A sedimentary rock produced by the consolidation and compaction of sand, cemented with clay.
The greater Southwest has long been occupied by
hunter-gatherers and agricultural settlements. This area, comprised of modern-day Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Nevada, and the
states of Sonora and Chihuahua in northern Mexico, has seen successive
prehistoric cultural traditions since approximately 12,000 years ago. Three of
the major cultural traditions that impacted the region include the
Paleo-Indian tradition, the Southwestern Archaic tradition, and the Post-Archaic
cultures tradition. As various cultures developed over time, many of them shared similarities in family structure and religious beliefs.
farmers probably began experimenting with agriculture by facilitating the
growth of wild grains such as amaranth and chenopods as well as gourds for
their edible seeds and shells. The earliest maize known to have been grown in
the Southwest was a popcorn varietal measuring one to two inches long. It was
not a very productive crop. More productive varieties were developed later by Southwestern
farmers or introduced via Mesoamerica, though the drought-resistant tepary bean
was native to the region. Cotton has been found at archaeological sites dating
to about 1,200 BCE in the Tucson basin and was most likely cultivated by
indigenous peoples in the region. Evidence of tobacco use and possibly the
cultivation of tobacco, dates back to approximately the same time period.
especially agave murpheyi, was a major food source of the Hohokam and grown on
dry hillsides where other crops would not grow. Early farmers also possibly cultivated cactus fruit, mesquite bean, and species of wild grasses
for their edible seeds.
Paleolithic peoples utilized
habitats near water sources like rivers, swamps, and marshes, which had an
abundance of fish and attracted birds and game animals. They hunted big game—bison, mammoths, and
ground sloths—who were also attracted to these water sources. A period of relatively wet conditions saw
many cultures in the American Southwest flourish. Extensive irrigation systems
were developed and were among the largest of the ancient world. Elaborate adobe
and sandstone buildings were constructed, and highly ornamental and artistic
pottery was created. The unusual weather conditions could not continue forever,
however, and gave way in time, to the more common arid conditions of the area.
These dry conditions necessitated a more minimal way of life and, eventually,
the elaborate accomplishments of these cultures were abandoned.
During this time, the people of the Southwest
developed a variety of subsistence strategies, all using their own specific
techniques. The nutritive value of weed and grass seeds was discovered and flat
rocks were used to grind flour to produce gruels and breads. The use of
grinding slabs originated around 7,500 BCE and marks the beginning of the Archaic tradition.
Small bands of people traveled throughout the area gathering plants such as cactus
fruits, mesquite beans, acorns, and pine nuts. Archaic people established camps
at collection points, and returned to these places year after year.
The American Indian Archaic culture eventually evolved into
two major prehistoric archaeological culture areas in the American Southwest
and northern Mexico. These cultures, sometimes referred to as Oasisamerica, are
characterized by dependence on agriculture, formal social stratification,
population clusters, and major architecture. One of the major cultures that
developed during this time was the Pueblo peoples, formerly referred to as the
Anasazi. Their distinctive pottery and
dwelling construction styles emerged in the area around 750 CE. Ancestral
Pueblo peoples are renowned for the construction of and cultural achievement
present at Pueblo Bonito and other sites in Chaco Canyon, as well as Mesa
Verde, Aztec Ruins, and Salmon Ruins. Other cultural traditions that developed during this time include the Hohokam
and Mogollon traditions.
peoples in the Southwest initially structured their families and communities
into highly mobile traveling groups of approximately 20 to 50 members, moving
place to place as resources were depleted and additional supplies were needed.
As cultural traditions began to evolve throughout the
Southwest between 7,500 BCE to 1,550 CE, many cultures developed similar
social and religious traditions. For the Pueblos and other Southwest American Indian communities, the transition from a hunting-gathering, nomadic experience to more
permanent agricultural settlements meant more firmly established families and
change that occurred about 3,500 years ago during the Archaic period, however,
changed patterns in water sources, dramatically decreasing the population of
indigenous peoples. Many family-based groups took shelter in caves and rock
overhangs within canyon walls, many of which faced south to capitalize on
warmth from the sun during the winter. Occasionally, these peoples lived in
small, semi-sedentary hamlets in open areas.
Many Southwest tribes during
the Post-Archaic period lived in a range of structures that included small
family pit houses, larger structures to house clans, grand pueblos,
and cliff-sited dwellings for defense.
These communities developed complex networks that stretched across the Colorado
Plateau, linking hundreds of neighborhoods and population centers.
While southwestern tribes developed more permanent family
structures and established complex communities, they also developed and shared a
similar understanding of the spiritual and natural world. Many of the tribes
that made up the Southwest Culture practiced animism and shamanism. Shamanism encompasses the premise that
shamans are intermediaries or messengers between the human world and the spirit
worlds. At the same time, animism encompasses the beliefs that there is no separation
between the spiritual and physical (or material) world, and that souls or spirits exist
not only in humans, but also in some other animals, plants, rocks, and geographic
features such as mountains or rivers, or other entities of the natural
environment, including thunder, wind, and shadows.
Although at present there are a variety of contemporary cultural traditions that exist in the greater
Southwest, many of these traditions still incorporate similar religious aspects
that are found in animism and shamanism. Some of these cultural traditions include
the Yuman-speaking peoples inhabiting the Colorado River valley, the uplands,
and Baja California; O'odham peoples of southern Arizona and northern Sonora; and the Pueblo peoples of Arizona and New Mexico.