohokam who lived south of the Colorado Plateau, there in the hotter and drier Sonoran Desert. They are the alleged Ancestral Puebloans of the Tohono O’odham people in southern Arizona.
A Reminder And Recap Of Highlights: During the Basketmaker III Era (500 to 750), the Ancestral Puebloans undergo a greater push in their developing culture. Foundations of pit-houses were deeper and better developed. There was also something new added to these structures: above ground rooms. Although the atlatl had served these people well throughout the centuries, the introduction of the bow and arrow made hunting even more precise. Bows eventually replaced the atlatl spears and darts as the predominant means for launching sharp projectiles on all continents (except Australia). Eventually, indigenous people in North America also invented the bow and arrow. It’s thought by some cultural scientists they came upon this idea on their own sometime around 500. Another possibility is that this crucial innovation made its way into Ancestral Puebloans camps and villages as an acquisition of trade.

Throughout this seeming early Renaissance period, the people domesticated select plants. Notably, wild amaranth and the equally nutrition-rich piñon pine nuts, both common staples in Ancestral Puebloans diets. Turkeys were also domesticated, though it’s not certain if the birds were kept for meat or for their showy feathers. Another important cultural occurrence was the making of pottery, which likely came to the Ancestral Puebloans by way of trade. Black-on-white pottery vessels appear in many settlements, and just in time for the cultivation of beans to cook the new staple. Regarding religious ceremonies, prototype large, round and subterranean kivas were constructed. From this point on, the Basketmaker Era ends and the Pueblo I Era begins (750 to 900). Populations continue increasing in sizes and villages expand and match an assumed prolific numbers of people. Year-round occupation of pueblos also begins. Because of these larger villages, more social integration takes place. Agricultural systems are also more complex (canals, check dams and reservoirs to maintain gardens and farming fields). So-called Great Kivas appear which are larger and enclosed. Although pit-house are still fashionable, as dwellings, above ground construction of crude masonry and jacal has noticeably altered Ancestral Puebloans architecture. Plain gray bisque pottery (unglazed white ceramic) is dominant, along with some red bisque and black and white vessels of varying designs.

By around 900, these people continued exhibiting newer talents in advancing their culture. Their migrations had penetrated the farther reaches of the territory they claimed. For instance, they lived in places like Atlatl Cave (in present-day Chaco Canyon) and similar sites. Although farming ties people to the land and contrasts such a lifestyle from a nomadic way of life, the Ancestral Puebloans were nonetheless industrious developers in one sense: there was a need to find and construct new settlements, as well as continue farming in these outlying places (northwestern New Mexico). At this time they left little evidence of their presence in this part of the Four Corners region. However, Chaco Canyon would continue to grow and became a great cornerstone in the society of the people who founded this sector, reputedly for religious purposes. (Recommend reading the CHACO diaries and

The next two Pueblo eras would credit the Ancestral Puebloans with even more cultural success. They already knew how to sustain their existence by means of agriculture (terraced farming) abetted by hunting and gathering. They were not put off by restricted precipitation, but sought other ways to maintain their homeland and survive. They relied on soil moisture from melted snow, rainstorms during the hotter summer season, and tapped water from infrequent streams to help cultivate their fields. Maize also requires periodic tilling of the soil and protection during the growing season. The main crops they harvested eventually spawned the Puebloan epithet known as the aforementioned three sister crops: corn, squash and beans. These crops are still honored today as a staple diet for the Puebloans, supplemented by many more varieties of crops. Indeed, the broad arc of Ancestral Puebloans cultural elaboration had since culminated sometime around 900. This timeframe during the later Pueblo I Era is noteworthy in that it marks the beginning of their building crescent-shaped stone complexes in various places, each comprising four to five residential suites abutting subterranean kivas. This was also the time when Ancestral Puebloans groups began living in larger and more dense pueblos. Sometime during the 10th Century evidence attests to a turquoise processing and trading industry. Around then, the first section of Pueblo Bonito was also built, at Chaco. When its curved row of some fifty rooms near its present north wall was finished, it would be the largest of the Great Houses, at Chaco.

A Noteworthy And Sustainable Culture: Because farming became the mainstay of Ancestral Puebloans subsistence throughout the centuries, its productivity created an economy and supported an untold number of people accounting for numerous groups of Ancestral Puebloans scattered throughout the Four Corners region. We don’t know the numbers of these people, though it’s assumed by some cultural scientists the actual figure could be staggering, possibly over 100,000. After all this is what civilizations do: people propagate their numbers for as long as the land and resources can sustain them. Unless no outside force interferes with the process, be it an epidemic outbreak such as the Hantavirus, a common disease like anemia, invasion by outsiders, or a depletion of natural resources by any means, the civilization will prosper.

As has been demonstrated throughout this diary, the Ancestral Puebloans were a sustainable culture in all respects. They took advantage of varying terrain and topography the way any farmer would; they also cultivated mesa tops, canyon bottoms and small or larger stretches of plains. Large or small patches of land were planted. Like the higher elevations that depended on available water resources, light and temperature favored higher crop yields. Some of these communities were so successful at farming cultural scientists estimate they might have produced as much as forty bushels of corn per acre. If this figure is true, modern farmers in this region are fortunate to harvest a third as much.

Note: On population estimates, it’s thought as many as 20,000 people may have occupied any major and thriving settlement during the peak agricultural years between 1000 and 1300. (Multiply just six of the most popular present-day archeological ruins and consider an average census count.) Most of these populated areas in southwestern Colorado (around present-day Cortez) were built at elevations around 6,800 feet above sea level. This higher territory was favorable to precipitation and provided a decent growing season favorable to agriculture. Hunting and gathering was equally favorable. At higher elevations conditions worsened, while lower elevations were not advantageous to dry farming success. Thus studying the topography and climatic effects at various elevations benefited various Ancestral Puebloans settlements. Water resources and ample precipitation were also plentiful in key sectors which augmented favorable living conditions.
A Seeming Halcyon Era Ended? What we know or assume about the Ancestral Puebloans, both scientific and traditional accounts, is part fact and part guesswork. Cultural advancements throughout, especially, the more significant Pueblo I, II and III Eras. From creative pottery designs, to functional architecture and the ability sow and harvest greater crop yields, these people were literally at the top of their game. Social embellishments by means of bartered items––jewelry and beads, conch shells and parrot feathers––expanded the trade network far and wide of the Colorado Plateau. In time, cotton came to the territory, another valuable trade item that enhanced the lives of these people. Equally important, a more sophisticated basis of religion and ceremony is fused into the Ancestral Puebloans culture. With continual improvements in their communication networks and trading routes the desert Southwest was a well known and well traveled landscape, where before its rough and naked topography of varying elevations may have once seemed formidable to cultures more used to forests and waterways.

Yet the Ancestral Puebloans communities founded their select settlements carved out of a wilderness that suited the needs of the people in every way. Some, like the Chacoans, focused on archeoastronomy based on predicting solstices and equinoxes. They constructed solar and lunar-aligned dwellings that heralded a higher form of mathematics and precision. Their extensive network of roads also leads some cultural scientists to think there was a religious significance connected with the effort. In short, the Chaco complex was a community expressly devoted to religion and ceremony, though we know very little about their actual religious beliefs.  

Until the close of the 12th Century life for these people was, we assume, relatively harmonious. After all, the Ancestral Puebloans culture is often touted as the “peaceful people.” There appears no widespread evidence of warfare among their various tribal sects, nor from outside sources, at least this theory holds true until the latter part of the 13th Century. They dealt with nature in all its temperaments and struggled through the lean or questionable times. Toward the end of the 13th Century, however, the antithesis of a lengthy and fairly auspicious history was upon them. A new change was forthcoming.

