Hohokam Mogollon and Sinagua Indians of the Southwest and
Four Corners Area
300 B.C. and 100 A.D., four distinct Indian cultures settled
in the southwest: Anasazi, Mogollon, Hohokam, and Sinagua. A
fifth culture, the Fremont Indians settled primarily in Utah
in 400 A.D. The Fremont and Anasazi Cultures overlapped in
Utah and Colorado.
Prehistoric Four Corners Area Indians
Anasazi, Mogollon, Sinagua, and Hohokam Indians did not
range over the vast distances covered by the big game
hunters of the late Pleistocene period, or the Archaic
Indians. Between three hundred B.C. and one hundred A.D.,
the Southwest Indians turned toward agriculture to
supplement their food source. During the late Archaic
Period, corn and then beans and squash provided the means
for a semi-settled village lifestyle. Corn, beans, and
squash become so important in Indian cultures they were
known as...The Three Sisters. The three plants were planted
together; the corn provided a stalk for the beans and the
squash provided ground cover to reduce water evaporation.
Southwest Pueblo Indians of today are direct decedents of
Prehistoric Indian cultures that raised corn, hand irrigated
fields, and built massive stone structures in Chaco Canyon,
Mesa Verde, Cedar Mesa, Montezuma Castle, and Casa Grande
hundreds of years before the first recorded Europeans saw
prehistoric Southwest Indians had broad cultural
similarities but had distinct languages and political unity.
Except dogs and turkeys, these prehistoric tribes did not
have domesticated animals, a system of writing, or the
wheel. To varying degrees, the Anasazi, Hohokam, Sinagua,
and Mogollon were influenced by Indians of central Mexico,
especially the Toltec. In trade with Mesoamerica Indians,
the Southwest Indians exchanged turquoise for parrot
feathers, copper bells, maize (corn), beans, squash, and
Wolf Man Panel w/copper bells
Mogollon (mo-ge-yon) people occupied mountainous areas of
Arizona and New Mexico in approximately 200 B.C. The
Mogollon culture eventually expanded to the southern rim of
the Colorado Plateau. The Mogollon Indians were initially
hunter-gatherers, but as their civilization advanced, the
Mogollon acquired corn, squash, beans, tobacco, and cotton
from Mesoamerica. The use of agricultural plants
necessitated moving from pithouses to semi-permanent
mountainous region where the Mogollon lived between 900 and
1200 A.D. had good soil and abundant moisture for growing
maize. Deer, antelope, and other wild game were plentiful in
the Mogollon mountains. Despite this, the Mogollon Indians
had abandoned the mountains by 1200 A.D. and moved south to
relationship between the Hohokam and the Sinagua Indians
that built pueblos in the Flagstaff, Arizona, area is
unclear. In many ways the history of the Sinagua Culture is
similar to the Hohokam. The Sinagua borrowed heavily from
the Mogollon and Anasazi cultures as well.
most famous of the Sinagua Pueblos is Montezuma Castle. When
white settlers first saw Montezuma Castle and the Anasazi
pueblo, Aztec, the belief was these structures were built by
the Aztec of Meso-America.
Sinagua Pueblo with large Kiva - Wupatki National
Hohokam Indians settled in the valleys of southern Arizona
around 300 B.C. Hohokam hunter-gatherer bands spread from
the Tucson Basin through much of Arizona. The early Hohokam
Indians built rectangular pithouses and lived in small
Pithouse - Boulder State Park
Hohokam are best known for their agriculture. The Hohokam
used sharp, wood-digging sticks, thin rock slab hoes, and
the shoulder blades of large animals to construct over a
thousand miles of canals. Some of the canals were up to
fifty feet wide and dug with massive organized labor
(Walker). The canals provided water for the villages and the
Hohokam crops...the overwhelming majority of the plants were
hand-watered from canals, catch basins, or seeps.
Shoulder Bone Hoe- Knife - and Awl
Indians with primitive stone tools lacked the capability to
flood irrigate agricultural fields. Successful flood
irrigation requires canals, diversion ditches, temporary
dams, and relatively level ground with a plant cover.
