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Prologue: Continuing where yesterday’s diary left off this diary delves into the quintessence of  everyday living among the Ancestral Puebloans. Namely, the communal aspects of their culture. Like all North American Archaic-Era tribal people, the historical presence of the Ancestral Puebloans in the Four Corners region is based on tangible clues marking various stages of their cultural development through the centuries. Cultural scientists help us navigate through a prehistoric cultural terrain, where the nomads-turned-farmers (eventually farmers) lived in groups scattered throughout the territory they settled. From the prehistoric to the historic we get a glimpse of these people and their culture in varying stages. It’s this archeological evidence of their dwellings and everyday life that adds shape and form, as images, to the, otherwise, obscurity of the distant past. But we can only see and know so much about these people from such evidence.Their successors tell us more. These twenty-one tribal settlements of modern Puebloans provides an oral tradition connection to their Ancestral Puebloans. Centuries old conventions, from everyday behavior to intricate religious ceremony, are preserved in the lineage, albeit with some modification that favor whatever the changing eras wrought to these people (the five stages of Pueblo classifications). It follows how we have scientific research and the sole benefit of Puebloan tradition to paint a fair depiction of the above mentioned cultural map.

An Array Of Dwellings And Fascinating Architecture: Their culture is perhaps best known for their unique dwellings built along high cliffs walls, particularly the Pueblo II and III Eras (respectively 900 to 1150 and 1150 to 1350). Among the most impressive and so-called cliff palace sites are found throughout Comb Ridge and Tsegi Canyon’s Betatakin and Kiet Siel (sometimes spelled "Keet Seel"), at present-day Navajo National Monument; also Canyon de Chelly. Other settlements, like Chaco Canyon, Hovenweep and Aztec, are equally impressive, only these villages were constructed at ground level. The stone structures where people lived are seemingly timeless given how long some of the dwellings and settlements have lasted through the centuries. A cooperative community effort collecting and assembling materials (usually sandstone blocks plastered together with mud and mortar) was carefully calculated, ensuring optimum conditions for maximum comfort (ample shade for warmer months and sunlight during the winter). The sun’s direction was especially important in cliff house dwellings, such as Mesa Verde, Canyon de Chelly and Walnut Canyon. Lofty settlements built in usually south-facing cliff facades were accessible by rope, ladders or Moki (sometimes spelled “Moqui”) steps which are alternating hand and toe holds carved into vertical or near-vertical sandstone surfaces, usually two to three inches deep and three to four inches in width and height. As advanced as these lofty or ground level dwellings were, such astonishing building achievements had more modest beginnings. Mainly, simple pit-house dwellings.

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A Tribal Fingerprint Of Identity: The Ancestral Puebloans are not only known for their innovative architecture, but also for their pottery. Generally, pottery ware used for cooking or storage was a plain gray hue, either smooth or textured. That was the start of many adaptive changes to come. In the northern Ancestral Puebloans culture, roughly from 500 to 1300, the most common decorated pottery had black painted designs on white or light gray backgrounds. Decoration is characterized by fine hatching (artistic technique used to create tonal or shading effects by drawing closely spaced parallel lines). The effect is highlighted with contrasting colors that are made of mineral-based paint on a chalky background.

Apart from the usual utilitarian pottery were those vessels used for special ceremonies. For instance, tall vessels with narrow-necked jar designs that may have been used for liquids.

Of course, pottery, once its artistry was learned, began very simply given the utility of various vessels:

Pottery ware in the southern portion of the region, particularly after 1150, is characterized by heavier black-line decoration and the use of carbon-based colorants. In northern New Mexico, renowned for its black-on-white tradition, the introduced Rio Grande white wares, continued well after the 1300s. Changes in pottery composition, structure, and decoration are not just for innovation and style, but telltale signals of social change in the archaeological record. For instance, and much later in time, the appearance of brighter colors on the Tonto Basin’s Salado polychromes may reflect 14th and 15th Century pottery from central Arizona, which was widely traded in the region, with colors and elaborate designs which may derive from earlier ware by both Ancestral Puebloans and Mogollon peoples.

How Did The Ancestral Puebloans Make Their Living? Other than farming, their main industry intended for sustenance relied on game and wild plants to make up the difference when their agricultural rations of maize, squash or beans (the so-called “three sisters”) weren’t available. Meat was the major source of protein while piñon nuts, yucca fruit (called "tunas") from prickly pear cactus, and berries rounded out their diet. Preserved food stores left in granaries (mini corn cobs) could also be relied on over the long winter months until the next planting and harvest. Thin, dried rolled piki bread made from corn meal batter and spread on a hot, greased rock was also a staple in their diet.