Chasing Down The Theories: Apart from the record of achievement the Ancestral Puebloans are credited with, that record was broken for a time during the transition that took them from the Colorado Plateau’s Four Corners region to the new settlements in New Mexico, where most of these people resettled. Drought is suspected as the main catalyst, at least this is the most widespread reason supported by many cultural scientists. There are other possibilities to consider as well, such as social unrest, epidemic outbreak and disease, depleted natural resources, invasion by outsiders (including warfare from within), or something esoteric and having to do with Ancestral Puebloans religious beliefs that caused the main body of people to leave. We simply don’t know the answer with any assurance. Possibly there was a combination of factors. These questions are still asked by cultural scientists, though most Puebloans today appear to accept the fact their Ancestral Puebloans simply moved and settled elsewhere, and likely they had good reason to do so.

Hence, the old (or “ancient”) ones, as a prehistoric designate, was eventually dropped with the dawning of the Pueblo IV Era (starting around 1350 and lasting to about 1600). From the Puebloans perspective, the evolution of the Ancestral Puebloans culture, from the Early Basketmaker phases to the sequenced Pueblo phases (I thru V) maintains its roots, its traditions, and therefore the missing written record for a prehistoric people is in effect still there. This tacit record is visible in what was left behind. For instance, the archeological ruins, farming fields long ago turned fallow, and all the lithic artifacts, including a plethora of glyphs.

In view of the above, there are answers and there are questions that will likely and forever remain questions. Those theories just alluded to merely spawn more theories. These, in turn, create ongoing debate about the Four Corners region’s former inhabitants who, like most civilizations, began with little or nothing, then over time created a veritable Eden in a predominantly arid and sandstone environment. The cultural map these Ancestral Puebloans made will always be overshadowed with some mystery.

If the often debunked scientific theories held by Puebloans about why the majority of their Ancestral Puebloans changed homelands, then something pertaining to the religious may be the crux that served as a primary impetus for mass emigration sometime during the late 1300s. Other factors may have led up to a decision for all Ancestral Puebloans group settlements to depart the Four Corners region. Perhaps their leaving even had something to do with the intervention by the katsinas ("spirit beings") or by some similar intermediary that conveyed a message to all Ancestral Puebloans. Namely, that it was literally time to take a long walk, leave most of their possessions behind, then begin a new life in a new land, thus beginning a new era for these people under a new designate.

Because the Great Drought is the most touted and likely reason for the mass emigration from the Four Corners, at least many cultural scientists support this claim, this topic is explored in greater depth, as well as other theories that may suggest why the Ancestral Puebloans departed.

I) THE EPIC DRY YEARS: Evidence examined for the extensive dry cycle of the Four Corners region starting in the late 1300s include global or regional climate change (the so-called “Little Ice Age”). The change includes cyclical periods of topsoil erosion, environmental degradation and deforestation. These factors also lowered the water table, diminished wildlife numbers, wilted plants and caused infertility to crops planted by the Ancestral Puebloans. Other cultural factors occurred as well. For instance, hostility from new arrivals (tribal people most likely originating from the Basin People Culture), religious or cultural change, possibly influenced from Mesoamerican cultures. On the matter of hostility, some researchers think the main instigation of warfare was within the rank and file of the Ancestral Puebloans, while some think they responded to pressure from Numic-speaking people (a branch of the Northern and Southern Uto-Aztecan language family and principally spoken by Utes and Shoshone Indians among others). If the latter, then these outsiders moved onto the Colorado Plateau and were concurrent with the Ancestral Puebloans, possibly as early as the 1300s.

Consider the Chaco region on this matter. Its cohesive social system began unravelling sometime as early as the 900s. The dry cycle began again sometime around 1140, which as a notable benchmark, is long before the subscribed date of the start of the Great Drought (around 1279). Perhaps such chaos at Chaco was triggered by an extreme fifty-year drought that began sometime around 1130. Indeed, a new series of severe droughts returned and struck this region between 1250 and 1450. Climatic records based on tree-ring dating attest to these enduring and repetitive dry periods.

