TRAVEL / Alive, well and living in New Mexico: Pueblo Indians are modern-day Anasazi, the oldest civilisation in America. Religion, conservatism and communal living ensured their survival, says David Keys. Great Civilisations of the World: The Anasazi

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The Independent Culture
ONE OF THE oldest civilisations in the Americas is alive and kicking in the deserts of the south-western United States. Today 37,000 Pueblo Indians, living in 31 exclusively Pueblo towns, control an area roughly half the size of Wales. Through a combination of strong community values and intense cultural conservatism, they have been more successful than any other American tribal group at preserving their identity. The Pueblos' most famous centre - the spectacular township of Acoma, often known as Sky City because of its stunning clifftop location - is the oldest continuously inhabited town in America.

Archaeologists have traced the history of the Pueblo Indians back to the fourth century AD and possibly even further - to the sixth millennium BC. Scattered over an area roughly the size of Britain are the remarkable remains of thousands of medieval settlements, left by the civilisation known as the Anasazi - the ancestors of the modern Pueblo.

These Indians (referred to as the Pueblo since the Spanish Conquest in the 16th century) have been building towns for the past 1,000 years. The largest of them, near the upper reaches of the Rio Grande river in New Mexico, each had between 2,000 and 3,000 inhabitants in the 14th century. Anasazi towns are distinctive because of their extraordinary locations. Many of them, now ruined and deserted, can be found inside the mouths of caves or clinging perilously to ledges halfway up cliffs. Others, located on valley floors, were designed as enormous single buildings.

One such town, Pueblo Bonito, had 500- 1,000 inhabitants. Built around AD1000, it consisted of a vast D-shaped complex with tiers of rooms (800 in total) arranged in a semi-circle overlooking two central plazas. The rear section was five storeys high and, for reasons of defence, entry to Pueblo Bonito was by ladder only. Now its substantial ruins can be visited in New Mexico's Chaco Canyon.

Commune-style architecture is just one factor that has contributed to the Pueblos' sense of tribal cohesion. Another is religion. Today, nearly all Pueblo Indians practise their own polytheistic faith in parallel with Catholicism. All their towns have a Christian church and a Pueblo temple - a round, semi-subterranean building known as a kiva. This is the settlement's spiritual and ritual centre.

Kivas are also places of great secrecy; no non-Pueblos are allowed inside them. In the deserted medieval Anasazi settlements, however, visitors can step inside the ruins of 1,000-year-old kivas. Some would have had marvellous frescos in their day, and at one site - Coronado State Monument - archaeologists have conserved and reconstructed a large kiva complete with replica wall-paintings. The originals are in an adjacent museum.

Anasazi religion required at least some knowledge of astronomy - especially the movement of the sun. The key religious festivals and rituals celebrated the midsummer and midwinter solstices, and it is thought that a string studded with knots was used as a sort of religious calendar. Signal stations were built, at intervals on high ground, possibly to ensure that far-flung towns carried out the same rituals at virtually the same time. Religion may also explain the construction of a network of 30ft-wide roads, some of them aligned with the North Star. They are part of a system at least 200 miles long (possibly even 500), which archaeologists believe probably had some sort of religious role, perhaps not dissimilar from the Lines of Nasca in Peru.

The Anasazi were also great agricultural engineers, creating hundreds of square miles of terraced and irrigated fields, as well as large masonry dams and reservoirs. The largest held up to 325,000 gallons of water, equivalent

to two-and-a-half 25-metre swimming pools.

Archaeologists are in little doubt about the architectural and engineering sophistication of the Anasazi. The question that remains unanswered is whether their civilisation at its peak consisted of a series of independent towns, or groups of towns, or of a single and substantial state. Most archaeologists believe Anasaziland was divided (as Pueblo land still is) into dozens of independent towns and perhaps a few mini- states, the largest of which would have covered 100 square miles at the most. A few believe that for a brief period in the 11th century, a large segment of Anasaziland was a single state approximately the size of England.

At present the 'state debate' is unresolved, but there is unanimity among archaeologists as to how the Anasazi lived. They were relatively peaceful, there was no great warrior elite, and their society was egalitarian. There were probably no personal land holdings but a system of fields worked and owned communally.

In their personal attire, the Anasazi were relatively sophisticated. They were the first people in North America to use looms, weaving cotton clothes from around AD750. Garments were also made of leather, fur and turkey down. The tiny feathers were wrapped around lengths of yucca plant fibre, which were then woven into blankets, gowns and socks.

Jewellery was made from eagle, goose and turkey bones, imported seashells, turquoise and other stones. The Anasazi were probably also the first North American Indians to make pottery, a skill they perfected over the centuries. Pueblo ceramics, with their distinctive geometric patterns, are still some of the most beautiful in the world.

