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What awful event forced the Anasazi to flee their homeland, never to return?

It encompassed almost 10, square miles 26, square km of territory going across the states of Utah, Colorado and New Mexico, with part of the region in Colorado forming Mesa Verde National Park. It was a tough place to make a living. The Crow Canyon researchers noted that after A. They grew corn, squash and beans, supplementing these crops by hunting game and collecting wild plants. In the time after they moved into the center of Mesa Verde, they developed pottery and the bow and arrow. The adoption of the bow appears to have increased their hunting proficiency, resulting in some game animals, like deer, eventually becoming overhunted and replaced with domesticated turkey.

They lived in simple pit houses with a hearth, fire hole and room for storage. Entered through the roof by way of a ladder, the house was cool in the summer and warm in the winter because it was partly underground. These people came together in what we call "great kivas," which were also located partly underground. This way of life appears to have been quite successful, at least for a time.

A team of researchers reported in a article in the journal American Antiquity that a portion of the Mesa Verde region, located in Colorado, more than doubled in population between roughly A.

Riddles of the Anasazi | History | Smithsonian

At this time, larger communities began to appear in Mesa Verde. These communities used a new type of above-ground structure known to archaeologists as "room blocks. Crow Canyon archaeologists noted that these room blocks were made of adobe, stone and plant materials, with stone masonry becoming more important as time went on. But, just as the population peaked, something happened and the people left in droves.

The Mystery of the Anasazi Civilization by Sam Osmanagich Ph.D.

The researchers in the American Antiquity article noted that the area of land they were studying, in Colorado, saw its population rapidly shrink between A. This appears to have happened across the Mesa Verde region, with the population moving south to places like Chaco Canyon in New Mexico. They developed an assay that distinguishes between human myoglobin and that of nine food animals such as bison and rabbits. The assay found human myoglobin in the coprolite, but no traces of it in any of 25 control human fecal samples. The authors report finding more human myoglobin on shards of a cooking pot, they report in the 7 September issue of Nature.

Not everyone agrees. Debra Martin of Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, says the fecal chunk could have been contaminated with human proteins during handling by scientists.

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But Brian Billman of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, lead archaeologist at the site, says the coprolite lacks the bone chunks, hair from grooming, and fur that are almost always found in canine coprolites, and there were no canine tooth marks on the human remains. By Jeffrey Mervis Sep. By Jocelyn Kaiser Sep. As we stood atop the northernmost mesa, I could see the second mesa just southeast of us, though not the third, which was farther to the east; yet when we got on top of the third, we could see the second.

In the KayentaValley, which surrounded us, Haas and Creamer identified ten major villages that were occupied after and linked by lines of sight. It was not difficulty of access that protected the settlements none of the scrambles we performed here began to compare with the climbs we made in the Utah canyons , but an alliance based on visibility.


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If one village was under attack, it could send signals to its allies on the other mesas. Now, as I sat among the tumbled ruins of the northernmost mesa, I pondered what life must have been like here during that dangerous time. Around me lay sherds of pottery in a style called Kayenta black on white, decorated in an endlessly baroque elaboration of tiny grids, squares and hatchings—evidence, once again, that the inhabitants had taken time for artistry. And no doubt the pot makers had found the view from their mesa-top home lordly, as I did.

But what made the view most valuable to them was that they could see the enemy coming.


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It seems to have originated with environmental catastrophes, which in turn may have given birth to violence and internecine warfare after Yet hard times alone do not account for the mass abandonment—nor is it clear how resettling in another location would have solved the problem. Several archaeologists have argued that the pull was the Kachina Cult.

Kachinas are not simply the dolls sold today to tourists in Pueblo gift shops. They are a pantheon of at least deities who intercede with the gods to ensure rain and fertility. Even today, Puebloan life often revolves around Kachina beliefs, which promise protection and procreation. The Kachina Cult, possibly of Mesoamerican origin, may have taken hold among the relatively few Anasazi who lived in the Rio Grande and Little Colorado River areas about the time of the exodus. Such an evolution in religious thinking among the Anasazi farther south and east might have caught the attention of the farmers and hunters eking out an increasingly desperate existence in the Four Corners region.

They could have learned of the cult from traders who traveled throughout the area.


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  • Unfortunately, no one can be sure of the age of the Rio Grande and southern Arizona Kachina imagery. Some archaeologists, including Lipe and Lekson, argue that the Kachina Cult arose too late to have triggered the 13th-century migration. So far, they insist, there is no firm evidence of Kachina iconography anywhere in the Southwest before A. In any case, the cult became the spiritual center of Anasazi life soon after the great migration. And in the 14 th century, the Anasazi began to aggregate in even larger groups—erecting huge pueblos, some with upwards of 2, rooms. Two hours in, we scrambled up to a sizable ruin containing the remains of some 35 rooms.

    The wall behind the structures was covered with pictographs and petroglyphs of ruddy brown bighorn sheep, white lizard-men, outlines of hands created by blowing pasty paint from the mouth against a hand held flat on the wall and an extraordinary, artfully chiseled foot-long snake.

    One structure in the ruin was the most astonishing Anasazi creation I have ever seen. An exquisitely crafted wooden platform built into a huge flaring fissure hung in place more than 30 feet above us, impeccably preserved through the centuries. It was narrow in the rear and wide in the front, perfectly fitting the contours of the fissure.

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    To construct it, the builders had pounded cup holes in the side walls and wedged the ax-hewn ends of massive cross-beams into them for support. These were overlaid with more beams, topped by a latticework of sticks and finally covered completely with mud.

    What was the platform used for? No one who has seen it has offered me a convincing explanation. The Tsegi Canyon seems to have been the last place where the Anasazi hung on as the 13th century drew to a close. Dean dated nearby Betatakin and Keet Seel, two of the largest cliff dwellings ever built, to —the oldest sites discovered so far within the abandoned region. It would seem that all the strategies for survival failed after Just before , the last of the Anasazi migrated south and east, joining their distant kin.

    Yet my wanderings this past winter in search of 13th-century ruins had amounted to a sustained idyll. Warfare and cannibalism may have been responses to the stresses that peaked in the 13th century, but the Anasazi survived. They survived not only whatever crisis struck soon after , but also the assaults of the Spanish conquest in the 16th century and the Anglo-American invasion that began in the 19th. From Taos Pueblo in New Mexico to the Hopi villages in Arizona, the Pueblo people today still dance their traditional dances and still pray to their own gods.

    Their children speak the languages of their ancestors. The ancient culture thrives.

    Mysteries of the American Southwest – Anasazi Time Travelers?

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