ancient pueblo

Thanks to a recent donation, Sabinoso Wilderness in New Mexico is now publicly accessible for the first time since it was established. Hikers, hunters, photographers, horseback riders and outdoor enthusiasts can now marvel at the sandstone cliffs of Canyon Largo, gorgeous cottonwood and ponderosa forests, and ancient pueblo ruins. With very little evidence of humans, the wilderness is an excellent place to find solitude and recreation. Photo by Bob Wick, Bureau of Land Management.

~ Grand Gulch hafted dart point.
Place of origin: A.D. 300–400
Place of origin: San Juan County, Utah
Medium: Stone, wood

From the source: This stone spear point, part of an early Ancestral Pueblo hunting kit, is hafted to a wooden foreshaft that would have been fitted into a longer spear and launched with a spear-thrower. The pouch is made of twined and dyed yucca fiber yarn.


Native American pottery of the Ancient Pueblo people from the Grand Canyon National Park.

The first is a Lino Gray bowl, and the earliest of the shown artifacts, dating to the Basketmaker III Era. The second bowl is of the ‘black mesa black on white’ style, and is heavily yellowed (likely with ocre). The third photo is of a Tusayan polychrome bowl, which dates to the Pueblo III Era, while the fourth dates to the early Pueblo III Era.

Courtesy the Grand Canyon National Park Museum Collection.

Star-studded skies and wispy clouds appear over the ancient Tuzigoot pueblo, situated on a desert hilltop at Tuzigoot National Monument in Arizona. The Sinagua people – farmers and artists with trade connections that spanned hundreds of miles – built a thriving desert community here. Today, you can visit this thousand-year-old pueblo, gaze at dark night skies and contemplate the stories of those who came before. Photo courtesy of Nick Berezenko.


Visiting the New Bears Ears National Monument

In an area as vast and diverse as the new Bears Ears National Monument in Southeastern Utah, it’s hard to know where to start in exploring. Here are some ideas for capturing a sampling of what the new National Monument offers.

On the Northern end, take state route 211 into spectacular Indian Creek Canyon. Stop at Newspaper Rock, a large and spectacular petroglyph panel with carvings dating back to 2,000 years. Further along, the canyon opens up into a wide valley rimmed by Navajo Sandstone. The iconic “Sixshooter” spires soon become visible. Look for rock climbers scaling the narrow cracks in the vertical Navajo Sandstone.

Further south, Take Highway 261 and 95 onto Cedar Mesa. The twin Bears Ears rise just north of the mesa. This is one of the most significant archaeological regions anywhere, with ancient pueblos tucked into endless canyons. Visiting many of the pueblos require planning ahead as they include hikes and some also require visitor permits. However, a view of the spectacular Butler Wash Ruin is a one hour round trip hike from a developed trailhead while the Mule Canyon Ruin is located along the highway.

Driving south along the rolling pinion uplands of Cedar Mesa does not prepare one for the descent of Highway 261 via the “Moki Dugway”. The route drops precipitously with views of Monument Valley in the distance. Similar landforms to Monument Valley’s famous formations are found along a 17 mile unpaved loop drive beginning at the base of the Dugway which traverses the Valley of the Gods.

A final stop along the southern border of the monument is also a must see. The viewpoint at Goosenecks State Park takes in a spectacular sequence of tight and colorful meanders of the San Jun River carved into the sandstone cliffs.

Many parts of the new national monument are remote and there are no services. Make sure to stock up with supplies in Monticello, Blanding or Bluff which all offer a full array of services as well as accommodations.

Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico protects the remains of massive stone buildings – containing multiple levels and hundreds of rooms  – built by ancestral Pueblo peoples. Chaco Canyon was home to thousands between 850 and 1250 A.D, and these archaeological ruins testify to organizational and engineering abilities not seen anywhere else in the American Southwest. Photographer James Kaiser wandered around Pueblo Bonito for hours, taking photos and marveling at its beauty: “I’ll never forget how uncrowded and timeless it felt in Chaco Canyon that morning,” Kaiser says. Photo courtesy of James Kaiser.

Because of the repression of two-spirit roles, many American Indians and people of indigenous descent look to the past and present for traces of these roles or for inspiration that could help to re-create two-spirit ways. I trace my matrilineage to the seminomadic Rarámuri of my grandmother’s pueblo, Namiquipa, Chihuahua, and have noted that contemporary Rarámuri ethnography confirms continued two-spirit roles, such as that of the na’wi or man-woman. Concho, Apache, and Pueblo Nations also held sway over northern Chihuahua and likely interacted with the Rarámuri. The Rarámuri may have also made use of the trade routes that reached far into the Southwest and into Central Mexico from Paquimé centuries after the turn of the first millennium. Some archaeological records indicate a complementary rather than a hierarchical gender system at Paquimé from 1200 to 1450 c.e. and at other ancient pueblos of the Southwest. While Christine S. VanPool and Todd L. VanPool suggest that these complementary genders may have been echoed among ancient Paquimé dwellers, they find no decisive archaeological proof that speaks for or against two-spirit presence at Paquimé. What do the direct descendants of related ancient Pueblo cultures have to say about two-spirit ways?

