Who Were the Anasazi?

by Regina Sass
Today's Navajo people practice weaving techniques likely developed by their ancestors.

Today's Navajo people practice weaving techniques likely developed by their ancestors.

The Anasazi were the ancestors of the modern-day Pueblo people of Arizona and New Mexico. They were not considered a tribe, though their descendents today comprise the federally recongized Navajo Nation. Contemporary Pueblo people view the term "Anasazi" as an ethnic slur because it translates as "ancient enemy" in the Navajo language. Everything we know of these Indians comes from archaeological finds. They were suburb craftsmen and the things they made were meant to last. The homes they built, as well as pieces of their craft work and clothing, still exist today, 1800 years after they were made. Studying the early Pueblo people has given researchers a good picture of what life was like for them and other early Native Americans who are ancestors of the modern-day tribes.

Origins of the Early Pueblo People

The so-called Anasazi people inhabited the Four Corners Region of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah from about A.D. 1 to about 1300. Before settling in the area they were nomadic hunter gatherers for an estimated 6,000 years. It is unknown whether or not they spoke a common language across the entire Four Corners Region.

Occupations of the Early Pueblo People

The ancestors of the Pueblo people were both farmers and hunter/gatherers. They used astronomical observations to mark the summer and winter equinoxes, which allowed helped determine when to plant crops. They grew crops such as corn, beans and squash -- and hunted for game with spears. They gathered wild plants such as amaranth, pinyon nuts, Indian rice grass, sunflower seeds and tansy mustard seeds. They also domesticated wild turkeys and dogs.

Pueblo Housing

The early Pueblo people lived in pit houses as well as in multi-story cliff dwellings. They heated their homes with hot stones that they placed in a pit dug in the middle of the floor. They also dug pits that were used for storage, and lined the pits with plaster or flat slabs of stone. Larger pits dug out in the open suggest that community life and activities were very important.

Crafts and Artistry

The early Pueblo people were potters. Many bowls, ladles, mugs and other ceramic items have been found in the area and dated to their time period. They also made baskets from the fibers of the native plants. They made their clothes from fur and wore robes made from turkey feathers. Their shoes were sandals made from the fibers of plants. They also had a talent for carving. Examples survive of exquisite carvings of flowers.

Disappearance and Relocation

The Anasazi left the Four Corners region around 1300. The exact reason is unknown, but they may have left because of a severe drought that struck the area about around that time and lasted for many decades. They probably moved on to settle in the Kayenta Region of northern Arizona, southern Utah and southwestern Colorado.

Photo Credits

  • Hulton Archive/Hulton Archive/Getty Images