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The Anasazi

Printed From: History Community ~ All Empires
Category: Regional History or Period History
Forum Name: History of the Americas
Forum Description: The Americas: History from pre-Colombian times to the present
Moderators: Mixcoatl, edgewaters
Printed Date: 27-May-2018 at 04:23
Software Version: Web Wiz Forums 11.10 -

Topic: The Anasazi
Posted By: pytheas
Subject: The Anasazi
Date Posted: 16-Dec-2004 at 14:33

At the height of their power in the late 11th century, the Chaco Anasazi dominated a territory in the American Southwest larger than and european principality of the time.  A vast alliance of bastions, towns, villages, and citadels integrated a region through economic and religious ties, and the whole system was interconnected with hundreds of miles of roads.  It took these Anasazi farmers more than 700 years to create classic Chacoan civilization, which lasted nearly 200 years--only to collapse mysteriously over just a 40 year period.  Questions I'd like to raise:

1.)  Why did such a great civilization rise out in the desert southwest, arid farming can only get you so far.  Were their other factors in why the Anasazi rose to prominence?

2.)  What led to the Chacoans demise?  Can we look to other Anasazi locales such as Mesa Verde and Hovenweep for possible causes? 

3.)  In recent years, there has been a lot made of an archaeological find at an excavation of a fire hearth where petrified human feces (coprolite) was discovered.  Apparently an individual at the end of the occupation of the site deficated in the fire.  Analysis of the feces found that there were trace elelments of digested human flesh, meaning that this was solid proof to support the possibility that canibalism was an element to Anasazi life.  At the vary least it caused many to wonder if internal strife caused by enviromental problems led certain parts of Anasazi society to resort to canibalism for survival.  Others believe it was a form of terroism or even evidence of a cult.  Please feel free to discuss any of the following issues, question, ideas.  This is my first topic post, so be gentle....   

Truth is a variant based upon perception. Ignorance is derived from a lack of insight into others' perspectives.

Posted By: Cywr
Date Posted: 16-Dec-2004 at 15:21
IIRC, they centred around fertile river valleys in otherwise arid regions no?
Standard fare when you think of it, Mesopotania, Nile and Indus valleys etc.
A fertile river valley can feed a lot of people, but doesn't allow much open space as it were, perhaps a pressure pushing people to form more complex settlements that evolve into cities and thus civilisation (from the root civus meaning city after all).

Of course, whilst this an advantage, it is also a weakness as you are dependsnt on that river, maybe a dry spell dramaticly reduced flow, and this food output, causing the civilisation to collapse.


Posted By: Jalisco Lancer
Date Posted: 16-Dec-2004 at 17:41

Hi Pytheas:
wellcome to AE.
I believe that Mixcoatl can share more with us on this regards.

Posted By: Mixcoatl
Date Posted: 16-Dec-2004 at 18:27
I don't know much about them. But recently I've read a book about the Pre-Columbian discoveries of the Americas in which they were (shortly) mentioned (and not related to any discovery).

They were part of the larger Pueblo culture. The Pueblo culture existed out of several ethnically diverse peoples. The culture of the Pueblo's is "so old, so complex, and so specialized, and our knowledge of it is still so fragmentary in spite of all the excellent work that has been done, that scholars hesistate to reconstruct its history even tentatively."

Tests from tree rings have showed that the first Pueblo buildings have been built areound 350, the last in 1300. Between 900 and 1275 most buildings were built. They were influenced by the Toltecs from central Mexico, perhaps some of them were even a group that split off from the Toltecs (some Pueblos speak Uto Aztecan languages, related to Nahuatl, the language of the Toltecs). Fields for the ritual ball game, played in mesoamerica, have been found in the Pueblo area. From 1276 to 1299 there appears to have been a terrible drought, that destoyed harvests (this may be a reason for the cannibalism). After 1300 the pueblo buildings were deserted.

The pueblos consisted of several completely unrelated groups: Ute, Commanche, Hopi (all Uto Aztecan), Navaho, Apache (both Na Dene), Zuņi and several smaller groups. Anasazi were most likely Hopi.