Irrigation Diversion Ditches
ground with a plant cover is lacking in a desert enviroment,
and stone-tooled farmers could not divert water to flood
irrigate a field. The Three Sisters (corn, beans, and
squash) were planted in a series of earth mounds close to
the canals similar to the milpas in Mesoamerica. Extended
families hand-watered and cultivated the Three Sisters as
well as cotton and other crops.
migrants from the Colorado Plateau and the influence from
Mesoamerica cultures characterized the final period of
Hohokam history. In the twelfth century, the Hohokam built
concentrated settlements, some a half-mile square in area.
The new Hohokam villages were solid clay walls reinforced
with posts. Some of the new villages were massive
multistoried houses with walls more than six-feet thick at
the base. Entrance to the walled villages was by ladder or a
single portal. Located between Phoenix and Tucson, the
multistoried Casa Grande was built by the Hohokam.
Casa Grande ~ 1100 A.D.
the largest Hohokam pueblo, had about a thousand residents
living in adobe row houses, some of them two and three
stories tall. Snaketown was located on the Gila River in the
area of modern day Phoenix, Arizona. Not all of the Hohokam
lived in the large villages; small bands continued to build
traditional lodges of post, brush and mud plastering over a
Hohokam developed trade networks west to the California
coast, eastward to the high plains of New Mexico and Texas,
and southward to Mexico. The Hohokam traded pottery and
cloth for seashells from the California coast. Agriculture
products, seashells, and turquoise were traded to the Llano
Estacado Indians of New Mexico and Texas. Turquoise and
decorated seashells were traded in Mesoamerica for copper
bells, polished plaques of iron pyrite, parrots, and macaws.
Besides these extensive trade routes, the Hohokam traded
with the Anasazi and the Mogollon.
signaled the end of the Hohokam expansion. Between 1130 and
1190, a prolonged drought led to crop failure, starvation,
and violent feuds. During the twelve hundreds, the Hohokam
abandoned the large settlements and returned to a small band
hunter-gatherer existence. Descendants of the Hohokam were
in southern Arizona when first seen by Spanish explorers.
The Spanish conquistadors referred to the Hohokam as Pima
The Ancestral Puebloans
is a Navajo word meaning ancient enemies. The new
politically correct name for the Anasazi is Ancestral
approximately 100 A. D., small hunter-gatherer bands of
Anasazi settled on the Colorado Plateau. This large
mountainous plateau region encompasses the Four Corners
area, as well as, other parts of southern Utah, Arizona,
Colorado, and New Mexico.
recognize two major periods in the archeological record of
the Anasazi: the Basketmaker and Pueblo.
1-750 A. D.
early Anasazi lived in shallow depressions in the ground
covered by a canopy of brush and mud called pithouses. The
Ancestral Puebloans used woven baskets as containers; some
were woven tight enough to hold water. The Anasazi did not
make pottery during this period, but they did raise Meso-American
corn and squash with dry farming and some hand irrigation.
The introduction of corn allowed the Anasazi to settle in
one area. The corn was planted in small plots, and while it
was growing, the people resumed their hunter-gather
pursuits. Over several hundred years, Anasazi agriculture
advanced to the point the people could sustain themselves in
semi-permanent villages. During this time period, another
Indian culture emerged to the north of the Anasazi...the
Fremont Indians of Utah and the eastern Great Basin.
Anasazi Basket - Mesa Verde NP
500 A.D., the Basketmaker villages showed significant
changes in their culture. Larger villages were built with
more storage bins, signifying increased yields of corn. In
addition to improved farming methods, the Anasazi trading
range expanded to the Pacific Coast, onto the Plains, and
through the Mogollon and Hohokam to Mesoamerica. Beans were
cultivated as a source of protein; however pinion nuts,
yucca fruit, berries, and wild game were still a major part
of the diet. Fibrous plants, especially yucca fiber, were
used for baskets, clothing, and other tools.