Hopi women working the manos and metates:

Portrait of woman making piki bread (painter unknown):

And voilà (tasty, too). . .

However, meat was the desired sustenance for a meal, either cooked or jerked. Because lower elevations in much of the Four Corners tends to be desert, fewer game animals were available during hunting forays. Hunters therefore had to rely on finding game in higher elevations. Extended hunting and gathering trips, if made, required scouting in the mountains. However, this claim is only a working theory since no seasonal camps were ever found in such higher reaches.

(As an aside, I, as a non carnivore type was always curious what Ancestral Puebloans might have called a vegetarian oriented tribal member. Then it came to me: a lousy shot with a bow and arrow!)

Besides hunting, men, women and adolescents foraged and gathered berries, nuts and fruits. Wild amaranth with a great potential to improve nutrition, and the equally nutritious piñon pine nuts were highly sought. These hunter-gatherers also collected materials for making baskets, clothing, and footwear. Some of the material was also fashioned into various tools. Yucca plants were especially prized for saponins used for soap and shampoo. Some plants more than likely were harvested for basic medicinal purposes. (Recommend reading the the previously posted diary on Ethnobotony: When cotton was later introduced from the south (notably from the Hohokam culture), what is now the southern tier of Arizona and New Mexico, weaving on large upright frame looms created an entire new industry. Mostly, the men did the weaving. They made clothing, blankets, breechcloths, even belts using vegetal fibers, animal hair, human hair, and of course, cotton. Fur strips were also used and wrapped around a yucca fiber core which made thick robes. Other types of fiber were also used. For example, matted fiber from juniper bark was used for diapers, menstrual pads, mats for sleeping, and for insulating sandal-clad feet. Footwear included sandals, moccasins, and possibly even snowshoes. Yucca plant leaves could also be plaited or woven for a variety of purposes (i.e, articles of clothing, footwear or sleeping pads). Additionally, animal hides provided material for some types of clothing, albeit few leather moccasins or sandals or other leather garments have ever been found.

Yucca was the preferred plant to fashion fiber sandals. Not only were the leaves woven together to fashion whatever apparel was desired, but the plant's strips are easily peeled and act as surrogate thread. Just use a cactus needle and you're all set:

Other plant/tree material could also be used to fashion an assortment of apparel, such as the bark from a juniper tree or try cliffrose. In this case, a mat, bag, skirt and leggings. . .

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Apart from their fields cultivated for farming, smaller garden plots were made which attracted rabbits, mice and birds. Larger game such as deer, antelope and desert bighorn sheep sometime wandered into these potential snares. The usual and smaller game sought on hunting forays were mice and rabbits, quail, doves and similar birds. Certainly, larger animals were also prized, not only for the abundant meat they provided, but for hides for clothing and shelter. In time, turkeys were domesticated, though mainly were used for feathers (ceremonial or functional apparel). Turkeys are also natural ecologists in that they devour bugs invading gardens, suggesting they were not slaughtered and eaten. Dogs were also domesticated and likely served a purpose. There are some petroglyphs that show dogs chasing, what appears to be bighorn sheep and deer, which is the only evidence canines were present during this time; also, what their importance was to the Ancestral Puebloans.

Doubtless this type of dog breed was around:

Trading and communicating with other tribal groups is another facet of the community. Their settlements were generally not isolated from each other. Neither were they isolated from other cultures in western North America. Their culture had indeed established a far-reaching network of trade that exchanged prized articles from the Pacific coast, the Gulf of Mexico, even the Great Plains. Trade items also came from other cultures farther south, but most trade took place among various Ancestral Puebloans settlements stretching from the Four Corners region to Nevada. Sea shells from California, parrots and copper bells made in western Mexico, and conch shells were traded for bumper crop yields grown by the Ancestral Puebloans. Likely, there was also some meat or plant products exchanged. Pottery, like jewelry, was perhaps among the most esteemed trade items.

