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ANCESTRAL PUEBLOSINAGUA

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The Sinagua


From the 7th through 15th centuries A.D., the forests, canyons, grasslands, and deserts of central Arizona were home to a resourceful and resilient prehistoric people archaeologists have called the Sinagua. The Sinagua created a unique cultural pattern during the eight centuries of their existence, one not obviously derived from neighboring archaeological cultures such as the Hohokam, Mogollon, or Ancestral Pueblo. At the peak of their success in the 12th and 13th centuries the Sinagua had colonized and successfully adapted to much of the western Mogollon Rim, the San Francisco Mountain volcanic field, and the Verde Valley. They created sprawling pueblo and pit house communities that house up to several hundred people. They made their living through a combination of hunting, gathering, and farming that was highly variable across space, depending on available resources and farming potential. The Sinagua mastered the art of dry farming maize, beans, and squash by building extensive agricultural field systems cleverly designed to overcome drought, thin soils, and hot, drying winds. In some places they constructed irrigation canals to water their fields. In the locales that lacked surface water they made small ponds to catch the rain so that it could be scooped into pottery jars for storage. Like all human groups they believed in forces beyond the realm of human experience and did what they could to change the seen and unseen worlds with their words, thoughts, feelings, and deeds. They conducted their rituals and ceremonies in a diverse set of structures, including circular kivas, rectangular “community rooms,” and, at least for a time, in Hohokam-style ballcourts. The Sinagua developed a unique pottery tradition of brown, red, and buff pottery (Alameda Brown Ware), made from local clay and manufactured with a paddle-and-anvil technique. Unlike most cultures of the ancient Southwest, they never made significant amounts of decorated pottery. The Sinagua developed a thriving exchange with surrounding cultural groups and emerged as perhaps the most successful traders of the prehistoric Southwest. Among the items exchanged were decorated pottery, shell jewelry, copper bells, live macaws (parrots from Mexico), salt, pigments, cotton cloth, and argillite (soft red stone suitable for carving). By the middle of the A.D. 1200s, most of the northern Sinagua left their homes in the Flagstaff area and other parts of the western Mogollon, concentrating into a few very large pueblo towns on Anderson Mesa. By the mid A.D. 1400s, the Sinagua chose to leave these towns as well as all of their settlements in the Verde Valley. They may have migrated to a number of places, but almost certainly many of the Sinagua went to even larger pueblos that were then being built on the Hopi Mesas. From this point on the Sinagua cultural pattern ceased to exist in any form recognizable by archaeological methods. The Sinagua passed into history, becoming one of the many “Hisatsinom” (Hopi for “people of long ago”) who contributed to the genetic and cultural makeup of the Hopi people.

 

Dept. of Anthropology, P.O. Box 15200,
Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, Arizona 86011-5200, USA.
email: anthrolab@nau.edu