Their diet, however, was not very advanced. It consisted mainly of beans, corn and squash (and an occasional turkey) and was drastically deficient in vitamins and proteins, resulting in chronic bad health. Examination of medieval skeletons and mummies has revealed that they suffered from the bone disease osteoporosis at an early age. Anaemia was also common, as were tuberculosis, other respiratory disorders, gum disease and degenerative arthritis - especially among women.

The key to the Anasazi's survival lies not in their physical robustness, but in their extreme social conservatism. This not only gave them more social cohesion than less traditional Indian tribes, but stopped them developing into a political and military force with aspirations to statehood. It was because the Spanish conquistadores did not see the Anasazi as a threat that they left them in peace in the 16th century, sparing them the fate that befell the Aztecs of Mexico and the Incas of Peru.

So far at least, conservatism in almost every human activity has helped to preserve Pueblo society. Intermarriage with whites is rare compared with other Indian tribes; emigration from Pueblo territory is also relatively low. They may be seen as inward-looking, and in some respects secretive, but these qualities have protected the Pueblos from destructive external influences.

Because the Anasazi had a form of land ownership (albeit communal) and were not nomadic, the Spanish awarded them land grants in the 16th century. These were confirmed by US Congress in the mid-19th century.

The Pueblo Indians' past has enabled them to face the future far more confidently than most other native peoples in North America - and it is their past that they are about to reclaim. They are leading a campaign to force museums all over the United States to return hundreds of thousands of sacred objects to North American Indian tribes.

Their efforts seem to be succeeding, and the federal government has instructed museums to prepare lists of objects to be returned. Soon, the Pueblos' kivas will be filled with sacred ceremonial equipment - some of it up to 1,000 years old - which has sat in museum storerooms for decades. America's oldest enduring culture will continue to survive.-

Where to go and what to see

1 ABO PUEBLO** After a six-day battle in 1601 the Spanish took possession of this small Anasazi Indian town. Now only the ruins of the Spanish mission church survive above ground.

2 ACOMA*** Also known as Sky City, this ancient, still flourishing town (the oldest in North America) was founded around AD1100. Its cliff-top location is spectacular and its architecture fascinating. Access by guided tour only (via Acoma museum).

3 AZTEC RUINS*** Not Aztec, of course - but Anasazi. See the remains of part of a 12th to 13th-century town - plus the reconstructed kiva.

4 BANDELIER NATIONAL MONUMENT*** See the remains of a classic Anasazi 'single structure' town - Tyuonyi - made up of 300 rooms arranged in tiers around a large plaza containing three kiva temples. Adjacent is the fascinating Long House ruin with its painted rock art. Six miles away, see the best Anasazi painted rock art site - Painted Cave. Slightly nearer is an ancient Anasazi shrine.

5 BETATAKIN*** Tiny town inside a vast cave in the wall of a canyon.

6 BRIGHT ANGEL* The spectacular nature of its location at the bottom of the Grand Canyon makes up for the unimpressive scale of this tiny ruined 12th-century settlement.

7 CANYON DE CHELLY*** Huddled in narrow clefts in the sides of two 1,000ft-high canyons are five major ruined 11th to 13th-century settlements. Access by organised tour only. Hiking is dangerous and forbidden.

8 CHACO CANYON*** Centre of Anasazi civilisation between around AD920 and 1120. See the ruins of the compact medieval towns of Pueblo Bonito (very impressive), Chetro Ketl, Wijiji, Pueblo del Arroyo, Casa Rinconada, Kin Kletso and eight other lesser sites. See also the nearby site of Kin Bineola.

9 CHIMNEY ROCK** Ruins of late 11th-century settlement on a high ridge below 2,000ft-high pinnacles of rock said to be a shrine to the war gods. Nearby are five other groups of ruins.

10 EL MORRO* Ruined settlement and kiva temple on massive cliff.

11 GRAN QUIVIRA*** Named after a legendary city of gold, this now deserted small town was, in 1668, the site of a tragedy in which 450 Pueblo Indians starved to death. Also see the ruined 17th-century Spanish church.

12 HOVENWEEP NATIONAL MONUMENT** Six groups of 12th to 13th- century ruins, including dozens of buildings, some multi-storey. The main ruin groups are Square Tower, Hackberry, Holly, Cut-throat Castle, Cajon and Goodman Point.

13 INSCRIPTION HOUSE*** Spectacularly sited 13th-century ruined settlement inside a vast open cave. Access is strictly by organised tour only.

14 KEET SEEL*** The best-preserved, and one of the most remote, of all Anasazi ruins, this small 13th-century town clings to a narrow ledge near the bottom of a massive cliff. See also rock paintings of birds, masked figures - and a flute-player.

15 KUAUA*** Marvellous Anasazi murals were found inside the kiva temple of this 1,200-room classic 15th-century 'single structure' town, of which the ruins survive. Replicas of murals cover the walls of the reconstructed kiva, while the originals can be seen in the on-site museum.

