As Americans, we are so often reminded that our country is young. Even on the East coast, we can not rival the likes of Rome’s Coliseum, Greece’s Parthenon, etc. And yet, we do have ancient ruins in our midst that are often overlooked. There is evidence left behind by those who lived in the US thousands of years before the Spanish, French and English arrived. You may remember glancing at these remnants in a childhood textbook, or perusing them in an old National Geographic. But what if you could visit their ancient dwelling? And moreover, what if they were communicating with you?
Together, we are going to take a look at these ancient cultures in our country with a visit to several cliff dwellings and petroglyphs. What seems so remote in our past is about to become tangible. With each step on this journey, you will want to delve deeper in to these cultures and their way of life. While most of us trace our lines through immigrants to this great country, we can still feel a closeness to these individuals who lived on the same soil we do
Let’s begin our exploration with a visit to the Edge of the Cedars Museum in Blanding, Utah where we will start with the basics:
- What do we call these ancient people?
- The current term for these ancient people is the Ancestral Puebloan. The Pueblo Indian of modern day who live along the Rio Grande in New Mexico and Arizona are the descendants of the Ancestral Puebloans. Different terms have been used for these ancient peoples. The term Anasazi is the Navajo word that refers to these ancient ancestors. Hisatsinom is the Hopi word. In order to have a universal term to refer to the people who built the ancient villages, we now use Ancestral Puebloan.
- Where and when did they live?
- The Ancestral Puebloan peoples lived in the Southwest. According to archaeologists, they relied more on farming than the previous Paleo-Indians and Archaic peoples. Archaeologists have divided the Ancestral Puebloan in to three groups: Chaco, Mesa Verde and Kayenta. However, they are purposely unclear on the distinctions among the groups. These three groupings give us terms to discuss them, but do not look for meaning where there is none. As a whole, be careful what you believe. Even in museums, the words “probably” and “may” should be noted. Scientists and archaeologists do not have all the answers, and frequently their dating changes so drastically that one wonders how they base their analyses. In this case, I will share with you the museum’s timeline:
- What was their culture like?
- As I mentioned, their livelihood was based on farming, along with hunting and gathering. Their main crops were corn, beans and squash. They were skilled at stonework and masonry, as their dwellings attest. They did live in communities and their dwellings included a “kiva” which was their religious center. Kivas are still used by modern Pueblo Indians for ceremonial purposes. They created beautiful pottery and also left behind their petroglyph (etched in to the rock) and pictographs (painted on the rock) stories.
- What happened to them?
- Archaeologists are unclear on why some areas were abandoned. Most archaeologists believe the obvious conclusion that villages were abandoned to move farther south due to contributing factors (possibly weather, crop failures, etc.). Here is a map showing the living areas for modern-day Pueblo Indians:
Now that we have a better basic knowledge of the people, lets take a look at what they left behind. We will begin at the museum, and then venture forth in to the desert of Utah for a close up view of how these people lived.
The museum featured an exhibit of photographs of actual petroglyphs. The detail and artistry inscribed in these rocks reach out and grab the viewer in a very personal way. Seeing them, I really began to feel like the Ancestral Puebloans were trying to tell me a story. Now that I am blogging about our experiences, I had a new appreciation for petroglyphs and their artists, who are people just like you and me trying to inspire the viewer with a message. The Ancestral Puebloans began to feel real to me.
Just outside the museum are the remains of an Ancestral Puebloan village…
Now that I have whetted your appetite for all things ancient, let’s take a quick look at nearby awe-inspiring cliff dwellings. The beauty of exploring the Ancient Puebloans is that you can step away from the museum and explore the desert to see the actual remnants!
Crossing the rock, we come to a massive opening in the rock walls with a sort of oasis at its bottom. Search this photo for the cliff dwellings…
Now that we started this journey, we need not go far to find more ruins. Our next stop takes us in to Natural Bridges National Monument to see “Horsecollar Ruins”. This park is full of pinyon pines, from which the Navajo were eagerly gathering nuts during our visit. No one may take nuts from within the park, but just outside of the park is fair game. This year was a bumper crop season, and the locals were taking advantage. Pinyon pine nuts can be eaten raw or roasted. You can see this pinyon pine full of pine cones waiting to be harvested…
Can you spot them below?
Exploring the ruins near Blanding, Utah is a real adventure. There are so many to see, and I could have spent a lot more time seeking them out. Having seen photos of cliff dwellings before, I do not recall seeing the large scale of the rocks where they were located. I hope the above photos give you a small glimpse in to the scale of these tiny dwellings among monstrous, sheer rock walls. What would possess these people to live in a constant vertigo-inducing state? I was left pondering this. The fresh images in my mind of these dwellings have inspired me to add Cedar Mesa, Coloroda to the list of places we hope to visit. I hope this post brought this ancient culture to life for you; seeing them in person grabs your attention. I can attest to the unity you can feel with these abandoned ruins, reminding us of the fragility of our communities.
Next up…we hit more of Utah’s Mighty Five! Arches and Canyonlands here we come!