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2.6 Anasazi


The early Anasazi culture emerged in northern Arizona and the Four Corners area probably around 400 AD. The Anasazi lived then in centralised sites surrounded by large cultivated fields and one-story houses of multi room dwellings

Cliff Palace of Mesa Verde, in Arizona, United States,

Cliff Palace of Mesa Verde, in Arizona, United States (Wikipedia)

. They grew two crops of maize a year as well as beans and cotton. They irrigated their land and dug wells to get water. More than 50,000 Anasazi sites have been found in the Four Corners area, the main ones being Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde. The western Anasazi settled along the little Colorado and San Juan River while the eastern Anasazi lived on the Rio Grande and Chaco River.

The Anasazi constructed Pueblo Bonito at Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, in several phases starting in 913. Sandstone blocks and mud plaster were used in the construction that first rose three stories high with a total of about 100 rooms. In 1019 the construction was resumed with thousand of workers and the second phase was terminated in 1067. Seven other great pueblos were also built. The wood beams came from forest as far away as 75 miles and transported on foot. The lower walls were by then three feet thick to support the five-story construction. Pueblo Bonito had now 650 rooms. The front plaza had two kivas, one 63 feet in diameter, for community religious functions. Eleven other connecting structures had 2,000 other rooms. Between 1,119 and 1,180 the Chaco Canyon peoples built over 500 miles of roads carved in the rock to link outlining communities with Pueblo Bonito. The roads were straight and 30 feet wide. Each of the settlements was organised on the same design as Pueblo Bonito: a great kiva, a multi-storey central house and around agricultural fields.

The construction of pueblos at Mesa Verde, southern Colorado, started in 1073 and the settlement reached its peak from 1,100 to 1,300. The largest of its palace, Cliff Palace, contained 220 rooms, 23 kivas and housed up to 350 people. By 1,300 it had been abandoned and its inhabitants had moved to the Hopi/Zuni areas and to the Rio Grande pueblos. Before the invasion of Coronado in 1540 there were about 100 pueblos in the Rio Grande area. Their inhabitants are thought to be the descendants of Mesa Verde.

The village of Awatovi on Antelope Mesa dates from 1175. It is believed that it was settled initially by Anasazi from a site near Winslow.

The Anasazi are also known as the Prehistoric People of the Four Corners Region of the Southwest where present days Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico meet. The Spaniards who invaded their lands where only interested in converting them to Catholicism, in using them as free labour in agriculture and in their building programmes and in destroying them if they did not submit to their rule. They were not interested at all in their history and this is also true for the Mexicans and Americans who came later.

The study of the prehistoric ruins did not start until after 1875 when the Navajos, Apaches and Utes had been defeated. The early archaeologists first discovered the Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde, Colorado. This was followed by many other discoveries that were often thought to be too civilised to have been built by the Native Indians and they were classified as “Aztec Ruins”. The archaeological methods were very crude and many sites were destroyed before 1920 without giving any information. A meeting of Archaeologists in Pecos in 1927 formalized the “Pecos Classification” that is used today in a more refined form.

Initially it was thought that the earlier people, named “Basketmaker”, had been replaced by some new arrivals named “Pueblo Indians. Now it is known that both were part of the same cultural tradition. The Navajos Indians who arrived in the Southwest in the 1500s knew that the ruins they saw were not of their ancestors and they called the ancient inhabitants Anasazi which means “Old Enemies” (or “Old Ones”) and the name has been generally accepted. The tree-ring dating method allowed the Archaeologists to date the activities of the Anasazi with great accuracy. It allowed finding, directly or indirectly, the time when an architectural style or even a type of pottery became common. This allowed the archaeologists to find that not every tribe, nor every group within a tribe, stated to do a certain thing at the same time. For instance, some Anasazi kept doing things the old way for centuries while others accepted straight away the new religious, social and technical ideas. In other words, not all Anasazi groups reached the same degree of development at the same time.

