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Ancestral Pueblo Culture (Anasazi)

ancestral pueblo life

A big shift!

rock structures

Ancestral Puebloan ruins at Hovenweep, Utah.

People have lived in Utah for thousands of years. For 5/6 of that time, they have lived a hunting and gathering life.

However, around 2,500 years ago, the hunting and gathering life of the earliest people began to slowly change--and in big ways.

People began to grow food. The people we now call Ancestral Pueblo or Anasazi began to farm in the dry, warm climate of the Four Corners area. They figured out how to irrigate their crops.

Corn, beans, and squash (which probably came into Utah from Mexico) became a mainstay of meals. So did turkey, which the people had domesticated.

Settling down to farm was a big change, and it had a lot of consequences.

How do you think life would change when people stopped roaming and settled down to farm?

Life changed in other ways. For one thing, people began using a new technology for hunting: the bow and arrow.

What was life like?

Because they had switched from hunting-gathering to agriculture, the early Ancestral Puebloans built pithouses, sometimes in good-sized villages. Later, they built houses and granaries from stone (for storing their crops), and they gathered in small or large communities.

structures of mud and wattle

Some Ancestral Puebloan structures.

The pit house structure evolved in use--from a living space into a kiva, a sacred room where religious ceremonies took place.

Agriculture also meant that people were eating foods with a lot of starches that stuck to their teeth. They were grinding corn with rock that left little bits of stone mixed into the flour. So they began to have cavities and other tooth problems!

Making and trading things

white paint on clay and rock walls

Paintings inside an Ancestral Puebloan structure.

Because the people didn’t have to carry everything they owned on long journeys, they could make and acquire more stuff.

They created beautiful and useful baskets and sandals, then later learned to make and decorate pottery and jewelry. They learned to grow and weave cotton and to use the bow and arrow.

They probably traded goods with other people, acquiring stuff that came from as far away as Mexico and California. How do we know this? Archaeologists have found macaw feathers and seashells (not from Utah!) in Pueblo villages. These people also built roads and could send signals to faraway places by using fires on tops of mesas or mountains.

Starting about 1250 A.D., the Ancestral Pueblo people abandoned their villages. They seem to have just walked away. They probably migrated south into New Mexico and Arizona, where they became the modern Pueblo tribes.

Why did they leave? Maybe drought or over-population made life here too hard. Or maybe new peoples moving in (the ancestors of Utes and Paiutes) forced them out.

What did they leave behind?

rock structures in a cave on a sandstone cliff

Ancestral Puebloan ruins near Blanding, Utah.

Stunning cliff houses, rock art, pottery, and even systems of roads capture our imagination today. These artifacts, along with less-spectacular artifacts such as plant pollen, turkey bones, and coprolites (human poop) help us learn about the Ancestral Pueblo culture.

Why are there two names for these people?

Sometimes these people are called Ancestral Pueblo people, and sometimes they are called the Anasazi. Find out why on Utah's Anasazi State Park web page.

Read more about the Ancestral Pueblo (Anasazi) people.

Take a quiz about Ancestral Pueblo life.