As for the epic Great Drought as a featured topic, it was reputed to have lasted many decades, and by some accounts maybe around one hundred years. Thus the Four Corners region from about 1279 through 1379, perhaps even stretching to 1400, was supposedly ignored by rain-swollen clouds, even during the typical monsoon season. If this statement is true, then it confirms the hyperbole given the trendy epithet, Great Drought. Was the entirety of this sprawling territory affected? Consider how recent evidence shows there were some people, Ancestral Puebloans, Mimbres People, even tribal people representing the Great Basin culture who were not part of any great emigration. Consider, too, recent evidence about the climatic record supports the dry cycle never lasted even half as long, perhaps not even a third as long. Nevertheless, we note that something enticed most of the Ancestral Puebloans to vacate the Four Corners region sometime during the 1300s.

Consider other mitigating environmental factors that might support the claim of a prolonged drought. These include water mismanagement patterns which led to arroyo cutting and deforestation. For instance, timber for construction was imported from outlying mountain ranges, such as the Chuska Mountains over 50 miles to the west of Chaco Canyon. Considering how drought factors also affect plants and animals, where a scarcity of game became more pronounced over the years in most sectors of the Four Corners. With diminishing crop yields and less game to hunt these two crucial factors must have weighed heavily upon settlement leaders. The continued changing climatic patterns were also nature’s harbingers of ill tidings to come. Naturally, the people had no way of understanding this cyclic phenomenon. Once the extended drought settled in, however, they may have understood. Still, by then there was nothing else to do but leave.

It should also be noted how the Southwest has always experienced intermittent dry cycles that eventually reverted to wet years. Like any farmer today, these people stayed and farmed and found ways to survive off the land during the sparse seasons when little or no rain fell. However, the crop yield was less than it was compared to before, and by the 1300s there were thousands more people to feed compared to earlier centuries. Drought in desert-canyon regions also typically turns up nature’s thermostat. Prevailing hotter and drier conditions were simply more taxing. During such times, rivers and streams dry up and the soil loses its ability to recharge its nutrients. Apart from a minimized agricultural production during this period, to make up for the shortfall of crop production these resolute tenants of their gardens and fields were obliged to harvest plants during the spring and summer months. Even when the years were favored by ample precipitation, rarely were larger irrigation methods practiced, such as using river water. Instead, the people relied on capturing rain runoff for basic agricultural use. There were also community water projects which meant creating reservoirs and smaller check dams to route the water to their fields.

From the above exposition, it can be said the Ancestral Puebloans adapted to conditions and attempted any means to maintain their way of life, at least for a demanding stretch of time leading up to the 13th Century.

II) SOCIAL STRESS AND UNREST: Years of drought always create stress in most societies, especially for those in the agricultural industry, but mainly for those who depend on crop staples. It’s thought the Great Drought period was, in fact, a major stress to Ancestral Puebloans society in its entirety. Stress, if not relieved, can lead to further social unrest. Certainly diminishing natural resources because of drought, such as water reserves, a lack of game, and other edibles the Ancestral Puebloans depended on, was a going concern during the later years of the 1300s. By then, villages were also larger and populations were more than likely burgeoning. Famine, even anemic conditions, depleted some of their numbers. If poor nutrition conditions exist and persist, then diseases of the body, such as iron deficiency, add to the complexity of what happens when ample food is not seriously limited or no longer available. There may also have been a vast epidemic outbreak of an unknown origin. Measles, mumps and small pox were centuries away from invading the lives of the native people of the Southwest. But what was the likelihood of an infectious disease, like a Hantavirus, bubonic plague, and E-coli outbreak or something similar? Although we can’t altogether dismiss this possibility, thus far no archeological research confirms there were substantial human losses in any era when the Ancestral Puebloans occupied the Colorado Plateau. Such a high mortality rate might yield finding mass graves to bury so many people at one time, yet nothing like this has been discovered. Also, anemia, which is a definite threat to individuals, is not something that spreads like an epidemic disease. If poor nutrition was a common threat, then only the frail and younger members of the community would be affected. If there was an outbreak of disease caused by, say, human waste contaminating the villages, then likely such a literal mess would have been effectively dealt with.