2.6.1- History

The stages of the Anasazi development, based on the Pecos classification method, can be briefly described as follow:

–    Basketmaker I (BMI): The Southwest was populated for at least 10,000 years before the Anasazi settled in. These people relied on the Pleistocene fauna for food and clothing. Due to the disappearance of the fauna and also to their better knowledge of plants, many Anasazi groups moved seasonally from place to place to find the necessary food.
–    Basketmaker II (BMII): From about 100BC to 500 AD, the Anasazi were growing corn and squash but they were hunting too. Bows and arrows were not yet in use and they had to rely on spears; dogs helped with the hunting. The people of that period lived in caves and they dug pits to store food. In some areas they built circular log houses. They made good-quality baskets but no pottery yet.
–    Basketmaker III (BMIII): This period extended from 500 to 700 AD. Beans were now cultivated and permanent villages of semi-interred circular houses became common. The Anasazi, in addition to their fine baskets, now made some rough pottery both plain grey and painted black-on-grey. The bow and arrow replaced the spear as hunting tools.
–    Pueblo I (PI): During this period (700 to 900 AD), the Anasazi strapped their babies to hard cradles to flatten the back of their heads. Houses were built closer to each other having even some common walls but pit houses remained in use. Pottery technique and style changed. In addition to the plain gray and painted black-on-grey pottery, black-on-white, black-on-red and red-on-orange pottery appeared and became popular.
–    Pueblo II (PII): The Anasazi population increased from 900 1,170 AD. Black-on-white and black-on-red pottery continued to be made but bolder designs were used. Most settlements remained small with three to twenty living rooms but there were many more villages, some in canyons and on mesas. In every village there was at least one separate circular and underground building known by the Hopi name of “kiva”. They were used for religious purposes and as a men club or clan house.
–    Pueblo III (PIII): This phase lasted from 1,000 (or 1,120) to 1,200 (or 1,300). The Anasazi started to live in larger masonry villages, where the houses were several stories high. The number of settlements probably decreased but the population was still increasing. This population pressure as well as the scarce resources and the wars (probably with the modern Ute and Paiute ancestors) led them to build their villages in easily defendable locations such as mesa tops and caves, whereas some of the villages of the PII period were abandoned. Pottery, basketry, weaving, architecture, jewellery and other arts reached new heights. Internal and trade with their neighbours increased too.  However the Anasazi had problems with some other tribes, droughts, arroyo cutting, soil depletion and the overuse of timbers and other resources. From 1,100 people started to move south to less populated regions in the mountains of central Arizona and New Mexico. These migrations went on in the 1,200s and by 1,300s the entire San Juan drainage was abandoned.
–    Pueblo IV (PIV): from 1,300 to 1,598 the northern Anasazi moved south to join their relatives living in the Hopi region along the Little Colorado River, in the Zuni region and near the Rio Grande or even further south. Large villages housing hundred or thousand of people were common but the architecture, and even the pottery, was not as good as during the PIII phase. The agriculture had to be adapted to the new locations. Religion was still very important in the people’s lives. Art, personal adornment and trade became more and more important. If the Spaniards had not invaded them they would probably have become mainly urban. Although this invasion started in 1540 with Coronado, it only became an important factor in the live of the Anasazi from 1,598 when the missionaries, settlers and soldiers arrived in great number.
–    Pueblo V (PV): This period extends from 1598 until the last Anasazi disappeared at a date that is not known. To eliminate the Pueblo religion the Spaniards burned all the ceremonial masks, sacred objects and kivas that they could find. People were whipped for not attending church and forced labour was common. The introduction of livestock led to land erosion and new diseases killed many natives. Their more nomadic neighbours were not as much affected by the invaders and the newly acquired horses increased their raiding power. The Pueblos, for once united, rebelled in 1680, killed many Spaniards and drove the remaining south of El Paso where they remained for twelve years. Some Pueblos followed the defeated invaders and their descendants are still living near El Paso. The others joined the Navajo in Northern New Mexico or the Hopi westward. Still some others returned later on to their villages along the Rio Grande but they soon abandoned them and they disappeared.

