DesertUSA

Southwest Adventure, Living & Travel


Prehistoric Peoples

Desert Southwest

 

Prehistoric: Prior to written history; in this case, prior to the arrival of the Spanish chroniclers in the Southwest. This term is now favored over the pejorative pre-Columbian (before Columbus), which would indicate a slighty different time frame.

 

During the past century, investigators have been solving one of the great mysteries of the North American continent: Who built the spectacular, prehistoric* cliff dwellings and other ancient structures scattered throughout the American Southwest?

The key to this mystery, curiously enough, involves farming, and how this simple activity fosters the growth of civilization. We now know that agriculture first evolved in the world's harsh, hot, arid deserts, then spread to more temperate climates -- not the other way around, as one might expect. All civilizations first took root in the deserts of the world, including the deserts of the American Southwest.

A century ago, few would believe that ancestors of the American Indians could be responsible for the magnificent structures of the Desert Southwest. Today, after a century of fieldwork in archeology, the best evidence suggests that ancient farmers built these great civilizations and were the grandparents of the present-day, Native American Pueblo people as well.

spruce house

iWe know that, although farming was introduced into the southwestern deserts as early 4000 years ago, hunting and gathering remained an important means of acquiring food until about 500 BC, when the agricultural revolution none flourished with the regular cultivation of corn, beans and squash. The evolution of corn (maize) itself was a critical element in this process. As with everywhere else in the world, this led to a sedentary lifestyle, the adoption of cooperative, organized social structures and, in turn, to the formation of urban settlements including, in this case, spectacular cliff dwellings.

The prehistoric peoples of the Four Corners region shared common archaic roots, but different adaptations to regional variations in environment, climate and resources, together with different levels of Mesoamerican influence, resulted in formation of the three primary cultures known today as the Southwest Tradition: the Mogollon, the Hohokam and the Anasazi.Other, possibly related, prehistoric cultures interspersed in this region, including the Sinagua, Salado and Hakataya.

The Southwest's arid desert climate has been very effective in preserving many of the cities, towns and cultural remains of these prehistoric peoples. Tree ring dating has provided very accurate dates from 500 BC to about 1500 AD. There are 28 federal areas -- existing or proposed -- in Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico designed to protect and display this treasury of spectacular artifacts. Thousands of other archeological sites are under the protection of state and local entities throughout the Four Corners region.

How did we find out when the earlest man arrived? Click here

 

THE NATIVE AMERICAN PEOPLES OF OUR WESTERN DESERTS

- A GENERAL CHRONOLOGY
-

Paleo-Indians
Arrival date uncertain to 6500 B. C.

Desert Archaic
6500 B. C. to 1200 B. C.

The Anasazi
(Ancestral to Modern Pueblos)
Basketmaker
1200 B. C. to 700 A. D.
Pueblo
700 A. D. to Present

The Salado The Salado are believed to have been a group of wayfaring Anasazi who experienced moderate Mogollon influence.
900 A.D. -- 1450 A.D

Mogollon (Possibly Ancestral to Hopis & Zunis)
0 A. D. to 1500 A. D.

Hohokam (Possibly Ancestral to Pimas)
100 B. C. to 1300 A. D.

Fremont (Possibly Ancestral to Utes)
400 A. D. to 1300 A. D.

Patayan (Yuman)
500 A. D. to Present

Sinagua
1100 A. D. to 1400 A. D.

The Athapaskan
(Apache & Navajo)
1500 A. D. (or Earlier) to Present

Note: This chronology is meant to furnish no more than a general idea of the time of existence of several of the better known Native American peoples of the southwestern U. S. and northern Mexico. While some times, archaeologists can speak with confidence about cultures and dates, more often, the development of chronologies for the cultures of the region is comparable to assembling three-dimensional jig saw puzzles from pieces which often mixed, jumbled, broken and missing. Widespread cultures evolved in different directions at different rates. External cultural influences had different degrees of impact on different cultures over time. Definitions of different cultures mean different things to different archaeologists. Cultural boundaries are elusive. Cultural chronology is a moving target.

Sources:
D.K. Jordan’s Jordan: Southwestern Chronology internet site
G. R. Willey’s An Introduction to American Archaeology, Volume One, North and Middle America

Jay W. Sharp May 2001

map


 


Share this page on Facebook:


DesertUSA Newsletter -- We send articles on hiking, camping and places to explore, as well as animals, wildflower reports, plant information and much more. Sign up below or read more about the DesertUSA newsletter here. (It's Free.)


The Desert Environment
The North American Deserts
Desert Geological Terms

SEARCH THIS SITE









 



Dust DevilsView Video about Dust Devils. Born of the battle between the sun and sand, the dust devil is a rapidly rotating column of air that has wrapped itself around a rising thermal. The average dust devil is ten to fifty feet in diameter. The chief ingredients for a good dust devil are clear skies, a bright sun, and a dry hot surface. Watch video.

Desert Food Chain Video - A food chain constitutes a complex network of organisms, from plants to animals, through which energy, derived from the sun, flows in the form of organic matter and dissipates in the form of waste heat. The food chain’s biological productivity and species diversification depend on factors such as the daily duration and angle of seasonal sunlight, the timely availability of water, the daily swings of seasonal temperatures, the chemical content of the soils, and the availability of nutrients. Watch Video

___________________________________

Sand dunes.
What is a desert?
Learn about the camel.

__________________________________

Take a look at our Animals index page to find information about all kinds of birds, snakes, mammals, spiders and more!

___________________________________

Rockhound books

 

Hot temperatures in the desertAre you interested in the temperatures in the desert?

Click here to see current desert temperatures!


 
   
 
   
Copyright © 1996-2014 DesertUSA.com and Digital West Media, Inc.