600 A.D., farming was the mainstay of the Ancestral Puebloan
economy. Agriculture revolved around corn, beans, and
squash. Enough corn was raised to create a surplus; large
storage rooms were prominent features of the Pueblo
communities. By the late Basketmaker phase, the Anasazi had
more possessions, stored food, adopted the bow and arrow,
domesticated turkeys, and made pottery. Storage containers
of plain gray, and occasionally black on white pottery,
appeared for the excess food.
Anasazi Cup - Mesa Verde NP
containers, or baskets, were stored inside masonry
structures in the village or in small granaries tucked under
overhangs on narrow ledges for emergency use. These storage
granaries are occasionally spotted on high cliff ledges.
A good deal of
archeological studies of the Anasazi centers on pottery.
Pottery contains hidden clues about the people who made it.
Temper (gritty binding material) in the clay may be
traceable to the geologic area where the pottery was made.
The surfaces of bowls may retain pollen from food plants, or
scrapings from a meal.
fragments (sherds) can indirectly show when a household or
village was occupied. Archeologists use broken pieces of
pottery to reveal information on social groups and trade
pottery made in the Colorado plateau area carried bold
black-on-white designs, while other kinds included plain and
textured, or corrugated cooking vessels. Black-on-red
pottery from northern Arizona was traded throughout the Four
Corners, as was red-on-buff styles from Utah. Shapes
included jars, bowls, pitchers, ladles, canteens, figurines
and miniatures. The style and design of pottery changed
through time and varied across regions. Broken pieces of
pottery are called sherds.
Phase 750-1300 A.D.
term Pueblo refers to an Indian culture unique to the
Southwest not to a particular tribe. Even though the Pueblo
Indians shared many common elements, each Pueblo village had
its own social order and religious practices. The early
Pueblo period was a time of territorial expansion and
cultural transition. Cotton cloth, aboveground houses, and
improved pottery all came about during this period.
the start of the Pueblo era, the Anasazi built the
traditional pithouses lodges and semi-subterranean kivas. In
addition, above ground storage structures called Jackals
were being built. Eventually, the Pueblo families moved out
of the pithouses into the Jackals.
Reconstructed Mesa Verde Jackal
750 A.D., an "elite group" started to build in
Chaco Canyon. The Chaco Indians were either from, or
strongly influenced by the Toltec Culture of central Mexico.
The "elite group" brought with them knowledge and
technological advancements (Southwest Indian Council). The
area west and north of Chaco Canyon had two wet seasons,
rain in the summer and rain or snow in the winter; to the
south and southeast, there was a single rainy season in the
middle to late summer (Walker). The people of Chaco Canyon
were perfectly situated to carry on an extensive corn trade
between the two regions.
this time period, an extensive trade developed in turquoise,
pipestone, shells, carved flutes, mosaic baskets, and fine
pottery, as well as, copper bells and macaw feathers
developed with Mesoamerica...over a wide time period several
great Indian cultures developed and disappeared in the
western hemisphere: Norte Chico in Peru and from central and
southern Mexico the Olmec, Zapotec, Teotihuacan, Mayan, and
archeologists agree on a wide trade network between the
Southwest Indians and Mexico, especially with the Toltec,
but discount an Anasazi migration from Mexico. These
archeologists believe the Southwest Indians emerged from the
archaic period (Stone).
the next two centuries (800-1000 A.D.), the Anasazi spread
across the San Juan Basin; more than ten thousand separate
sites have been identified. Archaeologists have discovered
at least one hundred and fifty great house style structures
outside of Chaco Canyon; these Pueblos are referred to as
wise few people lived in Chaco Canyon itself, perhaps
twenty-five hundred to three thousand. The Chaco elite
gained control over the surplus corn trade through the Chaco
priests. Priests convinced the farmers they controlled the
seasonal rains. By gaining power over the corn, the Chacoans
controlled a vast region of the Southwest (Walker). The
Chacoans themselves made relatively little pottery, or grew
much corn; they were the corn brokers.