This could represent a display of a typical Ancestral Puebloan household:

For some, even these traded ornaments:

Apart from all the aforementioned items, marriage partners were also traded. This socially pragmatic exchange of women and men from various settlements helped keep the lines of communication open between various groups. More than likely the Ancestral Puebloans occasionally married outside their culture. The communication established between near and far communities was also an integral facet of the network of trade. These people were curious about their neighbors. For instance, what were they doing in those settlements? What was the climate like in other sectors? What irrigation methods were used? How did they build their special ceremonial chambers (kivas)? Perhaps even gossip was shared. The news that spread was passed along from individual to individual and group to group. This means is also how the Ancestral Puebloans learned new techniques in making pottery, including design and color. They especially were keen to learn new farming techniques, as well as new tools for hunting, such as the bow and arrow that replaced the atlatl, a spear-throwing device. These traders and news gatherers who passed along the information traveled on well-defined footpaths leading in all directions. There was a maze of these routes, and in places, like Chaco, the roads must have seemed like highways; yet there was no invention of the wheel. The peculiarity of why Chaco’s roads were so wide and straight has also perplexed some cultural scientists. One thing was certain, however: all roads led to this mecca in northwestern New Mexico. People likely, and seasonally, traveled here from afar for religious and communal bonding purposes.

Marriage and its ceremony was more than likely a special event in the community. Thus jewelry was prized and common in the trade business. Necklaces, bracelets, earrings, hair combs, pins and arm bands were fabricated from wood, bone and shell, including abalone, coal, coral, and a variety of stone beads made of slate, turquoise, hematite and other minerals. Some of these ornaments ostensibly had ritual significance such as badges of office. It’s also assumed jewelry helped define social status among certain individuals in the community.

For the few among the many, bartering for this type of jewelry would not only be considered a status symbol, but also outstanding in more ways than one:

Raw materials, like these, were indeed eagerly traded, for in the more skillful artistic hands a variety of costume jewelry could be designed and worn, but only for those with tribal status:

The Art Of Basketry: Basketry is an ancient craft going back thousands of years. Yucca, sumac, willow and apocynum (i.e., dogbane and Indian hemp) were commonly used materials throughout the Four Corners region. Baskets were used as vessels to carry food, firewood and a variety of tools, among other miscellaneous items (perhaps even babies). Pitch-lined baskets were especially tightly woven for carrying water, and probably used for cooking (by dropping hot rocks into the water). Baskets are also more useful to nomadic people than pottery, because they’re not as heavy or fragile. Although the craft of basketry is certainly much older than pottery, its survival in archaeological sites is rarer. The earliest period of the Ancestral Puebloans culture notably begins with the Basketmaker I, II and III-Eras because of their mastery of this important skill.

Here's another, and it's in great shape for going back some 1,500 years to its maker:

The Art Of Pottery: Although the broad subject of pottery has already been touched upon in this diary, its important utility defined a settled community. This is because it takes time to make pottery. Pottery, however, provides better, long lasting protection for food from insects and rodents. Much of the earliest pottery is not decorated, but is straightforward in design and function (sparse and plain decorations, usually lines, zigzags or dots). Vessels made from clay, often mixed with other materials, appear throughout the Four Corners region at almost the same time as the undecorated pieces, around 575. Generally, the designs become denser and more precise over time until about 1150-1350 which defines the end of the Puebloan III Era. Pottery designs from parts of Colorado are usually bold geometric patterns in black-on-white. Sometimes they also include obvious representations of animals (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. The meaning of the geometric designs is unknown. To some Puebloans, it is thought the designs represent clan affiliation. The designs may also represent family or village affiliation, perhaps even something out of the potter's imagination. Hopis and other Puebloan groups consider the designs are symbolic of such things as clouds, birds, bear claws, moths, spider webs, water, friendship, and migration among other representations.

Other kinds of pottery were also found which included plain-featured (or surfaced) cooking vessels, either textured or corrugated. Black-on-red pottery from northern Arizona was traded throughout the Four Corners, as were red-on-buff styles from Utah. Shapes included many utilitarian types of vessels: water pitchers, bowls, jars, ladles, various figurines, along with a variety of miniatures. Firing to make pottery was done with wood fuel at relatively low temperatures which apparently took place in earthen trenches. To achieve a black-and-white finish, the firing environment must be oxygen-deprived (reduction atmosphere), though without excess carbon which would produce an all-black surface. Hence, the reason for creating pottery in trenches.

Eventually, new colors and designs, such as this polychrome bowl:

Evolving over the years into many splendid colors, shapes and designs:

Of course, the standard black and white was still a household favorite:

Why Is Pottery Important To Cultural Scientists? Pottery vessels contain pivotal clues about the people who made them. These clues, some hidden and some overt, provide a direct reference to their culture, their mindset.  and culture It follows how and why the styles and designs changed throughout the centuries, as well as varied across regions throughout the Four Corners, denotes a reliable historical record without a written language. For instance, cultural scientists who specialize in the study of pottery often name a ceramic type after the place where its style was first identified. Knowledge of the Ancestral Puebloans culture is thus realizes by color, texture, decoration and the shape of the vessel. Researchers follow the principle that most pottery was made in one locale and the passage of time tends to be uniform in the decoration of the vessel. It follows that ceramic fragments, called sherds, helps identify when a particular household or village was occupied. Moreover, since certain designs are unique to specific geographic areas and periods, studying and classifying designs helps reconstruct community tendencies such as established communication networks with others, social affiliation and bonding, and establishing tracing trade relationships between regions.

The distribution of certain styles equally indicates degrees of cultural continuity or discontinuity across the spectrum of time and places in a continuum. The focus of a researcher’s scrutiny is on the design of the specimen and its association with a family, clan or even a village; also, determining if the creator of the vessel free to invent or borrow designs from other regions. Another clue found in the pottery sample stems from the temper in the clay (i.e., its gritty binding material) which can be traced to its geologic source where the piece was made. The surface may also retain pollen from food plants or scrapings from a meal. Each clue discovered therefore provides a window to the past and to the person who made the vessel.

Other Functional Tools: There were other tools that, in a relative sense, took the Ancestral Puebloans from the prehistoric to the historic (from the more primal Basketmaker I to the advanced Pueblo III Eras). It was like recognizing a great leap of cultural advancement over the centuries. For instance, various hunting, building, gardening, sewing and weaving implements were fashioned, some of which were used to fabricated other tools. Many tools were made of available materials that either lasted through the centuries (stone tools), or were eroded (wood and plant fiber tools).

Even rare volcanic glass (obsidian) was desired (when found):

Cultural scientists separate the more durable stone tools into two categories, each category depending on how the tools were made, and for what purpose. Flaked stone tools are in one category and are made by breaking apart or chipping rocks (called "knapping") favorable to fashioning knives, arrows or spear heads. Harder obsidian (volcanic glass) or chert (fine-grained sedimentary rock) materials were desired for hunting weapons. Drill points were also made from these dense materials. It is thought this tool may have been used in making beads and other types of jewelry. The other category is ground stone tools. These are shaped by grinding one stone against another. The materials do not have sharp edges such as obsidian. Axe heads with a thin edge are among the most popular ground stone tools. Stones for hammering, manos and metates used for grinding food, also mortars or smaller cup-shaped indentations called paint palettes were useful for grinding pigments. Such common utensils were generally fashioned from basalt, granite and sedimentary rock, mainly sandstone. The most common tool, the hammer, was fashioned from blocks of sandstone and mainly used in building dwellings.

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The Ancestral Puebloans were specialized in a variety of tool-making. Not only did they excel at fashioning farming tools and other implements that enhanced creature comforts, they became more efficient hunters over the centuries. These hunting tools, starting with atlatls, were made of wood with a handgrip of leather or sinew at one end and notched at the end of the spear. Atlatls are also among the most primitive tools of humankind and may have arrived in North America with the first immigrants over 30,000-years-ago! Following this invention was the bow and arrow introduced some fifteen-hundred years ago (on the North American continent). Sinew from animal hide or guts was twisted together and formed the string of the bow. Flexible wood, such as from the arrow weed or willow plants was used for the structure of the bow. Arrow shafts also came from similar plants and were made straighter by grinding the natural curvature of the branches against a flat-faced piece of sandstone with a deep groove incised into its surface. This tool acted as a makeshift shaft straightener and is called by this name. Throwing sticks, which are sometimes referred to as rabbit sticks, were thrown at small game during a chase.

What can be done with the bones when the meat and animal fur is utilized? Entertainment, such as the whistle implements:

How about adding percussion with a decorated gourd rattle?

Even walnut shells may come in handy given some form of entertainment:

Hunting tools made from materials other than wood or stone were also made from plant fibers. For instance, the aforementioned yucca plant was a universal gift from nature. In this tool category, hunting, the leaves of the plant were woven into nets and snares. Some of the nets were lengthy, perhaps a hundred yards or more. Unwieldy to handle, a snare of this size would obviously require many hunters to chase their quarry. However, both snares and nets are rarely preserved. Once the animal was captured and killed scrapers and fleshers were used to remove fat and flesh and other body parts. These spatula-shaped tools were usually made from leg bones of larger mammals. Knives, among other similar cutting tools, also helped in butchering the animal before it was cooked and eaten. Nature simply supplied everything and chert always worked wonders to do whatever job needed to be done.

