The ancient Native American peoples of the American southwest first occupied lands along the San Juan River in what is today New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah as early as 1000 BC. Over the next two thousand years these people would develop into a complex agricultural society that maintained one of the largest populations of ancient peoples in North America. Historically these ancient people have been called “Anasazi”, but this term is something of a misunderstanding. There never was a tribe or group of people who called themselves by this name. The word is attributed to a Navajo (Dineh) term that means “ancient enemy”. When European explorers entered the Southwest during the 1700s, they often relied on Native American guides. When asked who had lived in the ancient ruins they would find, Navajo guides would say it was the “Anasazi”—and the term stuck. Today, archaeologists refer to this archaeological culture as “Ancient or Ancestral Puebloan”, but still use the term Anasazi in research contexts. The primary archaeological sub-cultures of the ancient people that lived along the San Juan River are called Mesa Verde Anasazi and Chaco Anasazi. Large villages with massive public architecture, sophisticated water control and farming features, elaborate sacred sites, and countless hamlets are all part of the archaeological legacy left by these Ancient Puebloan people. Their decedents, the native Puebloan peoples of contemporary New Mexico and Arizona have an origin legend. It states that their ancestors, the “Hisatsinom” first lived in a cold and dry place to the north that was surrounded by mountains. That north place is called “Ship’aap”. Hopi elders refer to the ancient pueblos of this region as the “kiikiqo” or footprints of the ancestors. This exhibit features photographs from a variety of archaeological sites that represent the ancient homes and sacred landscape of the north place of the Ancestral Puebloan world. This includes Mesa Verde National Park, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, Chaco Culture National Historic Park, Chimney Rock Archaeological Area, Aztec Ruins National Monument, and Canyonlands National Park.
Ancient Pueblos of the Northern San Juan - 2006