16 LION CANYON** Several impressively located cliff-side settlements in which were found various mummified bodies. A Ute Mountain Tribal Park guide must be hired to gain access.

17 LOWRY** See a tiny part (including large kiva temple) of what was once a collection of small towns covering a square mile.

18 MESA VERDE*** Abandoned AD1300, this spectacular series of cliff settlements is one of the greatest archaeological sights in the Americas.

19 MISHONGNOVI*** Flourishing Pueblo town, with old multi-storey stone buildings and huge ceremonial dance plaza, located in a spectacular cliff-top position.

20 NEWSPAPER ROCK*** Huge rock covered with carvings of animals, people, human foot- and hand-prints, and probable clan symbols. Nearby are the remains of a petrified forest.

21 ORAIBI** This still-inhabited Pueblo town, founded in 1250, still has many 17th-century buildings.

22 PECOS** The small excavated part of a large 14th to 16th-century walled town. See also the ruins of a Franciscan mission burnt down in a Pueblo Indian revolt in 1680.

23 PETROGLYPH NATIONAL MONUMENT*** Thousands of Anasazi rock carvings.

24 PUERCO Ruins of village.

25 PUYE*** Remains of a 14th to 16th-century town which boasted some 1,000 rooms - in a huge multi-storey cliff-top complex, and in man-made caves within the cliffs.

26 QUARAI*** See a small part of the Anasazi town abandoned in the 17th century - and the impressive ruins of the Spanish mission church.

27 SALMON** Ruins of 11th to 13th- century small town. Remains of 40 rooms and kivas.

28 SANTA DOMINGO** Still flourishing Pueblo town, with old multi-storey adobe buildings.

29 TAOS*** Spectacular Pueblo town founded in 1250 and still going strong.

30 WALPI** Semi-abandoned Pueblo ceremonial centre, founded in the 15th century. Several great religious festivals are still held there annually.

31 WUPATKI** Built in 1120 by a non-Anasazi people - the Sinagui Indians - under Anasazi architectural influence. Nearby are other ruins including the so-called Citadel.

32 ZUNI** A still-inhabited old adobe Pueblo town. Visit its 17th-century church, which is decorated with modern murals depicting Pueblo gods.

*** spectacular ** very interesting * interesting

FURTHER READING: Guides Smithsonian Guide to the Desert States (Smithsonian pounds 10.95), well-illustrated and intelligent survey of the main places of historical and architectural interest; Anasazi Ruins of the South- West in Colour by W Ferguson and A Rohn (University of New Mexico Press pounds 27.95); Insight Guide: American South-west (Apa pounds 11.95), a copiously illustrated general guide; Hidden Southwest (Ulysses pounds 8.99), a good practical guide to the region. Better still are Moon's individual state-by-state guides, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona respectively (each Moon pounds 9.95).

Background Ancient American Civilisations by Friedrich Katz (Weidenfeld pounds 9.95), the standard general introductory history; Pueblo: Mountain, Village, Dance by Vincent Scully (Chicago U P pounds 15.95), illustrated, large-format overview; The Chacoan pre-history of the San Juan Basin by R Gwinn Vivian (Academic Press pounds 58); Ancient North America by B Fagan (Thames & Hudson pounds 19.50); Pueblo Gods and Myths by Hamilton Tyler (U Oklahoma Press pounds 11.95), a concise introduction; Study of Pueblo Architecture in Tusaya & Cibola by Victor Mindeloff (Smithsonian pounds 15.95), monograph providing a useful summary of Pueblo architecture.

All titles are available from good bookshops, and by mail order from Daunt Books for Travellers, 83 Marylebone High Street, London W1M 3DE (071-224 2295). D K


GETTING THERE: Fly to Phoenix with American Airlines (081-572 5555) from pounds 549 return (min stay 7 days, max stay 1 year, 21 days advance purchase). Trailfinders (071- 937 5400) returns start at pounds 309 until the end of May; pounds 332 from 1 June.

TOUR OPERATORS: Transamerica Holidays (0293 774441) offers fly-drive holidays all over the US; return flights to Phoenix, including car hire, start at pounds 439 per person for two people staying two weeks. Transamerica supplies hotel vouchers for use in the Discover America hotel chain, at pounds 37 per room per night. Jetsave (0342 312033) offers a seven-day ranching holiday at Tanque Verde in Tucson from pounds 875 per person, including flights, full-board accommodation, and riding lessons.

FURTHER INFORMATION: United States Travel and Tourism Information, PO Box 1EN, London W1A 1EN (071-495 4466); Indian Pueblo Cultural Centre, 2401 12th Street North West, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87104, USA (010 1 505 843 7270); South West Parks and Monuments Association, 221 North Court, Tucson, Arizona 85701, USA (010 1 602 6221999) for details of sites to visit; details of Indian festivals from Hopi Cultural Centre, Second Mesa, Arizona, USA (010 1 602 734 2401).

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