The Grand Canyon & the Colorado River, Arizona
June 17, 2003: Anasazi Grainery, Colorado River
All images are the property of Rhett Butler, copyright 2003.
Contact me regarding use and reproduction.
Rafting the Colorado is a fun and exciting way to see one the world's most spectacular natural formations, the Grand Canyon.
Grand Canyon National Park, a World Heritage Site, encompasses 1,218,375 acres and lies on the Colorado Plateau in northwestern Arizona. The land is semi-arid and consists of raised plateaus and structural basins typical of the southwestern United States. Drainage systems have cut deeply through the rock, forming numerous steep-walled canyons. Forests are found at higher elevations while the lower elevations are comprised of a series of desert basins. [National Park Service Excerpt]
Recommended travel guides on the Grand Canyon:
History of the Grand Canyon area [Wikitravel]:
The Basketmaker Anasazi (also called the Histatsinom, "people who lived long ago") evolved from the Desert Culture sometime around 500 BCE. This group inhabited the rim and inner canyon and survived by hunting and gathering along with some limited agriculture. Noted for their basketmaking skills (hence their name), they lived in small communal bands inside caves and circular mud structures called pithouses. Further refinement of agriculture and technology led to a more sedentary and stable lifestyle for the Anasazi starting around 500 CE. Contemporary with the flourishing of Azasazi culture, another group, called the Cohonina lived west of the current site of Grand Canyon Village.
Anasazi in the Grand Canyon area started to use stone in addition to mud and poles to erect above-ground houses sometime around 800 CE. Thus the Pueblo period of Anasazi culture was initiated. In summer, the Puebleoans migrated from the hot inner canyon to the cooler high plateaus and reversed the journey for winter. Large graineries and multi-room pueblos survive from this period. There are around 2,000 known Anasazi archaeological sites in park boundaries. The most accessible site is Tusayan Pueblo, which was constructed sometime around 1185 and housed 30 or so people.
Large numbers of dated archaeological sites indicate that the Anasazi and the Cohonina flourished until about 1200 CE. Something happened a hundred years after that, however, that forced both of these cultures to move away. Several lines of evidence led to a theory that climate change caused a severe drought in the region from 1276 to 1299, forcing these agriculture-dependent cultures to move on. Many Anasazi relocated to the Rio Grande and the Little Colorado River drainages, where their descendants, the Hopi and the 19 Pueblos of New Mexico, now live. The Hopi people believe they emerged from the canyon and that their spirits rest here.
For approximately one hundred years the canyon area was uninhabited by humans. Paiutes from the east and Cerbat from the west were the first humans to reestablish settlements in and around the Grand Canyon. The Pauite settled the plateaus north of the Colorado River and the Cerbat built their communities south of the river, on the Coconino Plateau. Sometime in the 15th century the Navajo, or the Dine, arrived in the area.
All three cultures were stable until the United States Army moved them to Indian reservations in 1882 as part of the removal efforts that ended the Indian Wars. The Havasupai and Hualapai are descended from the Cerbat and still live in the immediate area. Havasu Village, in the western part of the current park, is likely one of the oldest continuously-occupied settlements in the contiguous United States. Adjacent to the eastern part of the park is the Navajo Nation, the largest reservation in the United States.
Ancient Pueblo Peoples, "Anasazi"
Ancient Pueblo People, or Ancestral Puebloans is the preferred term for the group of peoples often known as Anasazi who are the ancestors of the modern Pueblo peoples. The term "Anasazi" is not preferred by their descendants, though there is still some controversy amongst them on a native alternative. The modern Hopi use the word "Hisatsinom" for the Anasazi. The word Anasazi is Navajo for "Ancient Ones" or "Ancient Enemy."
The Ancestral Puebloans were a prehistoric Native American civilization centered around the present-day Four Corners area of the Southwest United States. Archaeologists still debate when a distinct culture emerged, but the current consensus, based on terminology defined by the Pecos Classification, suggests their emergence around 1200 B.C., the Basketmaker II Era.