"Some argue that atheism partly stems from a failure to fairly and judiciously consider the facts"
"Atheists deny the existence of Satan, while simultaneously doing his work."

- Conservapedia

Posted By: pytheas
Date Posted: 17-Dec-2004 at 02:06

Well, that's the textbook answer, but why not just move away from the area?  What makes populations starve themselves to the point of cannabalism?  If I can't find a job here in Colorado, them maybe I'd move to the East Coast where there are more, better paying jobs in archaeology.  I suppose I live in a more mobile society, but considering the Anasazi's cultural inovations, you'd think the'd recognize that their land was just not doing it for them, let's go raid someone else's more fertile land.  Or maybe that's just the modern American way...

I've actually visited quite a few Anasazi ruins in person, in Colorado (Mesa Verde, Cutthroat Castle, Chiminey Rock), New Mexico (Chaco Canyon, Glorietta Pueblo, Bandalier Ruins), and Utah (Hovenweep and Moab Valley).  It is a very spiritual experience visiting those ruins.  And I'm not all that spiritual a guy, it was the goosebumps and shivers.  Seeing the evolution of the masonary structures and their locales really illustrate the point that these folks moved from the typical Puebloan indians on the desert plains that acted as basic farmsteads to more and more defensive structures like Mesa Verde's cliff dwellings, to Hovenweep's tower-like structures built around arroyos (small, relatively shallow canyons).  Chaco Canyon's structures are more representative of some sort of seasonal, though expansive ritually-derived activities, whether economically based or completely religious in nature.  I'd highly recommend anybody intersted in the Anasazi to look up Mesa Verde's and Hovenweep's website.  Both are located in either U.S. National Parks or National Monuments.  Cutthoat Castle is located in newly acquired Federal lands managed by the BLM, and is in the process of being transitioned into an National Monument.  Bandalier is also a National Park.  Each of these places are just fragmentary puzzle pieces in the overall picture.  Other related or connected cultures you might want to look up are the Hohokom and Mogollion cultures located farther south and may have acted as middlemen or a cultural pivot point with Central America....  

Truth is a variant based upon perception. Ignorance is derived from a lack of insight into others' perspectives.

Posted By: Jalisco Lancer
Date Posted: 17-Dec-2004 at 15:40
If you all agree, I think we should move this topic to the Americas, Asia, Africa Forum, agree ?

Posted By: Tobodai
Date Posted: 17-Dec-2004 at 15:48
I actually read a very enlightening book on how peopel adapt to their environment that made me realize:  Its actually nto suprising civilizations rise out of hard places, its natural.  the harder the place you live the more advanced you need to be to survive.  Also, many advanced societies arent necessarily 100% agricultural, many of them incorporate pastorlism to make up for other iniquities.

"the people are nothing but a great beast...
I have learned to hold popular opinion of no value."
-Alexander Hamilton

Posted By: pytheas
Date Posted: 18-Dec-2004 at 01:40

Ah, but in the Anasazi Southwest, there were no pastoral animals.  There are deer and antilope to hunt and the occassional rabbit, squirrel, or quail, but not enough vegetation (grasses in particular) to support a pastoral life.  There were (and are) a buttload of pinion trees that produce a great source of protein--pinion nuts.  But the Anasazi were maize, squash, and bean farmers.  They ground their maize with a matate, as did many of the sedintary civilizations of the Americas.  There is no way to get around it, they farmed and augmented their diets with hunting.  I've been waiting for another history nerd, particularly a Medievalist nerd to bring up a very important aspect of the time in which we discuss.  that's right folks, as I outlined above the Anasazi were contemporaries of Medieval European society.  What happened in the 14th and 15th centuries in europe, not to mention the rest of the world? 

