The Anasazi

The Enigma of the Anasazi

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The word Anasazi belongs to the Navajo language and means "the ancient ones". This tribe is thought to have flourished and mysteriously disappeared between 550 and 1300 CE in the area of Mesa Verde, Colorado in the US. Historians, archaeologists, researchers and photographers have studied the tribe because many elements of their origins and their evolution remain an enigma. In fact, the Anasazi civilization was not uncovered by the archaeologist’s hoe, but by William Henry Jackson, a photographer who in 1870 found ruins of buildings belonging to this civilization.

The Anasazi left behind evidence as to the extent of their advanced culture. They interlaid their country with hundreds of miles of roads and devised innovations to control waters and create a lifestyle maintained by agriculture—which, by the way, continues to maintain larger populations who live in the same areas today.  All of this while lacking the use of the wheel and without the ability to transport using animals. Yet another intriguing aspect of their lifestyle is that some of the homes built in the hillsides over 700 years ago by the Anasazi are so inaccessible that today only climbers with ropes can reach them. So some have wondered: did the Anasazi also use ropes? And if so, how did they build these homes? The remnants of many Anasazi dwellings remain in Four Corners, where Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico meet, and have provided some answers. Archaeologists know that in order to reach the homes the Anasazi built in natural cavities—often hundreds of meters high in sandstone hills—using tree trunks with carved notches to facilitate the ascent, as well as stairs carved into the hillsides. But for climbers in this area, these tools are not enough in order to reach several of the houses.

Beyond the advanced architecture and advanced, for its time, population, their link to the ancient Greek civilization is also noteworthy. While the word Anaasází in Navajo means the "Ancient Ones" or "Ancient Enemy", there is also another explanation if you look at the word from a Greek perspective. In Greek Anasazi is analysed in ‘Anasa’ and ‘Zi’. The first word in Greek means ‘Breath’ and the second ‘Lives’. One of the speculations is that ‘Anasa’ was the Queen of the Anasazi and specifically one of the Queens of the Amazons. So the name translates to ‘Long live the Queen’.

Yet the Anasazi abandoned everything they built, leaving behind a greater mystery to torment archaeologists. For years the prevailing scenario has attributed the tribe’s disappearance to drought and lack of food. But common objections have been raised pointing out that, most likely, if they couldn’t find food the logical thing would have been to move on, not to disappear. That is why latter studies point to some spiritual and religious belief changes. It looks as though the tribe was "angry with their gods", and that is where the cause of the civilization’s disappearance should be looked for.

Today the Hopi are the inhabitants of the areas of the Anasazi, and nationally and culturally differ from their Native American neighbours.

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Comments

"Ancient Ones" is the most benign of translations of the term. Anasazi also means "Ancient Enemies."

As a National Park Service employee, I consulted with many tribes, and it is very clear that Pueblo people, who are descendents of the peoples who built the ancient cities at Mesa Verde and Chaco, among many others in the Southwest, prefer "Ancestral Pueblo People" or "Ancestral Puebloans." The Hopi sometimes use the term "Hisatsinom." While this has been a matter of debate among archeologists, I think its time we respect the people who are actually the descendents, and go with their term.

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