The civilization is perhaps best-known for the jacal, adobe and sandstone dwellings that they built along cliff walls, particularly during the Pueblo II and Pueblo III eras. The best-preserved examples of those dwellings are in parks such as Chaco Culture National Historical Park, Mesa Verde National Park, Hovenweep National Monument, Bandelier National Monument, and Canyon De Chelly National Monument. These villages, called pueblos by Mexican settlers, were often only accessible by rope or through rock climbing.
They also created many petroglyphs and pictographs.
The Ancestral Puebloans are also known for their unique style of pottery, today considered valuable for their rarity.
The Ancestral Puebloans disappeared for as yet undetermined reasons. Many have speculated that a change in local climate and resulting agricultural failures may be the reason; for example, the San Ildefonso Pueblo people used to live in Mesa Verde and Bandelier.
Cultural labels such as "Anasazi" (Hisatsinom), Hohokam or Mogollon are used by archaeologists to define cultural differences among prehistoric peoples. It is important to remember that culture names and divisions are assigned by individuals separated from the actual cultures by both time and space. This means that cultural divisions are by nature arbitrary, and are based solely on data available at the time of analysis and publication. They are subject to change, not only on the basis of new information and discoveries, but also as attitudes and perspectives change within the scientific community. It should not be assumed that an archaeological division corresponds to a particular language group or to a political entity such as a tribe.
When making use of modern cultural divisions in the Southwest, it is important to understand three limitations in the current conventions:
- Archaeological research focuses on items left behind during people's activities; fragments of pottery vessels, human remains, stone tools or evidence left from the construction of dwellings. However, many other aspects of the culture of prehistoric peoples are not tangible. Languages spoken by these people and their beliefs and behavior are difficult to decipher from physical materials. Cultural divisions are tools of the modern scientist, and so should not be considered similar to divisions or relationships the ancient residents may have recognized. Modern cultures in this region, many of whom claim some of these ancient people as ancestors, contain a striking range of diversity in lifestyles, language and religious beliefs. This suggests the ancient people were also more diverse than their material remains may suggest.
- The modern term "style" has a bearing on how material items such as pottery or architecture can be interpreted. Within a people, different means to accomplish the same goal can be adopted by subsets of the larger group. For example, in modern Western cultures, there are alternative styles of clothing that characterized older and younger generations. Some cultural differences may be based on linear traditions, on teaching from one generation or "school" to another. Other varieties in style may have distinguished between arbitrary groups within a culture, perhaps defining status, gender, clan or guild affiliation, religious belief or cultural alliances. Variations may also simply reflect the different resources available in a given time or area.
- Defining cultural groups, such as the Ancient Pueblo peoples, tends to create an image of territories separated by clear-cut boundaries, like modern state lines. These simply did not exist. Prehistoric people traded, worshipped and collaborated most often with other nearby groups. Cultural differences should therefore be understood as "clinal," "increasing gradually as the distance separating groups also increases." (Plog, p. 72.) Departures from the expected pattern may occur because of unidentified social or political situations or because of geographic barriers. In the Southwest, mountain ranges, rivers and, most obviously, the Grand Canyon can be significant barriers for human communities, likely reducing the frequency of contact with other groups. Current opinion holds that the closer cultural similarity between the Mogollon and Ancient Pueblos and their greater differences from the Hohokam is due to both the geography and the variety of climate zones in the Southwest.
- Plog, Stephen. Ancient Peoples of the American Southwest. Thames and Hudson, London, England, 1997. ISBN 0-500-27939-X.
- Sofaer, Anna , Director. "Mystery of Chaco Canyon." 1999. DVD/VHS. Bullfrog Films. Blurb: "Unveiling the ancient astronomy of southwestern Pueblo Indians." Sequel to "The Sun Dagger."
Articles involving tourism in the Grand Canyon: