From Paleolithic hunter to Pueblo farmer,
the record of the
ancient ones remains...
As it was for early man
in this region, water in the Painted Desert is in short supply for animals and
plants. For early man, eventually it meant leaving the area
| ARCHAIC MAN
7500 BC to
| BASKET MAKER II
AD 1 to
| BASKETMAKER III
TO AD 800
(Twin Buttes Site)
| PUEBLO I
AD 900 TO AD
| PUEBLO II
AD 900 to AD
| PUEBLO III
AD 1100 to
(Agate House & Puerco Ruin)
| PUEBLO IV
AD 1250 to AD
(Wallace Tank / Stone Axe)
AD 1450 to
The buck lifted
his nostrils to the morning calm and tried to define the scent he'd been
detecting for days. The small herd of pronghorns he guarded browsed downslope
from their bedground, nibbling at saltbush.
A moist gray sky
tempered the warmth of mid-summer. Rainwater mirrored in every rock hole and
ran thinly down the washes, absorbed by thirsty sand. For days the hunter had
trailed the pronghorns, waiting for a clean and thrifty kill. He waited without
moving, in a willow thicket along the river. He was in no hurry to leave the
country he and his family had wandered into ~ a high plain cut by spring fed
drainages and washes. Striated cliffs of red, blue, and brown changed color
with the hour. Everything the newcomers needed was here; grass, trees, shrubs,
game. They must be cautious, though. They had seen tracks and campsites and
litters of stone tools.
The hunter fitted
a new-made shaft into his atlatl, slowly rose up, took careful aim, and hurled
the spear point into the heart of a fat yearling.
Today, 8000 years
later, archeologists at the Petrified Forest National Park have tracked the
hunter and found his stone implements, hearths, and campsites. They've even
given him a name: Archaic Man. This nomadic dweller in earth's far past foraged
from place to place, following the game herds and gathering seeds, roots, nuts,
and berries. The necessity for constant movement kept material possessions to a
minimum. He left few artifacts and no permanent dwellings, only stone
Much later the
first dwellings appeared. They were pit houses and belonged to a descendant of
Archaic Man that archeologists refer to as Basket Maker because of the fine
baskets and sandals he wove. He also fashioned warm robes from the fur of
animals and ground wild plants and seeds in shallow basins and troughs in rock
slabs with hand held grinding stones. In addition to stone tools, he made bone
awls and drills, curved wooden throwing sticks, and crude, poorly fired
pottery. But more important, he learned to do something that changed his life
dramatically: the cultivation of corn. By AD 300, Basket Maker was a confirmed
The oldest excavated village in Petrified Forest
National Park is a Basket Maker II site on the Flattops, twin mesas
over-looking the Little Colorado River Valley and the mountains to the south.
The village consisted of twenty-five round-to-oval pit houses dug into the rock
of the mesa. The builders lined subterranean walls with upright sandstone slabs
and added upper walls and roofs of brush and mud. Slab-lined chambers were used
for burials. Baskets were still woven, but pottery had generally replaced them
for everyday use.
By the time Twin
Butte Village, near the center of today's park, was occupied, village life was
more organized. Pit houses were deeper, roofs had support beams, and ventilator
shafts were in common use. Archeologists have found a large variety of stone
tools, suggesting an expanded diet. Bows and arrows helped hunters bring down a
larger assortment of game. Families acquired pottery, turquoise, and trade
goods such as coral and shell from the far off Pacific Ocean and Gulf of
California. Farmers cultivated squash and beans in addition to the staple,
corn, and fashioned methods to combat drought, building stone and brush
windbreaks (similar to those still made by Hopi farmers) to reduce moisture
loss and block windblown sand on their fields, located on hillsides, mesa tops,
or river valleys ~ wherever the soil held moisture.
Between AD 850
and AD 900, a major drought forced many of the people to move to sites near
more reliable water supplies. When rainfall once again increased, small family
farms spread over the land.
During the period
called Pueblo II, A.D. 900-1100, living conditions improved. Home now was a
rock and mud masonry rectangle built above ground. Houses of several rooms,
sometimes multistoried, and one or more kivas comprised a typical settlement.
People grew cotton, wove it into blankets and sashes, and domesticated
changes threatened this good life. Tree-ring data indicates a gradual shift in
weather patterns, culminating in disastrous droughts between 1276 and 1299,
which led ultimately to a decline in population. Small family farms were
abandoned, and by 1300, survivors were gathered in a few spots along the major
waterways where they could farm the moister floodplains.
Puerco Ruin, one
of five Pueblo IV sites in the park, consisted of 125 rooms and may have housed
up to seventy people. Rows of masonry rooms surround a central plaza. Entry was
through the roof; small doorways connected interior rooms.
Once more life was
happy; ceremonial life, rich. Then, beginning about 1300, weather patterns
changed again. Rainfall increased, but it was concentrated in the fall and
winter, with only widely scattered summer thunderstorms needed to grow crops.
Hard, cold rains gradually washed out the floodplain farms, and summers of
little moisture made dry farming impossible. Trading activity and religious,
artistic, and social accomplishments declined before the ancient enemy,
tradition reflects that many of these Ancient Ones packed their belongings at
this time and walked across the high plain to the mesas in the north where
permanent water sources were available. By A.D. 1450, the people had abandoned
their pueblos to the sun, wind, and rain ~ never to return.
About the author: Joan Baeza has lived
and ranched in Navajo County for over thirty-five years. She wrote the book
"Ranch Wife" under the name of Jo Jeffers.
If you've enjoyed this article by Jo, we
know you'll enjoy her pages on Apache Rodeo and
The Hash Knife Outfit!
Petrified Forest National
Park / Hints for Touring
the Petrified Forest
Trading Post / Holbrook ~ City of the