Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Ancient Pueblo Peoples
Ancient Pueblo People, or Ancestral Puebloans is the preferred term for the group of peoples often known as Anasazi who are the ancestors of the modern Pueblo peoples. The term "Anasazi" is not preferred by their descendants, though there is still some controversy amongst them on a native alternative. The word Anasazi is Navajo for "Ancient Ones" or "Ancient Enemy."
The Ancestral Puebloans were a prehistoric Native American civilization centered around the present-day Four Corners area of the Southwest United States. Archaeologists still debate when a distinct Anasazi culture emerged, but the current consensus, based on terminology defined by the Pecos Classification, suggests their emergence around 1200 B.C., the Basketmaker II Era.
The civilization is perhaps best-known for the jacal , adobe and sandstone dwellings that they built along cliff walls, particularly during the Pueblo II and Pueblo III eras. The best-preserved examples of those dwellings are in parks such as Chaco Culture National Historical Park, Mesa Verde National Park, Hovenweep National Monument, and Canyon De Chelly National Monument. These villages, called pueblos by Mexican settlers, were often only accessible by rope or through rock climbing.
The Ancestral Puebloans also made some unique pieces of pottery which are very valuable for their rarity.
The Ancestral Puebloans disappeared for as yet undetermined reasons. Many have speculated that a change in local climate and resulting agricultural failures may be the reason; for example, the San Ildefonso Pueblo people used to live in Mesa Verde and Bandelier.
Cultural labels such as Anasazi, Hohokam or Mogollon are used by archaeologists to define cultural differences among prehistoric peoples. It is important to remember that culture names and divisions are assigned by individuals separated from the actual cultures by both time and space. This means that cultural divisions are by nature arbitrary, and are based solely on data available at the time of analysis and publication. They are subject to change, not only on the basis of new information and discoveries, but also as attitudes and perspectives change within the scientific community. It should not be assumed that an archaeological division corresponds to a particular language group or to a political entity such as a tribe.
When making use of modern cultural divisions in the Southwest, it is important to understand three limitations in the current conventions:
- Archaeological research focuses on items left behind during people’s activities; fragments of pottery vessels, human remains, stone tools or evidence left from the construction of dwellings. However, many other aspects of the culture of prehistoric peoples are not tangible. Languages spoken by these people and their beliefs and behavior are difficult to decipher from physical materials. Cultural divisions are tools of the modern scientist, and so should not be considered similar to divisions or relationships the ancient residents may have recognized. Modern cultures in this region, many of whom claim some of these ancient people as ancestors, contain a striking range of diversity in lifestyles, language and religious beliefs. This suggests the ancient people were also more diverse than their material remains may suggest.
- The modern term “style” has a bearing on how material items such as pottery or architecture can be interpreted. Within a people, different means to accomplish the same goal can be adopted by subsets of the larger group. For example, in modern Western cultures, there are alternative styles of clothing that characterized older and younger generations. Some cultural differences may be based on linear traditions, on teaching from one generation or “school” to another. Other varieties in style may have distinguished between arbitrary groups within a culture, perhaps defining status, gender, clan or guild affiliation, religious belief or cultural alliances. Variations may also simply reflect the different resources available in a given time or area.
- Defining cultural groups, such as the Ancient Pueblo peoples/Anasazi, tends to create an image of territories separated by clear-cut boundaries, like modern state lines. These simply did not exist. Prehistoric people traded, worshipped and collaborated most often with other nearby groups. Cultural differences should therefore be understood as “clinal ,” "increasing gradually as the distance separating groups also increases." (Plog, p. 72.) Departures from the expected pattern may occur because of unidentified social or political situations or because of geographic barriers. In the Southwest, mountain ranges, rivers and, most obviously, the Grand Canyon can be significant barriers for human communities, likely reducing the frequency of contact with other groups. Current opinion holds that the closer cultural similarity between the Mogollon and Anasazi and their greater differences from the Hohokam is due to both the geography and the variety of climate zones in the Southwest.
- Plog, Stephen. Ancient Peoples of the American Southwest. Thames and Hudson, London, England, 1997. ISBN 0-500-27939-X.
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