Anasazi Essay

This essay has a total of 1863 words and 10 pages.


About 1400 years ago, long before any European exploration of the New World, a
group of Indians living in the Four Corners region chose Mesa Verde for their
home. For over 700 years their descendants lived and flourished here, eventually
building elaborate stone cities in the sheltered recesses of the canyon walls. Then
in the late 1200’s, within the span of one or two generations, they abandoned their
homes and moved away.

Crossing an imaginary boundary into the region known as the American
Southwest, you enter a place as culturally different from the rest of the U.S. as
Asia or Egypt. For more than a millennium, various Indian cultures have lived,
worked, worshipped, and died here, bestowing a distinctive ambiance to the land.
And yet, both the people and their beliefs are truly “Native American.”

The Four Corners area is a melange of sights and experiences. In a single
day, you can drive through miles of empty silence, broken only by bold plateaus,
massive sandstone monoliths, and red rock, or hike into a remote canyon, once the
home of hundreds of cliff-dwelling Anasazi Indians. There are over 16,000
archaeological sites in the region. At a quiet, dusty pueblo you can still see
children playing on flat rooftops, or women baking bread in beehive-shaped earthen

Cortez is the ideal jumping-off point for exploring the Four Corners region.
In a large valley among the mountains and open sagebrush lands of southwestern
Colorado, Cortez developed as a trading center for nearby stock ranches.
Throughout the valley, you’ll notice agricultural fields plowed or planted with crops,
their rolling hills dotted with mounds of rock and rubble. Often, these knolls are
all that remain of ancient one or two-story Anasazi dwellings. The Cortez Cultural
Center, in cooperation with the University of Colorado offers American Indian
dance and cultural programs in its grand performance plaza.

Mesa Verde National Park, which occupies part of a large plateau rising high above
the Montezuma and Mancos Valleys, preserves a spectacular remnant of their
thousand year old culture. We call these people the Anasazi, from a Navajo word
meaning “the ancient ones.” Ever since local cowboys discovered the cliff dwellings
a century ago, archeologists have been trying to understand the life of these
people. but despite decades of excavation, analysis, classification, and comparison
our knowledge is still sketchy. We will never know the whole story of their
existence, for they left no written records and much that was important in their
lives has perished. yet for all their silence, these written records and much that
was important in their lives has perished. Yet for all their silence, these ruins
speak with a certain eloquence. They tell of a people adept at building, artistic, in
their crafts, and skillful at wrestling a living from a difficult land. They are
evidence of a society that over the centuries accumulated skills and traditions and
passed them on from one generation to another. By classic times the Anasazi of
Mesa Verde were the heirs of a vigorous civilization, with accomplishments in
community living and the arts that rank among the finest expressions of human
culture in ancient America.

Taking advantage of nature, the Anasazi built their dwellings under the
overhanging cliffs. Their basic construction material was sandstone, which they
shaped into rectangular blocks about the size of a loaf of bread. The mortar
between the blocks was a mix of mud and water. Rooms averaged about 6 feet by
8, space enough for two or three persons. Isolated rooms in the rear and on the
upper levels were generally used for storing crops.

Much of the daily routine took place in the open courtyards in front of the
rooms. the women fashioned pottery there, while the men mad various tools --
knives, axes, awls, scrapers -- out of stone and bone. The fires built in summer
were mainly for cooking. In winter when the alcove rooms were damp and
uncomfortable, fires probably burned throughout the village. Smoke blackened
walls and ceiling are reminders of the biting cold these people lived with for half of
every year.

Clothing closely followed the seasons. In summer, the adults wore simple
loincloths and sandals. in winter, they dressed in hides and skins and wrapped
themselves against the cold in blankets made of turkey feathers and robes of
rabbit fur.

Getting food was a ceaseless struggle, even in the best of years. Farming
was the main business of these people, but they supplemented their crops of corn,
beans, and squash by gathering wild plants and hunting deer, rabbits, squirrels, and
other game. Their only domestic animals were dogs and turkeys.

Fortunately for us, the Anasazi tossed their trash close by. Scraps of food,
broken pottery and tools, anything unwanted went down the slope in front of their
houses. Much of what we know about daily life here comes from these garbage

The Anasazi were a stone-age people, without metal of any kind. They
skillfully shaped stone, bone, and wood into a variety of tools for grinding, cutting,
pounding, chopping, perforating, scraping, polishing and weaving. They used the
digging stick for farming, the stone ax for clearing, the bow and arrow for hunting,
and sharp-edged stones for cutting. They ground corn with the metate and mano
and made wooden spindle whorls for weaving. From bone they fashioned awls for
sewing and scrapers for working hides. They usually made their stone tools from
stream cobbles rather than the soft sandstone of the cliffs.

The structure of the Anasazi life is difficult to know. Archeology has
yielded some information, but without written documentation, there is not way to
be sure about their social, political, or religious ideas. We must rely on the insight
on comparisons with modern Pueblo people of New Mexico and Arizona. In classic
times at Mesa Verde, several generations probably lived together as a household.
Each family occupied several rooms and built additional ones as it grew. Several
related families constituted a clan which may well have been matrilineal (descent
through the female line) in organization. If the analogy with current Hopi
practice is correct, each clan had its own kiva and rights to its own agricultural

Mesa Verde’s economy was more complex than might appear at first glance.
Even within a small agricultural community there undoubtedly were persons more
skilled than others at weaving or leather working or making potter, arrow points,
jewelry, baskets, sandals, or other specialized articles. Their efficiency gave them
a surplus, which they shared of bartered with neighbors. This exchange went on
between communities too. Seashells from the coast, turquoise, pottery, and cotton
from the south were some of the items that found their way to Mesa Verde,
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