III) INVADERS AND WARFARE: Another possibility the Ancestral Puebloans faced, which denotes a popular theory that caused them to leave their settlements, is warfare among groups of Ancestral Puebloans. Either that, or invading tribes moved in and began competing for game, or even raided gardens and fields that were already producing a low-yield harvest for the native inhabitants. Along with the theory of a Great Drought, warfare is thus suggested as a likely possibility that ended up forcing the Ancestral Puebloans from their settlements. Yet there really is no sound evidence this happened, at least not any large scale wars. Evidence reveals some isolated communities under attack, but to consider a region-wide invasion is highly unlikely. These people also built impressive dwellings, some of which may be considered impregnable (cliff-dwelling settlements for instance); also, these so-named “peaceful people” may have been farmers and a culture that was endeared to its religious ceremonies, but they weren’t defenseless. Like their successors, the Ancestral Puebloans had a viable force of men to defend and protect the settlements. Considering the difficulty of invading places like Mesa Verde or Betatakin, these cliff palaces high above the ground could be defended for lengthy periods, with food stores and water enough to outlast their enemies. Then again, other sites were vulnerable to attack. Sand Canyon in the vicinity of the Sleeping Ute Mountain (near present-day Cortez, Colorado), and some few others, including Chaco Canyon, show signs of warfare. Question is: Who waged war on whom? And were the raiders from the Ancestral Puebloan community or from outside their homeland?

IV) SOMETHING RELIGIOUS PERHAPS: Yet another theory advanced about why the Ancestral Puebloans were forced to leave their settlements concerns religion and all its nuances. Perhaps something in their belief system mandated it was time to leave. Such an order based upon some religious decree would then have passed from community to community throughout the Four Corners region. This is one of the more intriguing theories entertained by cultural scientists. If the Puebloans know anything about this matter, they’re not saying. The issue of religion is also a sensitive subject to most Native Americans that broaches this possibility tends to close rather than open doors of communication where such information might be disclosed. Nevertheless, if there was something mandated to the people about their having to leave for religious reasons, then the metaphysical and social nature of the problem may never be revealed.

Apart from these debated arguments, theories really, there may be other extraneous reasons for their leaving. Perhaps there was a combination of factors that caused the mass emigration. Still, the Great Drought appears to make more sense than most of the other theories, especially if nutrients in the soil were depleted after centuries of farming, and mitigated by the fact water resources dried up. How is it possible to remain in a place that had been environmentally friendly and suitable for centuries, then began to slowly and surely dry up? Social unrest would have stirred the elders of the communities, or perhaps it was the shamans or priests, or some community tribal head forced to make a decision. That decision was also limited as to options. If nature wasn’t cooperating, then the people had to go elsewhere.

On the other hand, depleted environmental resources caused by drought may have had something to do with religion, in the sense (to use a cliche) the gods were angry. Thus, the people were told to leave by some higher source. Again, we can’t know this with any certainty. It’s thought by some Puebloans the esoteric and therefore undisclosed reason their Ancestral Puebloans left was rooted in some religious cause.

FYI: I think the topic of the Great Drought is so important that it deserves its own diary (or diaries) some day. Thus I am already preparing such a work in progress. I also see a correlation of today’s plight of a likely global drought, and at the very least, a spreading drought that affects a great many sectors of the United States. Of course, the rising global temperature and greenhouse emissions is far more serious given the ramifications of what is happening to our planet today.
Most Left, Some Stayed: When the majority of the Ancestral Puebloans groups departed the Four Corners region, some tribal groups remained behind. The Hopi, for instance. They claim (Old) Oraibi, on Third Mesa, is the oldest continually inhabited village in North America (since the 1100s). Another Hopi village, Awatovi was established during the 12th Century and Walpi the following century. Where they came from before settlement on the mesa is not stated. Nevertheless, as successors of the Ancestral Puebloans they, like all Puebloans, trace their traditions and roots to the beginning of these ancient ones. It’s just that the designate, Hopi, presents itself starting from this ancient village. The Acoma Puebloans also claim one of the oldest continually inhabited villages in North America, dating back to the 1200s.

What is the significance of this information? Both tribal claims means there were Ancestral Puebloans who lived before, during and after the Great Drought. We can also assume these people came from another part of the Four Corners region before resettling in their respective locations; otherwise, there would be no need to establish the dates for their villages. Did either tribal group go by these names, Hopi or Acoma? We have no answer for this, either. More than likely the names may have changed, as did the locations. As alluded to earlier, the wanderings of the Ancestral Puebloans to the time they allegedly departed the Four Corners region during the 1300s and the time of resettlement in New Mexico suggest gaps in the historic record. Names changed along with new settlements founded by these ancient people transitioning the Pueblo IV and V Eras. Without an established (confirmed) record of occupation, all we know is the majority of people who left their ancestral homeland ended up somewhere else centuries later. The Pueblo IV Era is therefore messy in some respects. Beyond that there are no sure answers until the Pueblo V Era begins sometime during the 1600s. Even then, there’s no written language for these people. We only know the Ancestral Puebloans, as a generic name of a prehistoric culture, eventually changed over to the historic period and the name change, Puebloan, became widespread. The new designate is essentially all that has changed from ancestors to successors; at least in some respect this statement is true.

Chaco Canyon’s Archeological Clue: Pueblo Bonito holds an important key about both its building and the people who were responsible for its layout. These were the Scarlet Macaw Clan, who sometimes are called the Parrot Clan. Along with the Katsina clan, this sect of the Ancestral Puebloans were the people who took architecture to its most sublime levels. According to archeological evidence, the Scarlet Macaw Clan is possibly a mixture of Mesoamerican culture that intermarried with regional indigenous populations (at least some, like Craig Childs, holds this to be true). Like anything else having to do with Chaco’s community, there will always be rebuttals about this claim. It’s also thought the excessive space for Pueblo Bonito’s interior, as well as other Chaco Great Houses, was intended for food storage and preparation. Having such control of the food supply would also generate greater political power and create a major draw for religious ceremonies.

Portal to another time and world (Dick Mason painting):

And to this world, this pueblo (Bonita), in particular:

What is known about this enigmatic locale in northwestern New Mexico is the Scarlet Macaw and Katsina clans founded Pueblo Bonito in 830 (or thereabouts). Located in the central part of the San Juan Basin country this pueblo and complex thrived for approximately three hundred years. Through the continuing practice of Ancestral Puebloans intermarrying with existing indigenous groups (during migrations to Wupatki, Mesa Verde and other sectors of the Colorado Plateau, including people in the northern San Juan territory), the Scarlet Macaw clan remained at Chaco for about two hundred years. During this time evidence supports there was a mini diaspora toward the Hopi Mesa country. Advocates supporting the diaspora claim there were two separate migrations each conducted in three individual phases. The first was the Scarlet Macaw Clan made up of Chaco, Wupatki and Mogollon descent. The last of these migrational phases also was near wildlife areas along the verdant Mogollon Rim country which also was close to bison herds. The need to find new turf where wildlife was abundant also plays a vital role in why these people vacated the San Juan Basin country (see below for background). In short, a diaspora that would take the Ancestral Puebloans to a new territory. Thus a immigration to preserve their culture elsewhere.

Note: The term, “diaspora,” is meant in the sense of any movement of a population sharing a common national and/or ethnic identity. More broadly, the word refers to a permanently displaced and relocated collective. In this case, the collective of the Ancestral Puebloans culture.
The mini diaspora cultural scientists have in mind specifically refers to the Chaco inhabitants that moved toward the northern Rio Grande region on the Pajarito Plateau (a volcanic plateau in north central New Mexico). Home to places like Bandelier and present-day Los Alamos, this broad plateau and mesa country is a facet of the neighboring Jemez Mountains bounded on the west by the Valles Caldera and on the east by the White Rock Canyon region of the Rio Grande River. It’s also high country where precipitation is more promising and likely another reason this sector was chosen by the migrating people. The next migration was to the Mogollon region on the southeastern face of the Colorado Plateau which is also cooler and wetter, a green landscape compared to the San Juan Basin country. Here the emigrants were said to remain for approximately one hundred years. Between 1375 and 1400 there was yet another departure group that headed toward the Rio Grande and Paquimé regions. Very little is known about this phase. However, the first migration path was from Chaco to the north and west and the second from Wupatki and the Mesa Verde area toward the south and east.
Note: The Paquimé region refers to people representing this culture. They emerged from shadowy origins early in the 13th Century and became the largest and most culturally complex settlement in northern Mexico and the southwestern United States. The Paquimé also bore imprints of both the later Puebloan cultures and Mesoamerican cultures of southern Mexico and central America. Their culture has since served as a beacon for prehistoric people throughout these regions. But their culture later collapsed sometime during the mid-16th Century, perhaps just before the arrival of the Spaniards who first wrote of a major Paquimé ruin in 1560.
What is interesting about these particular migrations is that some cultural scientists believe the primary reason for the departures was caused by anemia. This lends itself to one of the theories as to why the Ancestral Puebloans departed the Four Corners region. Suffice it to say such a dietary deficiency was threatening or sufficient to the point the people who were bound for these other places did so in search of more bountiful wildlife to offset the loss of iron in the bloodstream.

