Anasazi, Ancient Native American Cultures, What Happened to the Anasazi of Mesa Verde / Chaco Canyon

Anasazi, Ancient Native American Cultures – What Happened to the Anasazi of Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon?

There is a prevalent belief that the prehistoric Native American culture referred to as the Anasazi mysteriously disappeared from the southwestern United States. Here are the facts.

Who were the Anasazi? Across the deserts and mesas of the region known as the Four Corners, where Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah meet, backcountry hikers and motoring tourists can easily spot reminders of an ancient people. From the towering stone structures at Chaco Culture National Historical Park to Cliff Dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park to the ubiquitous scatters of broken pottery and stone tools, these remains tell the story of a culture that spread out across the arid Southwest during ancient times. The Anasazi are believed to have lived in the region from about AD 1 through AD 1300, though the exact beginning of the culture is difficult to determine because there is no particular defining event.

In their everyday lives, they created black-on-white pottery styles that distinguish sub-regions within the culture. They traded with neighboring cultures, including those to the south in Central America. And they built ceremonial structures called kivas, which were used for religious or communal purposes.

Spanish conquistadors exploring the Southwest noted the abandoned Cliff Dwellings and ruined plazas, and archaeologists today still try to understand what might have caused the Anasazi to move from their homes and villages throughout the region.

Over time, researchers have posed a number of theories, including the idea that the Anasazi were driven from their villages by hostile nomads, such as those from the Apache or Ute tribes. Others believe that the Anasazi fought among themselves, causing a drastic reduction in their populations, and a few extra-terrestrial minded theorists suggested that the Anasazi civilization was destroyed by aliens.

Today the prevalent hypothesis among scientists is that a long-term drought affected the area, destroying agricultural fields and forcing people to abandon their largest villages. Scientists and archaeologists have worked together to reconstruct the region’s climate data and compare it with material that has been excavated. Based on their findings, many agree that some combination of environmental and cultural factors caused the dispersal of the Anasazi from the large-scale ruins seen throughout the landscape today.

Although many writers of both fiction and nonfiction, romanticize the Anasazi as a people who mysteriously disappeared from the region, they did not actually disappear. Those living in large ancient villages and cultural centers did indeed disperse, but the people themselves did not simply disappear. Today, descendants of the Anasazi can be found living throughout New Mexico and Arizona. The Hopi tribe in Northern Arizona, as well as those living in approximately 20 Pueblos in New Mexico, are the modern-day descendants of the Anasazi. The Pueblos in New Mexico whose modern inhabitants consider the Anasazi their ancestors include: Acoma, Cochiti, Isleta, Jemez, Laguna, Nambe,Picuris, Pojoaque, San Felipe, San Ildefonso, Ohkay Owingeh (formerly referred to as San Juan), Sandia, Santa Ana, Santa Clara, Santo Domingo, Taos, Tesuque, Zia, and Zuni.

The term Anasazi is actually a misleading moniker, as it is a Navajo word meaning “enemy ancestors”, which is obviously offensive to the Anasazi descendants. Today, Native Americans and archaeologists prefer to use “pre- Puebloan” to refer to the ancient inhabitants of the Four Corners.

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