Wikijunior:Ancient Civilizations/Ancient Pueblo Peoples

Square Tower House at Mesa Verde

The Ancient Pueblo people were a Native American culture also known as Anasazi, but descendants of the people prefer not to be called that. They are the ancestors of modern Pueblos. Their culture dates back to 1200 B.C.

What country did they live in?


The Ancient Pueblo people lived in what is now the southwestern United States of America. They lived in a high desert area filled with flat-topped hills called mesas. Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona meet at a point called "Four Corners". The area surrounding Four Corners was the home of the Ancient Pueblos, which is probably why the "Four corners." nickname is "the pueblo corners".

What did their buildings look like?

Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde

The Ancient Pueblo people built large buildings made up of many individual rooms. Families built the buildings over generations. Different families lived together in a single building, like an apartment complex today. The Spanish called the buildings pueblos. Pueblo is a Spanish word that means "village". It is from these pueblos that the Ancient Pueblo people get their name.

These buildings were made of wood logs, adobe and stone. Adobe is a natural building material made from water, dirt and straw. The Ancient Pueblo builders used stones to make the walls of each room. Then they covered them with a layer of smooth adobe. The color of the walls is often the same as the color of the ground nearby.

Rooms at Taos Pueblo

One very famous pueblo is Taos Pueblo. It has a multi-storied residential complex of reddish-brown adobe. The Rio Pueblo River runs through the middle of the pueblo. Pueblo people built this pueblo between 1000 and 1450 A.D. About one hundred and fifty people still live there today.

They also built enclosed pits called kivas. Religious rituals and ceremonies were held inside the kivas. Most kivas built by the Ancient Pueblo people were round underground rooms. A hole in the roof was both a door and chimney. There were benches and alcoves in the walls. A fire pit was in the center.

The Ancient Pueblo people are famous for their cliff dwellings. Mesa Verde in south western Colorado has several built into its sides. Cliff Palace is a particularly well known dwelling there. It has 220 rooms, in several stories and 23 kivas. The design of Cliff Palace seems random. Different people added new rooms slowly. Over many years, it took shape. People who lived there grew their food on the top of the mesa above them. They had to climb the face of a steep cliff to get home. They used small hand and foot holds carved in the rock.

What did they eat?

Pueblo Corn

The Ancient Pueblo people were very good farmers despite the harsh and arid climate. They ate mainly corn, beans, and squash. They knew how to dry their food and could store it for years. Women ground the dried corn into flour, which they made into paper-thin cakes. They cooked these on a hot rock. Today their ancestors call these cakes "piki." They also cooked stews in clay pots over a fire.

Since they lived in the high desert, food was hard to come by. They had bows and stone-tipped arrows. They hunted and ate animals like mice, rabbits, squirrels, deer, elk, and turkey. They also gathered wild foods like piñon nuts, yucca bulbs, and sunflower seeds. They kept turkeys and ate their eggs, but they may not have eaten the birds themselves. Instead, they used these birds to control insects. The birds would eat the bugs before the bugs ate the plants.

What did they wear?


Ancient Pueblo people wore many different types of clothing. They wore shirts and loincloths made of animal hides and furs. As animals were scarce, so was leather. They made sandals with thick soles from the matted fibers of the yucca plant. Yucca fibers were also used as thread.

About 1,000 years ago, they began trading and growing cotton. They used cotton to weave shirts, dresses, loincloths and blankets. They decorated their clothing using natural dyes made from plants and minerals. Some common colors were ochre yellow, rust red, and pale blue-gray. The Ancient Pueblo people were expert weavers and they would decorate the fabric they wove. They painted or embroidered abstract geometric designs on the fabric.

The weather was hot during the summer, so they wore little clothing then; however, they experienced cold winters. To make robes and coats, they wrapped feathers around Yucca fibers which they then sewed together.

They also wore jewlery. They crafted pendants, earrings and necklaces from turquoise. They traded for shells and beads and wore these as well.

What did they believe?

Katchina Doll

No one knows for sure what the Ancient Pueblo people believed. We can make some good guesses, though. This is because we know what modern Pueblos believe.

They did not believe in a single god. They believed in many mystic beings and gods. Today their descendants call some of these kotchinas. The kotchinas could speak directly with gods. People would ask the kotchinas to help them. Dancing was a main way that people connected with kotchinas.

According to Pueblo history, their ancestors entered this world from another world. The people who entered this world are the First People. A flute-playing locust led them on the journey.

An important concept in Pueblo history and religion is the sipapu. A sipapu was a place where people could communicate with the spirits. It could be an alcove in a kiva, a mountain, a body of water, or some other place. Ancient Pueblo Indians believed that the dead pass into the spirit world through the sipapu. When someone died, their spirit went to a different world for a time. Then they were reborn in this world as a new baby.

What did their writing look like?

Pot Made by Maria Martinez

Ancient Puebloans did not have a written language. They did create pottery, cloth, and rock carvings with abstract designs, though. These designs identified groups or spirits. They also made rock carvings that had pictures of people and animals.

Are some of them famous even today?


A Pueblo medicine man named Popé led a revolt against the Spanish in 1680. The revolt was in response to the cruel treatment the Native Americans received from the conquering Spanish. The Pueblos managed to force the Spanish out of New Mexico but two years after Popé's death, the Spanish regained control.

Maria Martinez is a famous pottery maker known for her recreation of traditional Puebloan designs. Her most famous pots have matte black designs on a shiny black surface.

What is left of them today?


There are still Pueblo people living in New Mexico and Arizona. Some live other places in the American south west. There are around 25 pueblos today. Taos, Acoma, Zuni, and Hopi are the most well known pueblos. Modern Pueblo people are descended from the Mogollon and Hohokam people as well as the Ancient Pueblo people.