Contemporary Native American historiographical debates help explain why Mexican and Spanish-era Southwestern literatures do not record the two-spirit traditions that later U.S. oral ethnographies show. Referring to Pomo survival of historical Russian, Spanish, and Euro-American attempts at genocide on the Pomo Nation, queer Pomo scholar Greg Sarris interrogates both historical relationships of non-native authors with their native subjects and the relationship of contemporary readers with these texts. Whether the author is a Spanish priest of the sixteenth century or a gay white activist recovering “his” gay American roots through Native American experience, Sarris reminds readers that “representatives from the dominant culture exploring the resistance of subjugated people are likely to see little more than what those people choose or can afford to show them.” For this reason contemporary indigenous authors may provide gender insights that could not have been shared easily during more homophobic periods of colonization. Historical native informants were sources of wildly clashing narratives about “sodomy” and transgendered ways. Depending upon the methodology and political stance writers choose, two-spirit histories can be interpreted as being nonexistent, oppressed, or exalted.

Working from oral tradition, Laguna Pueblo author Leslie Marmon Silko makes positive two-spirit statements that would have been very difficult to make during Spanish colonization. Silko confirms that Pueblo history is based upon stories and that “a great deal of the story is believed to be inside the listener; the storyteller’s role is to draw the story out of the listeners. The storytelling continues from generation to generation.” In this sense Pueblo history is ultimately best understood inside a storied Pueblo cultural context not available to nonPueblo peoples and researchers. While Silko demonizes two gay characters in Almanac of the Dead: A Novel, she articulates her own enthusiastic version of Laguna Pueblo two-spirit peoples in Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit: “Before the arrival of Christian missionaries, a man could dress as a woman and work with the women and even marry a man without any fanfare. Likewise, a woman was free to dress like a man, to hunt and go to war with the men, and to marry a woman. In the old Pueblo worldview, we are all a mixture of male and female, and this sexual identity is changing constantly. In sacred kiva ceremonies, men mask and dress as women to pay homage and to be possessed by the female energies of spirit beings.”

A key element in this discourse is to note that all Pueblo are a mix of masculinity and femininity. Therefore it is not abnormal for anyone to express both masculinity and femininity in appropriate community arenas. By expressing complementary genders in one body, two-spirits exercise flexible gender rights that everyone can utilize as well when the need arises. Silko further notes that Pueblo men in sacred kiva spaces can become possessed by female spirits, momentarily and appropriately embodying mixed gender energy. Although Christianity and colonial laws made these fluid gender realities difficult to express publicly, this fluidity survives in oral traditions and among some Pueblo traditionalists. Given Silko’s celebration of the power and honor of female creativity in her Laguna Pueblo tradition, it is not surprising that men who commit to female ways would also be honored or that reversed female to male identification could also find a home in the Pueblo world. Community and partnership, not gender stratified domination and submission, are the values that she transmits about Pueblo marriage, noting that married people were free to have sex with other people if they so chose. Again Silko’s sources are mainly the oral traditions that she has gleaned from her own family and her medium of transmitting this two-spirit history is storytelling.

—  Gabriel S. Estrada , “Two-spirit Histories in Southwestern and Mesoamerican Literatures,” Gender and Sexuality in Indigenous North America, 1400-1850 (2012)

Hovenweep National Monument, Ancestral Pueblo people, located on the Utah/Colorado border in the USA. Dates from 600 AD.

National Park Service sign near the site:

“Hovenweep.” It is a Paiute and Ute word meaning “deserted valley.” It was the name given to this extraordinary place by pioneer photographer William H. Jackson, who visited here in 1874. It’s an apt description. As you scan the vast and lonely expanse surrounding you, it’s hard to imagine that these solitary canyons once echoed with the cries and laughter of hundreds of men, women and children.

Established as a National Monument in 1923, Hovenweep preserves what archaeologists consider to be the finest examples of ancestral Puebloan masonry found anywhere. Whether multi-story towers standing alone along canyon rims, or ingeniously engineered structures perched on massive boulders and ledges within the canyons, these ruins evoke feelings of wonder at the motivations and resourcefulness of their builders.

“I think that Hovenweep is the most symbolic of the places in the Southeast… Hovenweep gives me a feeling similar to what I feel when I’m participating in ceremonies which require a tacit recognition of realities other than the blatantly visual. During those times I know the nature and energy of the bear, of the rock, of the clouds, of the water. I become aware of energies outside myself, outside the human context. At Hovenweep, I slide into a place and begin to know the flowing, warm sandstone under my feet, the cool preciousness of the water, the void of the canyon, and the all covering sky. I want to be a part of the place.”

-Rina Swentzell, Pueblo Indian scholar, Santa Clara.

Photos courtesy & taken by Greg Willis.

New work that more precisely dates the skeletal remains of scarlet macaws found in an ancient Pueblo settlement suggests that complex social and political structures may have emerged in the American Southwest at least 150 years earlier than previously thought.

Researchers from the Museum and other institutions have determined that the macaws, whose brilliant red and blue feathers are highly prized in Pueblo culture, were traded thousands of miles north from their native Mesoamerica to Pueblo cities at the site known as Chaco Canyon, starting in the early 10th century.

Read the full story on the Museum blog.
Petition Calls for 'Maze Runner' Cast to Apologize to Native Americans
Anger after an actor implies artifacts were taken

More than 34,000 people are calling for the cast and crew from Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials to apologize to Native American tribal leaders after allegedly removing artifacts while filming on location.

The film was being shot in Albuquerque, N.M., on an ancient Pueblo burial ground. Fans have expressed outrage in a petition after actor Dylan O’Brien said that, while the cast was told not to, “everyone just takes stuff, obviously.”

One of O’Brien’s fans started the petition, telling the Santa Fe New Mexican she didn’t want to just excuse his behavior because he’s famous.