Mesa Verde Cliff Palace © André M. Winter & Christian Resch
Mesa Verde Cliff Palace
© André M. Winter & Christian Resch

Anasazi: The Ancient Ones

Evidence from prehistoric cultures of the Southwest dates back eleven thousand years. Examples of basketry and sandals have been scientifically dated as far back as eight thousand six hundred years. These have been found in sites with hard-beaten earthen floors and storage pits, which indicate a domestic lifestyle. From about four thousand years ago the development of agriculture supplied these cultures with corn, beans and squash as cultivated agricultural diet staples.

The pre-historic Anasazi were the ancestors of Pueblo peoples. The Navajo call them Anasazi, which means "the Ancient ones" in their dialect. The Anasazi culture became the most extensive culture of the Southwest, and, along with the Hohokam and Mogollon cultures, the most influential. They lived in large groups in caves and cliff-dwelling villages. Some multi-dwelling residences were so large that they were not eclipsed in size in North America until an apartment building was erected in New York in 1882.

Anthropologists have divided the Anasazi into the Basket Maker period (100 - 750 CE) and the Pueblo period (750-1300 CE). The Basketmaker period is named after the people's mastery of complex weaving, which produced household items and tools. The Pueblo period is so called for the refined ceramics and clay dwellings that were created and perfected at this time. A prolonged regional drought (1276 - 1299) combined with overcrowding, depletion of resources (wood and soil) and warring with neighbouring groups, led to their demise and migration towards nearby rivers.