1000 A.D., the seasonal rains arrived with more consistency.
This rain pattern continued for the next one hundred and
thirty years; large surpluses of corn filled Chaco
storehouses. The Chacoans exploded in a building frenzy that
turned Chaco Canyon into the greatest settlement in North
America. This period is referred to as the Chaco Phenomenon.
Pueblo Bonita (2003)
Bonito is the most celebrated of the Chaco Canyon great
houses. Along its back perimeter, the rooms stood five
stories high. Pueblo Bonita had seven hundred or more rooms,
thirty-seven family kivas, and two community kivas. Built in
several stages, Pueblo Bonita covered over four and one-half
acres. The Pueblo Bonita workers shaped an estimated one
million blocks of sandstone weighing some thirty thousand
tons in constructing Pueblo Bonito.
elaborate road and trail system connected the outlying
villages with Chaco Canyon. Despite having over four hundred
miles of roads, there is no evidence Chaco Indian used the
wheel. A study by University of Arizona researchers showed
the workers hauled spruce and fir timbers more than fifty
miles to construct the floors and roofs. The timbers were
packed from the Chuska Mountains to the west and the San
Mateo Mountains to the south (Sharp).
Artists drawing of Pueblo Bonita in 1100A.D.
Chaco Culture Brochure states:
contrast to the usual practice of adding rooms to existing
structures as needed, many archeologists believe the great
houses in Chaco Canyon were planned from the start.
Construction on some of these buildings spanned decades.
These great houses were not traditional farming villages
occupied by large populations. They may instead have been
impressive examples of "public architecture"
used periodically during times of ceremony, commerce, and
trading when temporary populations came to the canyon for
information from the Chaco Canyon Brochure is difficult to
believe. If these great houses were built over decades, to
pre-plan them would require some type of
"blueprint" or written record. There is no
evidence the Anasazi had any type of writing or
communication through symbols. Even if these structures were
built with slave labor, it is implausible these massive
houses were built to impress visitors...from where?
is evidence of astronomical observations in Chaco Canyon. In
1977, Dr. Anna Sofaer discovered the Sun Dagger on Fajada
Butte. A large circular spiral and a small spiral are pecked
in the cliff behind three large stone slabs. At midday on
the summer solstice, the sun shines between the stone slabs
and creates a dagger of light that bisects the large spiral.
On midday of the winter solstice, two daggers bracket the
large spiral. During the spring and the fall equinoxes, a
small dagger of light bisects the small spiral. The slabs
also cast shadow on the large spiral that marks the moon’s
eighteen point six years cycle of its orbit (Chaco Culture
Fajada Butte Sun Dials
unraveling of the Chaco society began with a prolonged
drought beginning around 1130 A.D. Lack of rain depleted the
storehouses and made the farmers question the power of the
Chaco priests. The Chaco Phenomena was over. One group built
the Salmon Pueblo, which soon failed. Migrants from Salmon
and Chaco Canyon built a five hundred room pueblo on the
banks of the Animas River.
white settlers first saw the ruins of this large pueblo,
they called it, Aztec. The settlers could not believe
indigenous Indians had built such an elaborate village.
(Walker). As the Chaco system begin to fail, the Chaco
population scattered in a series of migrations to outlying
areas. Some places in the Four Corners area such as, Mesa
Verde, Hovenweep, Cedar Mesa, Kayenta, etc. increased in
put forth many reasons, especially drought, for the decline
of the Anasazi Indians. Environmental conditions, or
warfare, often triggered the collapse of a culture, but the
basic problem was stone-tooled farmers lacked the ability to
grow, transport, and distribute enough food to support the
large numbers of people living in the population centers. A
lack of domesticated work animals limits the ability of
stone-tooled farmers to support large non-agricultural
communities, such as, Pueblo Bonita, Casa Grande, Mesa Verde
pueblos, etc., the pre-historic Americas lacked large animal
that could be domesticated for agriculture use.
Anasazi article was written by O. Ned Eddins of Afton,
Wyoming. Permission is given for material from this site to
be used for school research papers.