For agriculture, digging sticks were fashioned from hardened wood shafts. These tools made holes in the ground for planting seeds in fields and smaller gardens. Whether it was crops or game the people relied on for nutrition, the process required cooking and eating tools. Wooden drills were also used to kindle fire when spun against another piece of wood. Cups, pots, bowls and ladles were the main tools used. When the people learned how to make pottery, these vessels were used for boiling water and serving food. How water was boiled before pottery is based on conjecture; however, it’s assumed heating water in a specially fashioned metate (with a deeper curve) might have sufficed; also an implement made from a source material, like basalt, that could withstand the heat and not break. Along with the aforementioned pitch-lined baskets rocks plunged into hot water may have sufficed for a ready means to boil water.

Prehistoric hearth board to do the most important part of cooking––make fire:

For clothing, there were specialized weaving and sewing tools. Once cotton was introduced the Ancestral Puebloans learned how to spin the fibers into yarn on a drop spindle which is a wooden shaft on a pottery disc. The cotton yarn and other fibers were woven into cloth on a loom and a batten (a flat, wide stick) used to separate lines of yarn during weaving. Sewing needles and awls were fashioned from animal bones and used for piercing and stitching hide to make a variety of clothing, including leggings and moccasins. Naturally, making clothing also required twine, thread and rope which was used for multiple purposes. Coarse rope was usually made from the stronger yucca fiber, while finer thread was made from twisted hair, mostly human.

Wooden spinding whorl:

It’s apparent the Ancestral Puebloans were like most other societies and civilizations around the world. They found ways to make various tools for whatever purposes required select and specialized tools. Pottery-making tools (scrapers and shapers), brushes (made from yucca), calendar markers used for special events, such as marking the spring and autumnal equinox or the winter and summer solstice were all provided by nature in a variety of forms. These implements may have been a primitive standard compared to later developing races and cultures, yet their cultural ascent through the centuries plainly shows an imaginative and resolute people who knew how to survive, where survival depended on tool-making for many different purposes and occasions.

The Fascination And Mystery Of Rock Art: The following summary adds to the development and background of the Ancestral Puebloans common means of inscribed communication. Some of the symbols are straightforward, while others are cryptic and strange. For instance, spirals are common symbols in rock art. These may signify the sun's movement, or the passage of time. Regarding the importance of archeoastronomy, representations of shafts of sunlight strike a spiral differently at the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, and the winter and summer solstices. These spirals may have functioned as part of a ritual calendar. There’s also a different view of spirals as perceived through modern day Puebloans. Some believe the symbols represent a migration of a group from one locale to another.

Likely, a parody of the Andromeda Galaxy:

Other common symbols, which are too numerous to mention here, may have been conveyed as symbolic maps showing the location of springs, villages, or perhaps even locales were game was plentiful. In this regard, animal figures were represented which usually included pursuing human hunters. Animals of various kinds may also have played roles in rituals or prayers for successful hunting. Plant symbols, like corn, might represent a successful harvest. Other symbols may represent family, clan, or ceremonial society affiliation. (Many of these above mentioned symbols even appear as decorations on pottery.)

Note: This survey of the past takes us to a more recent time, starting with the successors of the Ancestral Puebloans, many of whom it is believed still practice some of the traditions. This historical account is addressed in a possible future diary under the broad banner of THE PUEBLOANS.
Architectural Development And Change: People who visit archeological ruins in the Southwest are fascinated by these ancient cities of stone. Mesa Verde, for instance, is a stunning palisades of lofty cliff dwellings where thousands of people once lived and thrived. Chaco Canyon’s unique solar and lunar aligned dwellings is another example. It is also considered the most mysterious archeological sites, mainly because there is lingering intrigue about this profound archeoastronomy setting as well as its religious and spiritual purpose in Chacoan society. There are both similarities and dissimilarities in settlements like these; yet each site suggests a specific function, and perhaps other functions we’re not yet aware of (and may never fully realize).

