The Pueblo were an ancient American culture that existed in the Four Corner region comprising Southern Utah, Northern Arizona, North-west Mexico and a portion of Colorado. The culture popularly known for their elaborate stone communities in the sheltered alcoves of the Canyon walls flourished in the region for about 700 years. This group of people is also known as Anasazi which means the ancient ones.
The Cliff Dwellers
Ancient Puebloans belong to a vigorous civilization that accomplished the concept of community living. Its art is considered among the finest in expression of human culture. Using nature as their shelter, the Puebloans built the dwellings under the overhanging cliffs. Sandstone cut into rectangular blocks were the basic building block which was joined using a mixture of mud and water. The average size of the room was about 6 feet by 8 feet.
The Puebloans were primarily farmers. They grew crops of beans, corn and squash. However they supplemented these crops by gathering wild plants and hunting small animals. They lived on these cliffs for about 100 years. The reason for their vanishing Mesa Verde is still under debate. Some historians claim that drought must have forced them to look for a more suitable land, while other believes that it must be the depletion of essential resources that forced them to migrate. They are believed to have travelled to Mexico and Arizona.
The Settlement of Mesa Verde
Mesa Verde was the first ancestral settlement of the Pueblos. Much of the terrain was dominated by ridges and valleys. It is famous for its cliff dwellings including the cliff palace which is considered to be the largest cliff dwelling in North America. Today Mesa Verde is preserve as “Mesa Verde National Park”. A group of people that were nomads originally began to lead a more settled life and gradually farming replaced the hunting and the gathering. These people settled in pit houses clustered into small villages that were either built on mesa tops or cliffs recesses. Pit houses consisted of a living room sunk a few feet in the ground while timbers at the four corners supported the roof. Air deflectors were present for the fire pit while the ante-chamber could have served as the storage. A hole was present which was believed to be a passageway to the underworld.
Over a period of time, the people of Mesa Verde evolved from their pole and adobe construction to a more advanced technology of stone masonry. Often the house rose about two to three stories in which the walls were constructed with thick double course stone masonry. These were then further joined into units of 50 or more rooms. Pottery was another useful art they learned that evolved into more elaborate design and paintings with the passage of time. The art of pottery which was more local and personal was probably transferred from mother to daughter. These houses were occupied by families through generations. Additional rooms were added to accommodate the growing family. Related families constituted a clan
Trade and economy
Agriculture was the main economy of the Puebloans. However, apart from farming Puebloans practiced weaving, leatherwork, making pottery, jewelry, baskets which gave them opportunity to trade their surplus with their neighbours and within communities. Dogs and turkeys were the key domestic animal. On foot traders brought seashells from the coast of the Pacific Ocean, turquoise, pottery and cotton from the south. Artificial irrigation ensured a healthy cultivation. Farming on terraces of the hills was protected through a well-developed technique of stone processing. A drought heavily affected the economy of the Puebloans. To ensure sustenance during extended period of droughts a level of food was reserved and stored
Religion and rituals
Religion is the centre for all ceremonial. Underground kiva or ceremonial rooms were usually part of a household. The roof over the kiva served as open terraces. Kivas were believed to be used for healing rituals and praying. It was also used for gathering and weaving. Women were allowed inside the kiva only on specific occasions.
Most of the prayers and rituals were concerned with agriculture, hence forces of nature played a significant role that were symbolised by magical rituals such as rain was believed to be obtained by smoking the holy pipe or painting of rain and lightning symbols. The kiva also contained the small and round cavity that represented a hole into the earth from which the people of ancient times ascended from the underworld.
The people of Puebloans
The survival of the Puebloan’s society in a difficult landscape using their various skills was commendable. The structures that stand till today are evidence of skills and traditions passed on through generations. Even without the existence of a written script to record their history, the structures, pottery, basketry tells about their artistic and skilful nature.