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Defining the Sinagua

Who were the Sinagua? The answer to this question has at three dimensions: time, geography, and material culture. With respect to time, reasonable limits to the Sinagua cultural pattern are as follows: the Sinagua culture emerged as a distinctive pattern of material culture in central Arizona at about A.D. 600, and it disappeared sometime around A.D. 1450, when the Sinagua left their previous homeland and much of their population migrated to the Hopi mesas. Geographically, the Sinagua were spread widely over an area bounded roughly by the Little Colorado River, the San Francisco Peaks, the Verde River, and Clear Creek. Within this territory, at least two cultural divisions are identified: the northern Sinagua, living above the Mogollon Rim, and the southern Sinagua, inhabiting the Middle and Upper Verde River valley and the territory drained by its tributaries. Material culture is perhaps the most difficult aspect of an all-purpose Sinagua definition, owing to a high degree of variability through time and across space. Perhaps the only truly common element was Alameda Brown Ware pottery, a usually non-decorated ware made from residual volcanic clays and manufactured with a paddle-and-anvil technique.

Other than these rather loose criteria, defining the Sinagua is a difficult proposition. Throughout their history, the Sinagua were ever changing, and across their vast territorial range, the archaeological record shows a high degree of variability in subsistence pursuits, settlement patterns, organization, architecture, artifacts, and burial practices. Presumably, such differences in material remains reflect some degree of between-group differences in language or dialect, historical relations with surrounding cultural groups, political organization, world view, mythology, and religion. Thus, a hallmark of the Sinagua archaeological culture was its diversity, and it is often very difficult to speak of a "typical" cultural pattern. There were, evidently, many ways to be Sinagua, and these varied widely through time and across space.


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