Photo from a Wilderness Vagabond extreme Kiet Siel panorama:

Initially, the Ancestral Puebloans built primitive dwellings which gradually became more sophisticated over the centuries. These structures expanded in size and acreage where the villages were built, including places to farm. Albeit the various sects scattered across the Four Corners region were alike in many ways, they also acted independently in other respects. For instance, architectural styles vary throughout the Four Corners region. The earliest constructions were known as pit-houses which were shallow excavations roofed over by earth and wood and branches. Villages tended to be built in rows or even arcs of small, square rooms made from sticks and mud plaster. These larger communities were also constructed behind clusters of pit-houses.

Wupatki National Monument dwelling design (GI/PD):

Although adobe dwellings are popular today, the Ancestral Puebloans either did not know how to build structures made from mud bricks, or else their skills tended toward building dwellings whose walls were made of clay covering, then a lattice of sticks called “jacal” construction.” The building was generally anchored to a row of heavier foundation blocks of rocks. A later modification were stone stem walls built below the upper jacal walls in some locales. Other improvements came along, as well. For instance, walls of some dwellings were mostly made from stone masonry. The design might be diligently shaped or left crude. In all cases, the masonry was held in place with a mixture of mud and clay mortar. A firmer roofing was added and made from layers of brush and clay placed over a frame of sticks or hewn logs.

Jacal construction example:

Canyons of the Ancient's Lowry Ruins masonry style used to build dwellings:

New innovative techniques were discovered over the centuries. Soon appeared the multifamily pueblos which were built and shaped with selected rock materials. Adding rooms to these larger pueblos was also much easier compared to digging a foundation for a new pit-house. The first pueblos were plain, single story complexes, but quickly evolved into larger multilevel and more striking structures. This creative building phase is generally thought to have begun sometime between 900 and 1000. These villages also tend to mimic modern apartment building structures, yet with numerous rooms added, some entirely were devoted to food storage (called "granaries").

Typical granary (Canyonlands NPS photostream):

Taos Pueblo:

The Taos Pueblo in northern New Mexico is a classic example of this functional design of living in a sheltered and protected community stocked with ample food supplies in special rooms inside the main structure. Incidentally, the actual living room space in Ancestral Puebloans villages was usually outside on a rooftop or plaza during clement weather. Indoor areas were mainly for sleeping or working in wet, windy or cold weather. Most rooms were also storage rooms and much like walled-in closets. Throughout the Four Corners region pit-house village settlements and pueblo-style villages overlapped over the centuries. The earliest pueblos were essentially a slightly curving design of storage rooms constructed behind a cluster of the more primitive-style pit-houses. The above ground storage rooms gradually became more utilitarian in purpose and were used for living, sleeping and working quarters, while pit-houses became deeper and less numerous. After this transition, cultural scientists often refer to them as kivas. Some kivas were square rooms, as are present-day Hopi kivas.

Note: The difference between Ancestral Puebloans kivas and Puebloan kivas of today is notable. Kivas in archaeological sites are much more numerous than kivas in modern villages and may have had different functions. Possibly, these ceremonial rooms may have belonged to individual families or even clans. Since the kiva portion of the village evolved from earlier habitations, as dwellings (pit-houses), these special rooms probably were used more often as working or sleeping quarters than are modern kivas. Again, without a written record we can only speculate about such things.
As for the designated Great Kivas, these ceremonial chambers denote a different kind of building and structure. They are also not connected to any single family unit, or even a set of “living” rooms. Instead, they are much larger than basic kivas. Apparently, they were used to host special community events. The oldest known Great Kivas are as old as the earliest pit-house villages, dating from around the first year of the Common Era. Great Kivas may be the true forerunners of modern, communal kivas.

Chetro Ketl (Chaco Canyon) Great Kiva (photo by Ron Reznick):

Between 1200 and 1300 a new development in architecture began to appear in some places in the Four Corners region.These are the aforementioned cliff dwellings. These uniquely designed villages high above canyon floors are comparable to present-day single-floor tract housing ramped up to high rise apartment or condominium living. What amounts to scaled-down pueblos, cliff dwellings were built into shallow caves and high off the canyon floor (which is also where such caves tend to form). The best examples are seen in Mesa Verde, Kiet Siel (also sometimes written “Keet Seel”), Comb Ridge, Montezuma Castle, and Canyon de Chelly. These so-called sky village sites also offer several environmental advantages over more conventional puebloan dwellings: they provide shelter from rain and snow, they favor good solar orientation (sunshine in the winter and shade during the summer), and the rooms are generally free of rodents, reptiles and crawling insects. Often, there’s a spring nearby, or at least some reliable water source (a seep) through the porous sandstone or limestone foundation housing the dwellings. Generally, the people felt safer living in their quarters high above ground. Another practical advantage is the cave shelters did not intrude on scarce agricultural land. Perhaps the builders of these lofty dwellings had one other favorable idea in mind: defense. With ample food and water storage inhabitants could wait out any potential threat by enemies, at least for a reasonable amount of time. Evidence of discriminate warfare around the 1300s also suggests (to some cultural scientists) cliff dwellings were likely built for this purpose, also in fairly remote canyons or in elevated terrain such as Mesa Verde.

