Classical America: The West: Southwest

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Classical America: The West: Southwest


Cochise: 8000300 b.c. In the desert regions of the American Southwest the Paleo-Indians adapted their big-game hunting techniques to the pursuit of the smaller mammals native to the region. The hunting-and-gathering Desert culture, also known as the Cochise tradition, developed during the Archaic period, and when corn entered the region after 3000 b.c., the Cochise people began to adopt a more sedentary lifestyle. Still, the growing of domesticated crops did not restrict the Cochise to any one particular site, for they continued to follow a pattern of migration that was tied to changes in the seasons. With the development of pottery around 300 b.c., the Desert culture developed further into three distinct traditions: the Mogollon, Hohokam, and Anasazi.

Mogollon: 300 b.c. to 1100 a.d. The Mogollon culture emerged out of the Archaic Cochise tradition, and their archaeological sites can be found throughout present-day Arizona and New Mexico. The use of pottery and the continued evolution of horticulture set the Mogollons apart from the more general Desert culture and marked them as the first truly sedentary people in the region. They lived in pithouses, structures built partially into the earth, which were clustered in small villages, and they relied upon innovations such as the bow and arrow, which first appeared among them around 1 a.d., to supplement their vegetable diet. For reasons unknown the Mogollon began to disappear around 1100 a.d. when their sites gave way to sites identifiable with the Anasazi tradition.

Hohokam: 3001400 b.c. The Hohokams also evolved out of the Cochise tradition, but they originated farther south than the Mogollons, in the Sonora Desert. In time they moved into present-day Arizona and settled the area around Phoenix and Tucson. The Hohokams were far more adept than their Mogollon counterparts at growing corn because they constructed elaborate systems of canals to irrigate the arid land. They also built large earthen mounds for religious ceremonies which attested to their high level of sociopolitical organization. Around

1400 b.c., however, the Hohokam culture began to show signs of Anasazi influence, and shortly thereafter it disappeared altogether from the archaeological record.

Anasazi: 10001300 a.d. Around 1000 a.d. the Anasazis emerged as the preeminent elaboration of the Cochise tradition. Located in present-day Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona, the Anasazis built on many of the developments made by the previous cultures. They made and used both baskets and pots; they irrigated their fields to supplement the periodic flooding of the regions rivers; and they retained the pithouse style of the Mogollons. But they also innovated. For instance, the Anasazis constructed special structures called kivas for their religious ceremonies. Kivas were built underground, and men and women climbed through the roof and descended on a ladder to pay homage to the sipapu, a hole in the floor that led to the center of the earth from whence the Anasazis, so their legends told, came. If their religion took them into the earth, their habitations climbed higher and higher. The Anasazis were famous for their cliff dwellings and their adobe villages situated on top of the mesas, flat-topped mountains, that are common in the desert country. Capacious and multistory pueblos contained the Anasazis burgeoning population, and they continued to flourish until 1300 a.d. when a cycle of droughts and raids by neighboring peoples dispersed them into the dozens of scattered, small pueblos that greeted the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the 1540s.

Athapaskan: 8001540 a.d. The raiders who decimated the Anasazis were Athapaskans who were descended from the Na-Dénés, the second wave of Asian immigrants. The nomadic group had migrated from the Rocky Mountain region in present-day Canada to the desert Southwest between 800 and 1500 a.d., where they set themselves up as middlemen in the trade that went on between the pueblo people and the inhabitants of the Great Plains. One branch of the Athapaskans adopted local traditions, particularly horticulture and irrigation technology, and became known as the Navajos. Other groups, however, retained the nomadic ways of the original early Archaic Athapaskans. The Apaches, for example, raised a little corn, but on the whole remained divided

up into small bands and scoured the dry countryside for food.


Linda S. Cordell, Prehistory of the Southwest (New York: Academic Press, 1984);

Alfonso Ortiz, ed., Handbook of North American Indians: Southwest, 2 volumes (Washington, d.c.: Smithsonian Institution, 1979, 1983).

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Classical America: The West: Southwest

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