Arizona’s Tuzigoot National Monument: Ancient Legacy of the Sinagua People
The Tuzigoot National Monument is a small national monument located in the Verde Valley, in the southwestern US state of Arizona. The monument contains the ruins of an ancient pueblo village built by the Sinagua people. The pueblo was built around 1000 AD and was occupied for four centuries before its abandonment. During the 20th century the ruins were declared a national monument and became a tourist destination. Additionally, extensive excavations have been conducted at Tuzigoot, and many artifacts from the site are on display at the monument’s excellent Tuzigoot Museum.
Countless artifacts, like these huge Sinagua ceramic vessels, are all on display at the Tuzigoot National Monument’s museum. ( National Parks Service )
Tuzigoot National Monument: Built by Sinagua Farmer-traders
The name “Tuzigoot” is a corruption of the Tonto Apache “Tú Digiz,” which is normally translated to mean “Crooked Water.” The particular stretch of the Verde River where Tuzigoot is situated is known as Tú Digiz, hence the site’s name.
The archaeological evidence suggests that human beings were already present in the Verde Valley as far back as 10,000 years ago. Tuzigoot, however, was only built at a much later date, around 1000 AD. The builders of the site were the Sinagua people , who were mostly agriculturalists. The archaeological evidence, however, suggests that the Sinagua were also involved in long-distance trade .
The Sinagua built various pueblos, or villages in the Verde Valley, and Tuzigoot was one of them. Over time, the site expanded, an eventually contained as many as 110 rooms. Most of the rooms are located on the ground floor, though some are on the second floor. Interestingly, the pueblo contains few exterior doors. Therefore, its inhabitants would have had to enter their rooms by climbing through the hatchways in the roofs using wooden pole ladders.
The pueblo at Tuzigoot was built on a high limestone ridge above the floodplains of the Verde River. This means that the inhabitants of the site had a clear view over the surrounding valley. Additionally, the pueblo was also visible from many of the other hills, which would have had pueblos of their own. It is crucial to remember that Tuzigoot was not the only pueblo in the area, but part of a larger landscape of pueblos. Many of the other Sinagua pueblos in the Verde Valley can still be seen today.
The Tuzigoot National Monument is a Sinagua people’s pueblo ruin on the summit of a limestone and sandstone ridge. In total 110 rooms have been identified and most of them have been excavated. ( JHVEPhoto / Adobe Stock)
A Flood Plain That Was Beneficial Until It Dried Up
The location of Tuzigoot also offered its inhabitants other advantages. For instance, there is easy access to a source of reliable, year-round water, i.e., the Verde River, and the floodplains are ideal for the cultivation of water-intensive crops.
Thanks to these advantages, the Sinagua who built Tuzigoot flourished for about 400 years. In the early 15th century, however, the Sinagua suddenly abandoned the site. There are various theories that attempt to explain the disappearance of the Sinagua. The primary one is a drop in rainfall , which made the area no longer suitable for habitation.
After its abandonment by the Sinagua, the memory of Tuzigoot gradually faded away. It was only during the 1930s that the site was brought back to public attention. In 1933, the Arizona State Museum and the Yavapi County Chamber of Commerce Archaeological Committee jointly sponsored excavations at the Tuzigoot National Monument site.
The project was led by Louis Caywood and Edward Spicer. By 1935, Caywood and Spicer had excavated the main block of rooms, as well as many other small surrounding units. Out of the estimated 110 rooms, 86 were excavated. Additionally, the archaeologists unearthed several hundred burials near the main structure .
An inside view of the top tower of the Tuzigoot National Monument in Arizona’s Verde Valley. This ancient dwelling of the Sinagua people featured a wooden beam structure that supported the roof. ( tamas / Adobe Stock)
After Excavations were Done, Floors and Walls Were Preserved
Subsequently, the Federal Emergency Relief Labor, a work relief program set up during the Great Depression, allowed the archaeological work to continue. The project was then taken over by the Civil Works Administration. Caywood and Spicer continued to direct the project. However, two new members joined the team: Harry Getty, and Gordon Baldwin.
After the excavations were completed, the project worked towards the preservation of the floors and masonry walls of the rooms. In addition, several rooms were restored for public display. Moreover, additional federal funds allowed a museum to be constructed near the site. The artifacts from the site are housed and displayed in the museum.
On 25 July 1939, the entire hill of Tuzigoot, its museum, and its collection of artifacts were donated to the federal government by the Verde School District, thanks to the interest of local citizens. On the same day, the site was proclaimed a national monument by President Franklin Roosevelt.
Today, the Tuzigoot National Monument is open to the public. The national monument is open daily from 0800 to 1700, with the exception of Christmas and New Year’s Day. There is an entrance fee to the site. Apart from the pueblo, the public can also visit the museum, which houses about 3000 Sinagua artifacts , including ceramics, lithic artifacts, and cotton fabrics.
Top image: This is what a Tuzigoot National Monument Sinagua living space would have looked like. This room is on display in the site’s excellent museum. Source: National Parks Service
By Wu Mingren
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