During the 12th and 13th centuries Chaco Canyon was entirely abandoned. Some of the kivas were also burned. It’s thought they were ceremonially destroyed as a way of closing the kivas based on the fact the dwellers never intended to return. Dwellings in the central part of the canyon had been carefully sealed and abandoned. Some scholars suggest that violence and warfare impelled the evacuations sometime after the 1200s. Yet the Chacoan complexes showed little evidence of being defended or defensively positioned high on cliff faces or on top of mesas. Only several minor sites at Chaco evidence large-scale burning that would suggest enemy raids. Nevertheless, something unusual certainly did take place there, yet remains something private that is kept within the Puebloan community, or some Puebloan communities. What some cultural scientists consider as a fundamental stress brought on sometime around the late 13th Century, does reveal insight of a great and impending change for the Ancestral Puebloans. All the discussed points, from drought to limited crop yields and wildlife and acute cases of anemia or other community-wide illnesses, do play a role in what happened. And if there is something religious attached to such findings, then it remains a discreet matter applicable to what Puebloans feel comfortable sharing (and therefore not mentioned in this two-part diary). Hence, my willingness to decline disclosure given any findings by Christy Turner II (et al.) on more intense reasons that might also apply.

Contemporary Inhabitants Of The Four Corners: Even before the Ancestral Puebloans left the Four Corners region, evidence shows there were other tribal cultures living here before the Great Drought, and more than likely during this prolonged dry cycle. These people represent the Great Basin Cultures and they were here during the Pueblo III Era. There are no fixed dates, despite the fact their archeological sites in the northern tier of the Colorado Plateau attests to their presence. Possibly they may not have been affected by the prolonged drought that hit harder in the desert Southwest where the four corner states merge their boundaries. Again, this statement is speculative.

Sometime during the 14th Century, Great Basin people were common in parts of the Four Corners region. Since the Ancestral Puebloans who departed never returned to reclaim their previous settlements, not even to stake out new turf and build new villages. Their former homeland was therefore wide open territory. It must have been strange for later-arriving people to see so many abandoned sites, most now preserved as archeological ruins. Their dwellings were also evidence of the people who once lived and flourished here, then vanished.

Who were these people of the Great Basin culture? For centuries, they had roamed the Sierra Nevada range, also parts of Oregon, California, Idaho, Wyoming and Utah. Because precipitation is minimal throughout the Great Basin, the new inhabitants, such as the Utes and Southern Paiutes, found the Colorado Plateau province a wetter and more favorable climate. These tribal groups, many of them extended family units, also included the Bannock, Comanche and Eastern Shoshone which are often classified as Great Plains tribes.

A Collective Name Meant Only to Codify: Cultural scientists refer to the Great Basin tribes as “The Desert Culture” (or sometimes called the “Desert Archaic”). All but the Washoe people from California and Nevada spoke Numic languages. Perhaps for this reason there was considerable intermingling between certain tribal groups. Primarily, this culture made up of many tribal clans were hunter-gatherers, and some eventually became agrarian once they settled down. Most, however, had no permanent settlements. Still, their winter villages might be revisited by the same group of families from the tribe. Due to a common lack of food sources, the larger groups were made up of members of the nuclear family. It’s thought these people arrived as late as 1000 in the Great Basin country, though there are some who argue for a much earlier time.