Note: Who these invaders were no one can say with any certainty. It’s possible warfare was instigated by one or more Ancestral Puebloans clans raiding another clan. It’s also reasonable to assume outsiders coming into the territory posed the threat. As for reasons why warfare was rampant sometime before the great diaspora in the late 1300s, something to do with religion may have incited clan differences, even social practices that were considered a threat by neighboring or distant communities. This particular theory, however, is too broad and too convoluted to deal with in this part of the text. Another likely reason may have been invaders covetous of food stores held by others. It is a known fact this period saw the greatest numbers of people living in the Southwest, yet natural resources, especially water and cultivated land, were seriously diminished. The water table was also much lower, adding to the woes of sustainability by any means (crop yield, wild plants and abundant game). If it turns out the Ancestral Puebloans in various sectors of the  Colorado Plateau were competing for limited resources, natural and cultivated, or else there were invaders from beyond the territory, such conditions typically effect an otherwise cooperative human spirit. In short, human nature is corrupted. Religious recrimination is much the same.

Inside The Community: The social structures of the Ancestral Puebloans can be drawn, or at least inferred, from how modern Puebloans form their communities. Traditionally, Puebloans are matrilineal (handed down from mother to daughter). Children are part of the mother's clan. Because Puebloans are matrilocal, upon marriage husbands traditionally move into the bride's family household. Their society is also matriarchal, meaning that homes and farm land are owned by, and inherited from, the mother. It also means the 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 is usually a man.

Archaeological evidence about the Ancestral Puebloans is indirect, and therefore does not tend to reveal too much about their beliefs, religion, political system, not even their social customs. Sometimes the geographic patterning of settlements in the landscape where they constructed their dwellings and formed their villages are indicators of social relationships. Otherwise, cultural scientists and socialists alike who study these ancient people can only assume that many cultural patterns more than likely are the same today as they were in the distant past. Indeed, the modern day Puebloans make this claim. In archeological sites there’s evidence of men weaving in kivas, and therefore a place that wasn’t just set aside for religious practices. Males also socialized in kivas, while females had their own special place in other parts of the village. Males, today, are still recognized as weavers in Puebloan society. They also may be inclined to weave and socialize in kivas as a sort of male-only fraternity.

Many modern Puebloans believe their 13th Century Ancestral Puebloans (and before) were organized into clans and governed by clan elders. After all, this is how Puebloans today maintain their cultural infrastructure. However, some cultural scientists doubt that the clan system existed in that prehistoric timeframe mainly because they see little evidence for it. It is theorized, instead, that clan formation was a direct response to social and geographical dislocations between 1300 and 1400. There was also a need for a new way to define relationships between new neighbors. In this hypothetical view, clans therefore came to represent people who previously migrated as a group and then settled with other groups to form a larger community. Which brings us to the even more culturally sensitive matter of religious practices fostered by the Ancestral Puebloans.

Religious Rites And Practices (Common Knowledge): Anthropological findings reveal sparing information and findings about beliefs, religion, political system, or social customs of the Ancestral Puebloans; also, what is revealed tends to be based on conjecture. However, many early religious ideas and traditions are doubtless preserved in the modern Puebloan culture. For instance, Puebloan religion and its practice is based on maintaining harmony with the natural world. This factor, harmony, was also the key to survival for the Ancestral Puebloans. Like today, they probably held public and private ceremonies intended to benefit the group as a whole. Different segments of society may also have been responsible for various key events, each one important to the spiritual and material well-being of the community. According to the Anasazi Heritage Center, some modern villages ritually divide their communities into "summer people and winter people," or "squash people and turquoise people" with each half assuming different religious responsibilities.

