Cliff Dwelling Ruins in Mesa Verde – photo by Cheryl WeldonCredit: photo by Cheryl Weldon

There was never a specific “Anasazi Tribe.”  The Anasazi people were the ancestors of the Pueblo Indians.  The name is originally a Navajo word that archeologists applied to the people who farmed the Four Corners (Southwestern Colorado Southeastern Utah, Northeastern Arizona, and Northwestern New Mexico) area.  The name was thought to be translated as “ancient ones.”  However, the actual translation is “ancient people who are not us” or “ancient enemies” and many modern Pueblo people consider this an ethnic slur.  The Hopi, who consider themselves to be descendants of the Anasazi prefer the term Hisatsinom which means “people of long ago.” 

Ruins Reveal Evolution to Pueblos 

During A.D. 400-700 Basket Makers began to expand their territory and started to build pit houses (dwellings sunk three to five feet in the ground) and make pottery with black and white patterns.  Bows and arrows replaced spears and agriculture became more important and with it, the nomadic way of life became more sedentary.

When Spanish explorers came to North America, they found evidence of villages; ruins of small communities tRuins Tell History of the Anasazi – photo by Cheryl WeldonCredit: photo by Cheryl Weldonhey called Pueblos.  These pueblos were the first villages of the Anasazi people.  Between A.D. 700 and 1100, the Anasazi began to build above ground and added ceremonial chambers, called “kivas”.   They added red and orange colors in bold patterns to their pottery.   The dwellings included towers, some five stories high, that have stood the test of time.  

The Anasazi Settle the Four Corners Area 

The ancestral homeland of the Pueblo people was centered in the Four Corners region of the Colorado Plateau.   The region allowed growing seasons of at least five months and this may be why the Anasazi people chose to remain in these areas. It is believed originally the Anasazi built their dwellings on the tops of the mesas; however, something sent them to the cliffs below.  In the canyoRuins in Four Corners Area – photo by Cheryl WeldonCredit: photo by Cheryl Weldonn cliffs of Mesa Verde in Colorado, Canyon de Chelly of Arizona, Chaco Canyon of New Mexico, and Grand Gulch in Utah, lay the ruins of the cliff dwellings of the Anasazi.  

Several of the pueblos in Chaco Canyon are quite large; eleven of the dwellings contain from 100-500 rooms.  There appears to be a network of smaller communities connected to a core by a network of converging roads. 

In Arizona, the ruins of the Anasazi lay on the Navajo Reservation.  Here too, the Anasazi built their homes into the cliffs.  Three sites include ruins of dwellings that are 130-150 rooms and one is three-stories high.  In Utah, the ruins are mesa top as there were no cliffs in which to build structures.  The Hovenweep National Monument site contains six separate Anasazi sites.  

Though the Anasazi people were of short stature (males about five feet four and females about five feet tall), the structures are still an architectural marvel.  The numerouAnasazi Ruins at Mesa Verde – photo by Cheryl WeldonCredit: photo by Cheryl Weldons rooms are accessed by ladders and handholds dug into the cliffs.  Many of the cliff dwellings are multi-leveled. The dwellings are built to maximize the natural environment using the sun, trees, and natural water sources to the best advantage.

Throughout these ruins an abundance of artifacts have been excavated.  These ruins and artifacts tell the story of a rich culture; but they also leave questions unanswered. 

Where did the Anasazi People go? 

By A.D 1300 all of the cliff dwellings had been abandoned.  Therein, lays the mystery.  Where did these ancient people go?   Archeologists have several theories but none have yet to be proved.  Climate change may have brought about droughts that resulted in consistent crop failure.  This may have caused the Anasazi to move to a different location.  Archaeologists also see evidence of social changes over time and this may have caused a location change. 

While the Four Corners settlements declined, other areas began to develop and grow. The Rio Grande pueblos and the pueblos of Acoma, Laguna, and Zuni grew in numbers after AD 1300.  There is speculation that the Anasazi from the Four Corners area may have migrated to those areas.  Evidence also exists for sudden population growth around the Homolovi area near Winslow, Arizona. The Acoma of New Mexico and the Hopi people of Arizona claim that some of their clans came from the Four Corners region 

Others claim that the Anasazi left the cliff dwellings in the Four Corners because their security was threatened.  The mystery remains unsolved.  The Anasazi disappeared and the only trace they left was the magnificent ruins in the Four Corners area of the United States.  Ruins, rich in history; ruins that answer many questions; yet leave at least one unanswered.   


Sources: “The Anasazi” (accessed April 24, 2010) “the Anasazi” (accessed April 24, 2010) 



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