Tools of the Southwest Desert Native Americans

by Jennifer Groepl
American Indians in the desert used tools made out of what they had in most abundance: stone, bone, clay and sand.

American Indians in the desert used tools made out of what they had in most abundance: stone, bone, clay and sand.

Some of the Native Americans who lived in the deserts of the Southwest include the Anasazi, Hopi, Navajo, Pueblo and the Zuni. These tribes used similar tools to survive in their harsh desert climates. Because tools are used to accomplish work, identifying a culture's tools tells us much about how they lived.

Mano and Mutate

A modern-day mortar and pestle is used for the same purpose as a mano and mutate.

Maize, or corn, was a dietary staple of early desert inhabitants. Grinding the corn by hand, they crushed it with a small stone called a mano onto a larger stone called a mutate. The repeated friction smoothed both stones to create a bowl-like indention into the larger stone. Oblong stones made the best manos, providing a place to hold on to while grinding the corn.


Southwestern desert Indians engaged in the weaving of both fabrics and baskets. While baskets were weaved by hand, vertical looms were constructed for the weaving of fabric for rugs, blankets and clothing. Large looms required wooden shuttles and combs to weave and compress the work. Indian women used back-strap looms for creating smaller items, such as belts, sashes and other ornamental items.

Sharp Tools

Native Americans processed animal skins with scraping stones.

Without metal-working knowledge or skills, Native American tribes sharpened stones and bones to create cutting and scraping tools. Cryptocrystalline rocks, such as obsidian, were shaped and sharpened by a careful flaking process, allowing for the creation of arrowheads, knives and scraping stones. Indians used scraping stones to scrape animal hides, making them softer and more pliable. Shaping bones into awls, or large needles, allowed the women to make clothing.


Native American tribes created distinctive pottery.

Desert pottery was both utilitarian and decorative. Southwestern Native Americans created jars and bowls out of clay combined with tempering materials, such as sand or mica, to avoid cracking. They used pottery for cooking, storing and serving foods and beverages. Serving vessels were often hand painted before firing. Each tribe developed distinct artistic features to their pottery and traded with neighboring tribes.

About the Author

Based in Cape Coral, Fla., Jennifer Groepl began writing career-related articles in 2010. She also runs her own medical transcription service. Certified in secondary education, Groepl holds a Bachelor of Science in social sciences from Florida State University and a Master of Arts in curriculum and instruction from New Mexico State University.

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