Archeoastronomy: Star gazing denotes another form of religious or spiritual practice, at least something based on a cosmological reference. Archeoastronomy entails astute observations of the sun, moon and stars throughout the year were essential for planning activities. For instance, when to start planting and when to prepare for winter. Important religious beliefs and events were equally associated with seasonal tasks like farming (in spring and summer) and hunting (in fall and winter). As in many other agricultural societies, these important and fundamental rituals were keyed to annual events based upon the winter solstice or the beginning of the harvest season. Glyphs pecked or painted on the rocks depicting animal figures or other obscure figures may have been connected to prayers or magical rituals for successful hunting. (Recommend reading the archeoastronomy series:

Who was it in charge of these ceremonies? If not selected individuals representing select clans, then ceremonial leaders (or “elders”) and related ceremonial practices were likely in Ancestral Puebloans society; at least some tribal status by any other name is suggested (priests or holy men). Generally, such influential members of the community were more akin to nomadic cultures; those important tribal figures who sought visions for many different things such as healing, locating wildlife, prognostication or warfare. These seers used various means to enhance their powers. Prolonged dancing, intoxicants, hallucinations induced by common psychotropics, such as peyote or sacred datura plants, were employed for various rituals. Elders were also said to be able to reach the spirit world and communicate with spirits on behalf of their people.

The so-called sacred datura (Datura wrightii); also known as "Jimson weed" or "thorn apple" (where the highly toxic seeds are stored):

Doubtless, the Ancestral Puebloans pursued such visions for similar purposes. Yet today’s Puebloans (for the most part) do not consider such rituals a part of their culture. Instead, their religious leaders (sometimes referred to as priests or holy men) obtain wisdom from inherited traditions as opposed to having ecstatic visions. These leaders are usually chosen by family lineage, and one’s initiation rites into various religious societies becomes the means to gain possession of secret knowledge. Like elders of the ancient times and ways, these chosen leaders induce rain through ceremony linked with prayer. In this regard, they are thought to obtain a special level of communication with spirits and deities. Naturally, people chosen for this role are expected to be exemplary members of their communities, demonstrating a notable moral character in all ways.

The Role Of The Spirt Beings: Katsinas are important within all Puebloan villages. These beings act as religious intermediaries representing the temporal and the eternal (the cosmos). They help keep humankind in check, otherwise life is koyaanisqatsi, meaning “out of balance.” During the summer months kachina dancers in Puebloan villages interact with ancestor spirits and bring rain, at least that is the intention of these elaborate costumed dances. The earliest trace of kachina imagery in rock art appears in southern New Mexico, parts of west Texas and central Arizona. However, these spirit beings were not present in the 1200s or before. They appear in Ancestral Puebloans and Puebloan societies sometime during the Pueblo IV Era (1350 to 1600). For the Zuñis, they believe that the kachinas live in the “Lake of the Dead,” which is a mythical lake reached only through Listening Spring Lake located at the junction of the Zuñi and Little Colorado rivers. For the Hopi, the kachinas are said to live on the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff. Their most important kachinas are called “wuya.” These kachinas are given special status as being the most moral and ethical of all deities.

Note: Kachina dolls, which are wooden icons representing kachinas, are often given as gifts to children. The other known observance and meaning of a kachina is that they represent something in the natural world or cosmos from a revered ancestor to an element, a specified location, a quality, a natural phenomenon or an abstraction. Remarkably, there are more than four hundred different kachinas in Hopi and Puebloan culture. The local pantheon of kachinas also varies in each pueblo community. There may be kachinas for the sun, stars, thunderstorms, wind, corn, insects, and many other ideas. Notably, kachinas are understood as having humanlike relationships, such as parents, siblings, spouses and children. Although not worshipped, each is viewed as a powerful being who, if given veneration and respect, can use their particular power for human good such as bringing rainfall, healing, fertility, or protection. The central theme of the kachina cult is the presence of life in all objects that fill the universe. Everything therefore has an essence (or a life force) and humans must interact with these, or else fail to survive.
And so, DKos community, we come to the end of another trail, another armchair tour of a special supplement. There will be other scenic places to tour and more supplemental topics to read and think about, so stay tuned for a continuation in this series.

Tomorrow, there is a tour of a very special place in the Southwest where the prehistoric meets the historic and contemporary, and found in one of the most talked about Navajo Reservation settings: Canyon de Chelly. I hope you’ll join me for another virtual tour that begins near Chinle, Arizona.

As always, your thoughtful commentaries are welcomed.


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Originally posted to History for Kossacks on Fri Mar 08, 2013 at 11:09 AM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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