The Ancestral Puebloans

About A.D. 100, Ancestral Puebloans lived in what is today the Four Corners region of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah. Within a few hundred years, they were building villages, some inside caves and some outside.

Between A.D. 1150 and A.D. 1300, the Ancestral Puebloans (also known as Anasazi) built their famous cliff residences. Using hand-cut stone blocks, they constructed housing complexes on cliffs along canyon walls. Such cliffs offered protection from raiders. The largest of these cliff dwellings, at Mesa Verde (MAY suh VEHR dee) in present-day Colorado, included more than 200 rooms. People climbed ladders to reach their fields on the flatlands above or the canyon floor below.

The Ancestral Puebloans also built freestanding villages, which were similar in structure to the cliff dwellings. These communities, which the Spanish later called pueblos (PWEB lohs), were made of multi-floor houses that were connected to one another by doorways and ladders.

Remains of Pueblo Bonito, the largest such pueblo, still stands in New Mexico. The huge complex consisted of 800 rooms that could have housed about 3,000 people. Builders used stone and adobe bricks to erect a crescent-shaped compound rising five stories high. In the center of the great complex lay a plaza. There, the Ancestral Puebloans dug their kiva (KEE vuh), a large underground chamber used for religious ceremonies and political meetings. In the kiva, they carved out a small hole in the floor, which represented the birthplace of the tribe. They also painted the walls with geometric designs and scenes of ritual or daily life.

In the late 1200s, a long drought forced the Ancestral Puebloans to abandon their dwellings. Attacks by Navajos and Apaches—peoples from the north—may have contributed further to their decline. However, Ancestral Puebloan traditions survived among several groups of descendants. Known collectively as Pueblo Indians, many of these groups continue to live in the southwestern United States today.

Cultures Develop in the East

Far to the east of the Ancestral Puebloans, in the Mississippi and Ohio river valleys, other farming cultures emerged after about 1000 B.C. They, too, left behind impressive constructions from which we can learn a great deal about their lives.

A map shows Native American culture areas.
Image Long Description

Analyze Maps

Native Americans developed a wide variety of cultures. In each culture area, people shared fairly similar environments and ways of life. Which culture area was the farthest south?


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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments