By Savanna Agardy
300 BC — 1300 AD
From 300 BC to 1300 AD, Ancestral Puebloan people lived in the Four Corners Region, including the famous red rock canyon country of southern Utah. Ancestral Puebloans were known to be farmers of corn (maize) as well as beans and squash. They also built intricate structures that people lived in and gathered in. You might have heard the term Anasazi to describe these people. However, archaeologists now prefer the term Ancestral Puebloan instead, because it is more descriptive. Native American tribes today have many different names for Ancestral Puebloan people. The descendants of Ancestral Puebloan people now live in present day Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.
Ancestral Puebloan people lived very complex lifestyles, with major cultural changes occurring at different times. Archaeologists divide the Ancestral Puebloan Period into two broad periods called Basketmaker and Pueblo. Within these there are five subdivisions that mark major changes in technology and lifestyle:
Basketmaker I and II: 300 BC – AD 750
Pueblo I, II, & III : AD 750 – AD 1150
The Basketmaker Periods
Ancestral Puebloan people who lived from 300 – 750 BC are known as Basketmakers. They did not make pottery like people who lived later, during the Pueblo periods. Instead they are known for their excellent work in making baskets. They were also skilled at farming maize and making textiles (cloth).
Basketmakers lived in pithouses, which are houses constructed partially underground and covered with a roof of logs and branches. Farming corn, beans, and squash gave people a very protein-rich diet. A protein-rich diet led to population increases because people were healthier and had more children. As populations grew, people started living in larger groups, building villages of pithouses. Oftentimes Basketmaker villages included a kiva. A kiva is a pithouse that served as a gathering place for the community. People used kivas for religious ceremonies, meetings, and decision-making.
The Pueblo Periods
Archaeologists believe that people left southern Utah for about 50 years from 700 – 750 BC. When they came back, they lived a little differently than the Basketmakers before them. They still lived in villages, but they built larger structures made of stone and clay. These new structures were made with walls separating the rooms — much like your house today! In Southern Utah you can see many of these homes, which were built by such skilled builders that they have survived hundreds of years. Archaeologists call these structures Pueblos, and named the Pueblo people after this type of architecture.
Ancestral Puebloan people during this time began to make pottery, which distinguishes them from Basketmakers, who did not make pottery. Puebloan pottery includes gray pottery with corrugation (dents within the surface) used for cooking. They were very skilled artisans and also made decorative pottery, painted with complex patterns in red, white, and orange.
As time went on, Ancestral Puebloan people began to live in larger and larger communities. They gathered near “great houses,” like Chaco Canyon in New Mexico. They built complex structures several stories high to live in, like modern apartment buildings. They built bigger kivas to gather in for ceremonies. If you visit Edge of the Cedars State Park, Hovenweep National Monument, or Mesa Verde National Park, you can see these buildings from long ago!
Populations did not grow steadily in the Pueblo time periods, though. There were times when populations declined and people moved away from their villages. New types of pottery emerged during these times that show changes in lifestyles. In the Pueblo II time period, people invented red and white serving vessels in the shape of bowls and pitchers.
In 1150 AD, populations grew again and architecture grew more advanced. Ancestral Puebloans living during the Pueblo II period built complex multi-story buildings and lookout towers. They were influenced by the large populations of Puebloan people in Chaco Canyon (in present-day New Mexico). More new types of pottery emerged, like mugs and jars. They even created roads for people to travel on, not unlike our roads today!
Ancestral Pueblo Migrations
In the 1200s, the Ancestral Puebloan population in Utah declined drastically as people migrated away from southern Utah. Most of these people moved south to present-day New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas.
There are many reasons why Ancestral Puebloans left Utah. There was a long drought around 1250 AD that made it more difficult to farm. Some areas in New Mexico were growing in population, so people might have wanted to live in larger cities like Chaco Canyon. New Native American groups arrived in Utah during this time, taking the place of the Ancestral Puebloans who left the region. These new Native American groups are called the Ute, Paiute, Shoshone, Goshute, and Navajo, the five historic tribes in Utah.
Watch a video about Ancestral Puebloan migrations during this time period. This video includes modern Puebloan people talking about their ancestors.
You can also virtually explore an archaeology site in one of the most important areas with Ancestral Puebloan archaeology in Utah called Bears Ears National Monument. Explore here!
Modern Day Connections
Today, there are 21 Pueblo tribes living in the greater Southwest who are the descendents of the Ancestral Puebloan people. Modern day Pueblo tribes have strong cultural connections to the homes of their ancestors in Southern Utah. It is important to protect Ancestral Puebloan sites out of respect for living Pueblo people, and out of respect for the past. Respecting and protecting archaeology sites preserves them for future generations and helps us all to learn from and about these people.
Modern Pueblo Tribes
- Acoma Pueblo
- Cochiti Pueblo
- Isleta Pueblo
- Jemez Pueblo
- Kewa Pueblo
- Laguna Pueblo
- Nambé Pueblo
- Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo
- Picuris Pueblo
- Pojoaque Pueblo
- Sandia Pueblo
- San Felipe Pueblo
- San Ildefonso Pueblo
- Santa Ana Pueblo
- Taos Pueblo
- Tesuque Pueblo
- Zia Pueblo
- Zuni Pueblo
- Hopi Tribe of Arizona
- Ysleta del Sur Pueblo
- Texas Bank of Yaqui Indians