The mini Ice Age.  Crop yields were down all over the world.  Look up any region's records during this period and I garentee you'll find some mention of shorter, cooler summers and longer, wetter winters, thus shortening the growing seasons over about 250-300 years, leading to you guessed it pestulence, disease, the Black Death and reoccuring bouts for several generations.  Warfare erupted widely due to the lack of resources at home.  Case in point, refer to the Hundred Years Wars.  This analysis could be referred to as Macrohistory.  look at global cultural phenomena that may help ascertain natural causes for the decline or stagnation of certain civilizations.  Some survive, others that depend of specialized environments go extinct. 


Truth is a variant based upon perception. Ignorance is derived from a lack of insight into others' perspectives.

Posted By: pytheas
Date Posted: 18-Dec-2004 at 01:46
Sorry Jalisco, didn't answer your question.  I thought this was the forum for Asia, Africa and the Americas--I could be on crack though--correct me if I'm wrong since I'm the Noob...

Truth is a variant based upon perception. Ignorance is derived from a lack of insight into others' perspectives.

Posted By: vagabond
Date Posted: 18-Dec-2004 at 03:02

The Anasazi, The Ancient Ones - basket makers - long-headed - are the ancestors of today's Pueblo. Their societies evolved from societies that had been in the area for thousands of years. Archaeological research has revealed projectile points, potsherds, jewelry and other artifacts that show a continuous line of development. Their culture was an agrarian culture based primarily on corn. Teosinte, a native grass, had hybridized with other grasses to become an early form of corn that required cultivation - it would not seed naturally. While corn cultivation began in Mexico, along with cultivated cotton, squash, beans and chili; 5000 year old cultivated corn has been found at the Bat Cave in New Mexico. This spread of cultivated agriculture lead to the development of sedentary communities in areas where farming was possible.

The Pueblos have a long tradition of sedentary behavior. They found a place that they liked and stayed there. Canyon de Chelly shows signs of continuous occupation from ca. 348 - 1248. Those sedentary habits have not died out. Acoma has been continuously occupied since 1400, the Hopi have lived in the same area for 1500 years and the Pueblo at Old Oraibi has been inhabited for some 800 years. Their original dwellings were pit houses partly sunk below ground. Around 700 the style of dwelling began to change and the Anasazi began to build successively larger above ground dwellings and to connect them into compounds that eventually grew into the towns that we see the remains of today. Many were built into recesses in cliff faces: Mesa Verde and White House are fine examples. In Chaco Canyon - Pueblo Bonito is perhaps the best known of the Pueblo towns. At its largest, this huge semicircular town covered over three acres and was home to about 1000 residents. It contained over 600 interconnected rooms rising to a height of five stories terraced around a central courtyard. It was one of the most important of the Anasazi towns.

Anthropologists have several theories about why they migrated and left their great towns. One theory is that the towns simply grew too large and split in order to be able to survive. Another involves the eruption in the 11th century of the volcano at Sunset Crater, which cleared that area for about a century. That the area was well forested is evident by the size of the timber used in the ancient construction, but erosion due to poor agricultural methods is thought to be one cause of the deforestation, as well as with the growing infertility of the surrounding land. The concentrations of population did not help with either of the above. Drought was another factor; dendrochronology has given us tree ring evidence which shows a lasting 25-year period between 1275 and 1300 with almost no rain at all.

Nomads who were to become the Apache and Navaho, traditional enemies of the Pueblos, moved into the area as the Pueblos weakened, carrying a new sinew backed bow which was significantly more powerful than the oak and skunk-wood bows of the Pueblos of the time; perhaps the new weaponry also had an effect. In any case - in the 12th and 13th centuries, many of the pueblo towns began to move to less open, more defensible locations in the cliffs. Mesa top towns and open spaces were deserted if they could not be sufficiently fortified. By 1300 or so, all of the great Anasazi town had been abandoned. Interestingly, the word Anasazi is taken from the Navaho - Ancient Enemy.

Archaeological evidence shows that around 1400 the Pueblos moved south through the Hohokam area with an unusual degree of peacefulness that has left many archaeologists bemused. They dwelt side by side while remaining two distinct cultures. The Hohokam stayed put and became the Pima and Papago, the Pueblos moved on to the south and spread across what is today central and southern New Mexico, Arizona and into Mexico. The Zuni that Coronado fought at Hawikuh were descended from the Ancient Ones. Even the Hopi (from Hopitu "the peaceful ones") fought the invasion of the Spanish, but to no avail, by the early 1600s the area was being colonized.

In the time of your life, live - so that in that wonderous time you shall not add to the misery and sorrow of the world, but shall smile to the infinite delight and mystery of it. (Saroyan)

Posted By: pytheas
Date Posted: 18-Dec-2004 at 12:45

The Puebloans later rebelled against Spanish rule and administered their own affairs free from foreign rule for nearly 12 years:

"Pueblo Revolt
In 1680, after years of Spanish demands for goods and services, 
religious persecution, instability and brutality, about 20 New 
Mexico and Arizona pueblos coordinated an attack on the Spanish 
and drove them back to Mexico. Twelve years later, Captain 
General Diego de Vargas led a bloodless reconquest."

( - )

My father's family is among those Spanish colonists that resettle what will later become north central New Mexico.

Truth is a variant based upon perception. Ignorance is derived from a lack of insight into others' perspectives.

Posted By: vagabond
Date Posted: 02-Jan-2005 at 01:05

There is currently a battle going on over books sold in the interpretation centers at several of the Anasazi sites - It seems that some of the Purblo groups object to having the name Anasazi - which is not a Pueblo word - attached to their ancestors.  Books using the term Anasazi are not being sold now at some of the sites. 

Wouldn't it perhaps be easier to simply have a flyer printed up and handed out with each book saying that the terminology used formerly is changing and that, while some scholars still use the term Anasazi, the modern descendants of the group prefer other terminology, and to list and explain the various terms, where they came from, and the pros and cons of using the various terms?

In the time of your life, live - so that in that wonderous time you shall not add to the misery and sorrow of the world, but shall smile to the infinite delight and mystery of it. (Saroyan)

Posted By: pytheas
Date Posted: 02-Jan-2005 at 11:49

Most archaeoloists and native groups seem to agree with the use of the term Ancient Ones.  I chose to use the name Anasazi as an eye-catcher because most people, whether they agree with the use of that name will recognise the culture that I wished to discuss.  We could liken it to the name "American".  What is that?  Outside of the US, Central and South Americans refer to themselves as Americans to some degree, as do Canadians.  The name America is referenceing the continent and not the nation.  The question of identity of both self and other is an interesting one that might be a great thread in the anthropology forum or possibly general history and should not be applied only to the Ancestral Puebloans (thought I'd use another name widely accepted today).

Cheers Vagabond

Truth is a variant based upon perception. Ignorance is derived from a lack of insight into others' perspectives.

Posted By: liquidforce
Date Posted: 07-Aug-2006 at 19:32
I agree with pytheas above that visiting the Anasazi/Ancestral Puebloan sites he mentions, including that contribut to the - history of Hovenweep National Monument (Holly Group, Square Tower etc) as well as Cutthroat Castle and others is a very moving experience.  

Posted By: Bonde
Date Posted: 08-Aug-2006 at 11:15
For more information about the ancient Pueblo indians here is a site about these Peoples: -

Posted By: Laine
Date Posted: 09-Aug-2006 at 19:42
I believe that the notion that cannablism was common place during the Chacoan era is fairly unfounded. In Cannablism in the Desert Southwest there were some eight sites all together that contained some evidence of cannablism and archeologists couldn't link these to any ritualized cannablism that would indicate that it was prevelant in the society of that time.

Cannablism for survival is not all that uncommon in any continents history. Indeed you even have court documentation of cannablism in the Victorian era in Europe and let's not forget that is exists to this day. In Germany about a year ago a man consented to letting another man butcher and eat him.
By the way I doubt that the civilization ever truly collapsed until the Spanish arrived in the Southwest. At the time of conquest there were some 80 Puebloan towns in the Rio Grande region in addition there were the Hopi to the west of them as well.

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