By Len Wilcox
The mysterious cliff dwellings in the American Southwest are fascinating places. They are historical registers that teach us just a little of ancient times, and of people who were farming here long before Columbus.
Some of these dwellings are very remote. A few, however, are much easier to visit. The place we call Montezuma’s Castle, and Tuzigoot National Monument nearby, are both just off the freeway between Phoenix and Flagstaff, Arizona. It’s not remote, but it is fascinating nonetheless.
We don’t know much about these early Americans. Even their names are our creation, not theirs. What little information we have about them is teased out of the history seen in the rocks and cliff houses. We have a lot of conclusions and inferences drawn from observations. These may or may not be right – they are subject to revision. We used to call these people the Anasazi. Now we have other names for them, but still don’t know what they called themselves.
We do believe that they were cautious people, living in well-protected homes in cliff faces and on mountain tops. Getting to and from work was a major chore. They had to climb down a precariously placed ladder and hike down just to get water or to hunt or work their fields. Their main crop was corn but they also grew squash and beans.
The Anasazi sun-dried their vegetables to preserve them. Some were stone ground, using a metate. Seeds were parched in hot coals and ground into meal. Pine nuts were ground into a paste. Corn was ground to make corn meal. These foods were stored in large pits, often sealed in baskets or pottery, the remains of which we can still find.
These people seem to have vanished. Some people think maybe there was a long and deadly drought, or perhaps a brutal war that caused these cliff dwellers to abandon their mountain homes and scatter to unknown territory. Perhaps they are the forebears of the pueblo communities still found in the Southwest. We just don’t know. It’s part of the mystery of the Southwest.
Have you been to an Anasazi site? What did you think? What do you think happened to these people? Let’s talk about it in the comments section.
I’m Len Wilcox and that’s the Western View.