The Sinagua and the Dispersal of the Puebloans

Anasazi - Hohokam - Mogollon - Sinagua

by Jay W. Sharp

The Sinagua

The term Sinagua – a contraction of the Spanish words "sin agua," or, "without water" – alludes to the arid country in which their tradition arose. In their prime, the Sinagua Puebloan people occupied the region that encompasses the ponderosa and pinyon/juniper forests and the grasslands and desert scrub country from the vicinity of Arizona’s Sunset Crater volcano, southwestward to the state’s Verde River.

Montezuma’s Castle

The Sinagua overcame a cataclysmic interruption in their lives early in the second millennium, when the Sunset Crater volcano erupted repeatedly, spreading lava, cinder and ash across some 800 square miles. Rebuilding their lives, the Sinagua took cultural cues from their neighbors, adapting, in effect, a synthesis of traditions. By the 13th century, they reflected Anasazi influences in the construction of pueblos and kivas; Hohokam, in the building of ball courts; Mogollon, in the craft of ceramic production; and Mesoamerica, in the sphere of trade and enterprise.

At their cultural highpoint, the Sinagua developed an organized and stratified social system. According to National Forest archaeologist Piter Pilles (writing in Ekkehart Malotki’s and Michael Lomatuway’ma’s Earth Fire), the Sinagua built upscale villages at prominent locations – for instance, the famed Montezuma’s Castle, north of Phoenix – incorporating prestigious architectural features such as community ceremonial chambers, courtyards and ball courts. In the 13th century, the Sinagua, like other Puebloan peoples, began to abandon their region. The Sinagua culture as a distinct entity disappeared from the archaeological record after the 15th century.

Abandonments and Migrations

In late prehistoric times, Puebloan peoples responded, possibly, to a craving for new leadership, to a yearning for more productive lands and, perhaps, to a call to new spiritual beliefs. They abandoned old homes and moved, possibly as family groups or as clans. In at least one instance, an entire Anasazi community appears to have moved intact from the north to south-central New Mexico’s Canada Alamosa, at the edge of the lands of the Jornada Mogollon.

Abo, another late prehistoric and historic pueblo near Mountainair.

By the time the Spanish came, in the 16th century, many of the Puebloan peoples had already moved to new locations, with many settling at some 100 communities along the Rio Grande drainage basin, west central New Mexico or northeastern Arizona.

Most impressive, Anasazi, Hohokam, Mogollon and Mesoamerican peoples and influences all converged at one site, in Mexico’s northwestern Chihuahua, called Paquime. From about 1250 to 1450, this vibrant coalition would extend its cultural reach widely across the Chihuahuan and Sonoran deserts. (Paquime collapsed as a cultural force literally overnight after it was attacked and decimated by an unknown force of raiders.)

Besh Ba Gowah ruin near Globe, Arizona.

Settling into their new homes, Puebloan migrants may have maintained their basic cultural traditions. Others apparently added and embraced new cultural trademarks, creating dynamic new communities. Still others appear to have reverted to earlier and simpler lifestyles. Those called “Jumano,” fully imbued with the spirit of restlessness, became roving traders, in effect, the gypsies of the Southwest. Across their new homes, the Puebloan peoples would leave in their wake a complex mosaic of cultural fragments.

Anasazi - Hohokam - Mogollon - Sinagua


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