Centuries later the Navajos and Apaches entered the Southwest and occupied parts of the Four Corners region. Some estimates claim they were here long before the Spanish entradas arrived in 1540. However, without a written record for either tribe it’s thought they may have occupied the territory during the 15th Century, and possibly as early as the latter part of the 14th Century. Some evidence also suggests that the Athabaskan Ancestral Puebloans of both these tribes entered the Southwest after 1000. Thereafter, a substantially larger population occurs during the 13th Century. The question is: When did the Navajos as a sizable group settle in parts of the Colorado Plateau, who eventually become the largest tribal people in the Southwest? The Apaches, however, ended up south of the Colorado Plateau, ranging from the White Mountains to present-day Tucson, also the northern tier of Mexico.

Navajo oral traditions claim to know something about their great migration to the Southwest. Their origin is also mitigated, meaning subject to debate (because anytime there is oral history to account for what most likely is the truth of any matter rests with the people who have lived through their history). It is believed by some cultural scientists these nomadic people were latecomers to the Americas; a culture of nomadic people who crossed a land bridge that connected Asia with present-day Alaska and western Canada (present-day Bering Strait). However, the Navajo believe that they were created by sacred beings, and claim they, like the Hopis, emerged from lower worlds until reaching this, the Fourth World. By some accounts, it was actually the Fifth World for the Navajo.

Note: Briefly on the subject of land bridge and icy crossings, the Bering Strait is purportedly the only way people came to the North American continent. This notion is based on the theory humans, as a genus, first evolved on the continent of Africa, then eventually migrated to other parts of the globe. Once settled in parts of Asia migration to the North American continent was next in line for those continuing east, which is also the way large game migrated (mastodons, wholly mammoths, giant ground sloths, and saber-tooth tigers to mention some). However, thousands of years ago there was a land bridge that connected Asia with North America. This was possible only during the extensive glaciation period that covered most of the world with a mantle of thick ice, causing the volume of the world’s oceans to substantially diminish. When the ice sheets retreated, the meltdown restored the volume to previous levels. It is thought there were at least two land bridge crossings during the great glaciation period and by some accounts there were three. The Inuit culture also made the crossing, only by then the land bridge was hundreds of feet below the water. These people constructed watercraft and navigated the strait. They also constitute the third and last major wave, if indeed there were only three waves. (For more background, I recommend reading the Archeological Timeline diary:
The few crossings from the Asian continent to the North American continent, whether by land bridge or icy water, denote for some Native Americans controversy to the point such subject matter is typically touchy, especially the kind of contention based on religious qualms. The account of emergence by the Navajo is also a likely sensitive subject, that is, when the topic is broached. However, to cultural scientists, the Navajo, like the Apache, are an Athabaskan linguistic people closely related to those tribal people of the same lineage who live in northern Canada near Great Slave Lake. It’s further thought these northern Athabaskans broke away from their southern counterparts centuries ago, that is sometime after the Navajo left their homeland and ended up in the Southwest. Strangely, the northern Athabaskan tribe refer to themselves asDine, as do the Navajo. They also refer to their land as “Dinetah.” Despite these theories, there remains a fair amount of critical reaction from the Navajo concerning their origins. The oldest dates for human habitation in the Western Hemisphere is in South America. Navajos have something to say about this, too, for according to their creation myths they believe they came to the Southwest from the south. Like anything else pertaining to Native American culture, either prehistoric or historic, including up to the present, there will always be mysteries and riddles to solve. Nevertheless, most will go unsolved due to the sensitivity of emergence and which tribe got where and when.

I think here is a good place to break off and part two will continue tomorrow. As always, your thoughtful commentaries are welcomed.


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Originally posted to History for Kossacks on Thu Mar 07, 2013 at 02:06 PM PST.

Also republished by Invisible People.

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