The writings and reports of anthropologists and archaeologists were set out in a very cold and scientific manner without any feeling or sensitivity about the heart and spirit of the people they were reporting on. With many unanswered questions, I once again turned to the red heart of Thomas Mails and his 2 volume set entitled "The Pueblo Children of the Earth Mother". Mails has analyzed, and utilized, all the data before him, conducted his own research and written a comprehensive history of the peoples of the Southwest with the insight and compassion which sets all his works apart.
The Anasazi were not a war-like people, and absolutely no evidence of war weapons has ever been found in any of the digs. The first trace of them was uncovered in Northern Nevada in the late 1800's, followed soon by similar discoveries north of the Great Salt Lake in Utah. From artifacts found at these sites, the people were called The Basketmakers, and carbon dating placed them in this country some 400 years before Christ.
Imagine the surprise of the scientific community when discoveries made in the Four Corners area in the early 1900's turned out to be the same people. The explorers who unearthed these ruins naturally asked the Navajos living nearby who these people were. The Navajo did not know, but were only sure they were not of their nation. They referred to them as "Anasazi", a Navajo word meaning "ancient enemy", or "enemy ancestors", or "ancient ones" - the literal translation of this word is not sure. For simplicity's sake, the name Anasazi was given to all the people of the basketmaker era. Over 15,000 different sites have been located, but thorough examination and cataloging is painfully slow. It is exciting to realize that everything we think we know now will surely change as more research is completed, and the information released.
It has been scientifically established that most of the Native nations of the Southwest, dating back 10,000 years before Christ, had their origins in Peru, Central America and Mexico. However, while the Anasazi were surrounded by descendants of these cultures, were influenced by them, utilized their art, foods and some lifestyles, they were physically different from the Mesoamericans.
Due to the almost perfectly preserved bodies which have been found, it has been easy to reconstruct the physical appearance, customs and lifestyles of the Anasazi discovered so far. They had high cheekbones as other Native peoples, but a slightly Oriental structure to their faces. This suggests ancestry which may have been among those who actually did cross the ice bridge from Asia - perhaps the Lenni-Lenape.
The Anasazi were short, with the women less than 5 feet and the men only slightly taller, with the strong and sturdy body structure shaped by centuries of hard physical labor. There was no hair on their bodies, but their head hair was strong, straight and black. Interestingly enough, and as we discuss in my classes on Native American Awareness, the children's skin coloring was light, and their hair fine. As they grew into adulthood, their skin became brown and their hair coarser which, apparently, reflects constant exposure to the elements and the unforgiving environment.
In the beginning, the Anasazi were hunters and gatherers. They lived in domed huts made of thatched grasses, open at one end and held off the earth with a supporting limb or stick, of the same type and design used by the Utes and Paiutes of the same area. They stored their food in the caves, and under the rock overhangs, of the cliffs which surrounded them. The weathering and erosion of the cliff faces provided pits which were also used for storage, and covered over with rock slabs for protection and preservation. When the weather became too cold and forbidding to stay in their huts, the Anasazi moved into the cliffs to wait it out. (These rock and sandstone cliffs, which naturally stayed cooler than the surrounding desert, which gave protection from rain and water seepage, and which were kept dry by the constant desert winds, have proved to be perfect "refrigerators" for the preserved artifacts and bodies which are still being uncovered.)
Their dead was buried in the same cliffs, always with a new pair of shoes and other important personal possessions to assist them in their new world. The life expectancy of the ancient Anasazi was only 35 years or so.
Hair was very important to the Anasazi as it was used as a weaving fiber. The men wore their hair in a bun over each ear, with a third bun at the back of the head, just below the crown. As their hair shed naturally, it was saved in special bags for future use. The women wore their hair very short, only 2 or 3 inches over their head, as it was constantly being cut with sharp stones, and saved in the same special bags for weaving. The hair was carefully cared for with brushes made from tiny bunches of yucca.
As with the Chumash, Anasazi men wore no clothing in warm weather, but did wear a belt of woven hair and grasses from which they hung whatever they needed so that their hands would be free for chores.
Anasazi women wore only an article much like the Plains breech cloth. A waistband was woven of hair. From this waistband hung a long and narrow "apron" which was made of a wide border of highly decorated fingerweaving which ended in hundreds of strands of loose yucca fiber. These loose strands of fiber were passed between the legs and draped over the waistband in the back, where it hung free over the buttocks. It looked like a bikini in the front, and a breech cloth in the back.