2.6.2- Agriculture

The Anasazi lived of agriculture and their main crop was maize or corn that was eaten fresh or dried for storage. BMII people ground this dried corn from which they made flat breads or cakes. BMII people also grew squash. The Anasazi men hunted deer, mountain sheep, rabbits, birds and small animals while the women collected seeds that were also stored to be eaten during winter months.

During the BMIII period the Anasazi started cultivating beans that they ate with corn. Irrigation became common around 1,000 AD (Pueblo II period). From 1150 onward until about 1,700 the climate changed and the Southwest became drier making life difficult for the Anasazi. Crops became poorer and many villages were abandoned. Moreover the Utes and the Payutes invaded their lands. Chaco Canyon was abandoned by 1,150 and all the rest of San Juan by 1,300. The Anasazi developed more intensive farming that allowed them to live through the dry period but their way of live had been changed. The only animals known to the Anasazi were the turkeys (especially for their feathers) and dogs for meat and fur. Hunting, with bow and arrow instead of spear, also helped them to weather the bad times but their life was difficult during this period.

2.6.3- Houses

It is known that the Basketmakers I built some kinds of shelters but the early hunters and gatherers were always on the move and did not build permanent houses. The BMII people lived near the fields where they planted corns and other seeds. The only existing ruins of the BMII houses are in southwestern Colorado. These houses were circular, about 10 to 25 feet in diameter, with a fire in the centre of the floor and the walls were made of logs covered with mud like the Navajo hogans. Basketmakers II lived in families, or in small groups of families, spread over the landscape. BMII people west of the Four Corners do not seem to have built houses, they lived in the open when the weather was good, and in caves otherwise. Caves and pits were also widely used to store grain and protect it from bad weather. They were also used as burial chambers.

During the Basketmakers III period, more families lived together in villages of ten to twenty households in large circular houses with the floor one to three feet in the ground. These houses were warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Very often they had circular entryways on the southeastern side, the predominant wind coming from southwest. In this way the morning sun could warm the house in the winter. The roof was supported by four posts and had a smokehouse above the firepit below. Inside walls divided the lodging in many rooms, the biggest one being a kind of living room. Inside the houses there was very often a grinding slab to make corn flour. Grain was sometime stored in the BMIII houses although storage was generally done in small bins behind the houses.

By Pueblo I times, these bins were becoming bigger and bigger and were often used as lodging especially during the summer. At the end of Pueblo I many people lived in these ground-surface rooms, the pit houses being used for religious ceremonies and as winter houses. However these pit houses were used exclusively as religious structures during the Pueblo IV period, and became known as “kiva”, whereas in Pueblo II and III they had many uses but they were already known as “kiva”. Masonry became known to the Anasazi during Pueblo II times. As a consequence walls were made of stones and mud mortar and the roofs were made of horizontal beams covered with sticks, bark and mud. Villages had a row or more of contiguous living and storage rooms with one or more kivas. Pueblo III saw the construction of large masonry pueblos. The largest was Pueblo Bonito in Chaco canyon which had about 20 rooms in 1,000 AD to reach 800 rooms and kivas by 1,150, the buildings being up to four stories high. Mesa Verde walls were built with stones of the same size set in mud mortar whereas the Kayentans constructed walls of unshaped rocks filling the irregularities with smaller stones. Rooms were generally small with small doors but at Chaco they were larger than in Mesa Verde or Kayenta. Kivas were usually circular and as subterranean as possible. Circular benches, several feet high, were supporting columns, or pilasters, on which the log roofs rested. Some kivas had an alcove or recess on the southeastern side. They also had central firepits and the entrance through the roofs served as smokehole, fresh air being provided by a shaft. Kivas were always used more by men than by women but they became exclusively used by men in Pueblo IV for religious activities but also as a club house. This helped to ease the tensions in the modern Pueblo societies that were matrilocal (all the women in a village are closely related and men are treated almost as outsiders). Kivas became bigger and bigger reaching more than fifty feet in diameter at Chaco.