In cold weather, "wrap-arounds" or "robes" were used by all the people, and were made of buckskin fastened at the chest with thongs, or elaborate coverings of fingerwoven rabbit fur, yucca cords, bird skins and feathers. These robes were used as covering during the day, as blankets at night, and to wrap the dead for burial.
Everyone wore shoes (actually sandals) to protect their feet, and to help the feet grip when climbing the canyon walls. The sandals were woven of yucca and hemp weed, and were two styles: thongs held on by strips wrapped around a toe or two and passed around the ankles and heels, and laced affairs covering the foot and wrapping around the ankle; the same styles worn by the ancient Romans, Greeks, Israelis and Egyptians. Although now made of every material you can think of, we wear the very same sandals today!
The Anasazi loved jewelry and decorations, and feathers, feathers, feathers. Seeds, bones, shells, stones, olivella, abalone and even snail shells were ground, polished, carved, engraved and punched to make every kind of jewelry and decoration imaginable, including the same style chokers we associate with the Plains peoples. Feathers were also used for everything from hair decorations to prayer sticks, from clothing to the most sacred of ceremonial tools. No body paint or tatooing has yet been found on the preserved bodies even though the cave pictographs show body paint. Perhaps it was not felt to be appropriate for the dead.
As they learned about corn, cotton and other crops from their Mesoamerican neighbors, the Anasazi became more settled and, over some 400 years, gradually moved off the desert floor into the cliffs they had used for centuries. Very large housing complexes were constructed with hundreds of rooms, ball courts, ceremonial kivas, storage bins, and community plazas. Rather than moving to a new location, these complexes were fashioned on top of the ancient shelters. Thus, the caches of artifacts are layered so that different findings are made every few feet while digging straight down.
Shade shelters, called ramadas, were constructed to give relief from the blazing sun. These shelters were simply poles with grasses and large plants forming a roof and one wall, where people could do their crafts and small handwork in more comfort. Due to the size of the population in these "towns", there was a constant need for baskets, pots, and pottery, not to mention fine crafts and art along with personal jewelry, decorations, clothing, etc. The ramadas did not sit empty.
This change in lifestyle from nomad to cliff dweller presented an entirely new set of problems. They still had to climb down to the desert floor to hunt and farm, and up the cliff faces for water and to "get home". Men carried the larger and heavier loads, and would simply strap the weight to their backs and climb the glasslike surfaces of the cliffs.
Women had to be more ingenious. They were left to carry the smaller articles, to do the gathering of food, and to carry the children. The burden basket was designed which was a cone shaped basket reaching from the back of the head, with the point of the cone resting against the small of the back. The broad mouth of the cone was held in place by a "tumpline" made of woven hair and grasses placed around the forehead and fastened to the basket with loops; thus leaving the hands free. Babies were carried in cradleboards with loops at each side which fit over the shoulders of the older children. Once they reached their destination, the cradleboard was simply hung on a tree, or a bush, or a rock so the child was out of harm's way, but still in plain sight. When the work was done, and the baskets filled, the women simply climbed back up the cliffs and proceeded about their business.
Obviously, someone got tired of all this. Handholds and steps gradually began to appear in the canyon walls, soon to be followed by actual ladders to get up and down. What luxury!! These innovations were late in coming to the Anasazi as they are still in evidence in the more widely known ruins around Chaco Canyon, Virgin River, etc. What is fascinating is what lies under what we can see, and what remains in the many settlements found, but not yet excavated.
Of necessity, this account of the Anasazi stops short. Our knowledge of them is spotty. While little pieces of their heritage are well documented and give us a good understanding of the people of a particular area, there are gaps in our knowledge because their homeland touches into 5 states, and their use of space creates great tiers of history not unlike giant layer cakes.
Considering that formal investigation into the Anasazi did not begin
until this century, and considering that the First Peoples of our continent
are now being looked at with new respect, we can be hopeful that new findings
about the Anasazi and their cultural neighbors can add another dimension
to the ever-present questions, "Where did the red man come from, and when,
Innerspace Main Page
Modifications and maintenance by Creative Endeavors
E-Mail to Julia