During the thirteenth century the Anasazi moved their villages to more defensible locations: tops of steep-sided little mesas, caves in canyon walls, promontories, etc. They also protected their villages with defensive walls starting with the end of the PIII period. This was their reaction to the invasion of the Four Corners Area by the Utes and Payutes who drove the local inhabitants away from their homes by forces so that they could live on their stored supplies for as long as possible. They then raided the next village. The Anasazi were forced to leave the San Juan drainage area by the end of the PIII (about 1,300 AD). In their new land in the south they built cruder houses even if the Pueblo IV rooms were larger and few new great kivas were built. Larger villages were built as masses of rooms or, more frequently, in several room blocks separated by plazas or streets. The arrivals of the Spanish invaders influenced the new constructions and put an end to this new PIV Anasazi culture.

2.6.4- Clothing, Jewellery

Due to the rough nature of their land the Anasazi wore sandals of different types depending on the period. Clothing varied according to the climate. In cold weather, cloaks or shirt-like garments were worn as well as rabbit-fur blankets, several feet square. In the summer most basketmakers did not wear any clothes. BMII and BMIII women wore aprons made of long strips of juniper bark brought between the legs and looped over a waist string in front and back. In the last part of the BMIII period they were made of woven strings with elaborate designs. Anasazi clothing remained very simple even in the following centuries and they were worn more often for decoration rather that for protection. Later on they also wore feather blankets. Loom weaving became common in the PIII period and cotton ponchos were used as well as blankets. Anasazi liked to decorate their bodies. Men wore their hair long (braided or tied in various ways) while women wore them short at least during the BMII times. Later on, in the Pueblo period young women liked complicated hairdos. From Pueblo I, the Anasazi changed the shape of their heads by strapping the babies to their cradles for the first months of their life so that their heads grew sideways with the back ending up flat. Men, women and children wore jewellery: necklaces, pendants, bracelets and rings. Olivella and abalone shells from California were used in the BMII period as well as beads made from bones, seeds and many coloured stones. By Pueblo III, shells from California became very popular as well as jet, bone, turquoise, argillite and other minerals but coloured feathers were most liked; copper bells were imported from Mexico. Mosaic work was also done.

2.6.5- Basketry

Baskets were already made 10,000 years ago in western North America and by the BMII period many different shapes, styles and techniques were known. The earliest Anasazi are known as Basketmakers because they made baskets of high quality. They ranged in size from a few inches to a few feet in diameter and often they were decorated with black designs. Some were waterproof made by skilled artisans using willow, squashbush or other twigs. BMII baskets are made by coiling in which twigs are wrapped with sewing spints. Baskets have different shapes: shallow trays one or two feet in diameter; bowls about one foot in diameter; trinket baskets with a narrow opening used for personal effect; large, conical, carrying baskets thirty or more inches in diameter used to gather and carry plant foods, etc. The Anasazi also made different types of strings from single-ply threads to heavy rope. Yucca and other plant fibbers, dog hair, human hair and cotton were generally used. In the BMIII period baskets were made in the same way with the addition of twilled baskets. BMIII people sometime decorated their baskets. We do not know much about Pueblo I and II basketry styles as few basket of this time were ever found. In the late PIII period Anasazi were still making nice and good baskets. However when the Anasazi started to make pottery the quantity and quality of their baskets decreased. Very little is known of the basketry skill during the PIV period only that their quality had decreased. Now only a few Pueblos still make baskets for tourists and collectors. The Anasazi also weaved mats to cover the floor and doors, carrying and hunting nets, snares, straps, blankets and ponchos. The tradition slowly disappeared although some Navajo and Hopi Indians are still carrying it after learning the technique from the Pueblos more than a century ago.

2.6.6- Pottery

From the early times Anasazi produced a large quantity of various pottery of quality. Pottery is very useful to study prehistoric culture changes. Their study is not limited to their shape and design; physical and chemical tests are made on pigments as well as microscopic and petrographic analyses of the bodies. These analyses can be best made on whole pots but much information can also be obtained from broken parts. Most Anasazi pottery have round bottoms because they are less likely to crack while drying and firing. Decoration varied with their use. Jars are decorated outside while bowls are decorated inside. The Anasazi learned the pottery craft from the Mogollon and indirectly from the Mesoamerican but they soon had their own technique and design. Early BMIII pottery was plain grey unpolished ware of very simple shape. Soon some potters started to paint their bowls with simple designs in black. In the western Anasazi region, such as near Kayenta, the paint was organic, made from plant juices. In the eastern parts, paints were mineral, usually iron, but both types of paint turned black in the firing process, unless the pots were oxidised, which caused the iron paint to become red. By PI times painted pottery was more common for jar as well as for bowls. Their pottery was made with clay that turned to a light grey or white colour under firing. The designs were still black. In Utah the Anasazi produced pottery that fired orange during firing and decorated with simple red designs. The Pueblo II produced black–on-white pottery corrugated on the outside while smooth on the inside. In the north Kayenta region some black-on-red pottery started to appear. During PIII, potters in central Kayenta, Mesa Verde and Rio Grande made excellent black-on-white pottery with the black design covering most of the pot external surface. Designs and shapes varied from region to region. Corrugated pottery was still done during this period but the quality decreased and by the end of the PIII corrugated pottery was not made anymore. Pueblo IV potters produced new shapes, used new colour combination and made pottery with thicker walls that can be easily identified. Black-on-white pottery disappeared to be replaced by black-on-yellow in the Little Colorado and Hopi areas. The use of glazes as paint spread to the Zuni area and then to the Rio Grande. Mineral paints that melt at low temperatures were not much used by the Anasazi. They were only used to create design and not as a glaze that would make the pot waterproof. As a result their pots could hold water but they were porous and the water would seep through them. PIV pottery is crude compared to what was done in the PII and PIII period but they served their purpose. The Hopi and the Zuni, however, were still doing good and well decorated ware. After the arrival of the Europeans, Pueblo pottery declined. This was due in part to the introduction of metallic pots and pans that replaced the traditional pottery.

2.6.7- Religion

Nature could bring plenty or disaster to the Anasazi. A long period of drought could result in poor crops, poor hunting and poor gathering. Floods could destroy farms and cold winter could bring disaster. Lack of food did not necessarily mean starvation but weaker people were more subject to diseases, especially the young and the old. Like most other people Anasazi tried to influence nature by influencing supernatural forces through religion. Knowledge in this field is based on the interpretation of artefacts and architecture linked to religious ceremonies. BMII people seem to have been individualists with very little communal religious organisation. They did not built any structures to practice together any organised religious activities. Our sources of information come from burials, “medicine bundles” and “ceremonial objects” although all of these have secular and religious aspects. Medicine men, or Shamans, used tobacco as an aid to gain supernatural power necessary to diagnose and cure illnesses. Feathers, stones, bone whistles, human scalp, stuffed bird heads, decorated bone tubes tied in pair and many other objects such as wooden “wands” were also used in curing ceremonies. BMII people usually buried their dead in caves with their knees drawn up to the chest. Bodies were wrapped in a fur blanket or deerskin and buried with baskets, clothing and personal items. This habit to be buried with the personal possession lasted until the BMIII period but this habit had disappeared by Pueblo III.

Anasazi showed some belief in an afterworld or life after death. Shamanistic practices continued after the BMII period as shown by medicine bundles and other objects. Pueblo Shamans used “Sacred Datura”, a hallucinogenic plant often found near the Pueblo III cliff sites, to help them reach the spirit world. This plant was also given to patients. From BMIII ceremonies involving many people became more common as the presence of kivas at all PIV sites shows. Communal religious observance was also common during the PII and PIII periods. These ceremonies revolved around the seasonal cycle: renewal and rebirth at the winter solstice, fertility and growth in the spring, rain during the summer and thanksgiving in the fall. Each ceremony implied a long period of planning and preparation. The public performance by men clothed to represent some supernatural beings was preceded by days of secret activities. The resources spent in the construction of the great kivas show the importance of the ceremonies conducted in them. Very few objects have been found in the ruins of the kivas because they would have been considered too valuable to be left behind.

Petroglyphs and pictographs found of cliffs are often graffiti but some of them represent supernatural ideas although we do not know what they mean. These designs appeared also on house walls and in the kivas in the PIII and PIV periods. Regional variations in religious practices occurred between 100 and 1,600 AD, but the general tendency seems to have been one of increasing complexity based, in part, on Mesoamerican influence. Mesoamerican traders visited the Anasazi and some Anasazi journeyed south. Very few Pueblo Indians were influenced by Christianity especially as the Spaniards first, and then the Anglo missionaries, tried to impose it on them. Pueblo religion only went underground where it flourished and ceremonies were, and are still performed secretly in the kivas with no outsiders allowed to participate. Religious tolerance was greater among the Anasazi than among the Christians and each pueblo had its own ceremonial.

2.6.8- Conclusions

The Anasazi country includes pine-covered mountains, sand dunes, flat plains, deep canyons, sandstone cliffs, lava flows and desert floor. Days can be very hot and nights very cold, the summers are short and hot and the winters long and cold. The average rainfall is about six inches a year in some places. There were many plant foods and edible animals but it takes a lot of work to gather and store the food for the winter so the Anasazi looked to agriculture to provide the necessary food to feed the growing population. In the good year they were able to grow more corn and beans that they could eat. Not all their land was suitable for agriculture and the climate in the Four Corners area is not always the best. Large fluctuations have also been noticed over a 550-year cycle. During the years 600 and 1,250 AD the moisture was optimum and this was very good for agriculture. On the opposite the years 875 and 1,425 were too dry. The periods of expansion for the Anasazi coincide with the wettest times: the BMII and BMIII in the 500s and 700s, and PII and PIII in the 1,000s to 1,200s. Poor climatic periods saw social disruption from newcomers and the formation of larger villages, probably for defence. Even in the last centuries the Pueblos some years died of starvation and from illnesses linked to the lack of food and mass burials took place.

Anasazi were keen to play games and their children had toys. Small figurines were use in fertility ceremonies or to ensure good harvest. At about the time of puberty, children were initiated into the mysteries of religion and marriage. Summer and fall were busy times and, if the harvest was good, the winter could be dedicated to crafts, intrigues, dances and visiting. Men could be away from their village for months, learning new curing techniques, trading turquoise for shell, raiding or just travelling. Not all the Anasazi were experts in all the fields. Some women were better that the others in certain crafts, and men could be good as priests, shamans, hunters, farmers, traders or warriors. Women were more bound to the home, and the house and the furniture often belonged to them. They also formed the core of the stable family unit. If a man did not like his mother-in-law he could go back to live with his own mother; and if his wife’s relatives did not like he could be send out. Men dug irrigation canals, built houses, cut trees and provided meat for the family. Women were in charge of the house, the children and grinding corn. Most people suffered of bad teeth, the old ones had arthritis and rheumatism and young ones died often of malnutrition and pneumonia.  They broke their arms and legs, crushed their fingers and were bitten by gnats. There were also raids, feuds and wars and occasionally the victors ate the bodies of the losers. They denuded large areas of their forests, littered the ground in front of their houses with trash, caused topsoil to be eroded away and depleted of nutrients and breathed soot from their fires. When things went wrong at one place, when they were bored with it or only to have another view, they moved somewhere else.

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