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The Ancestral Puebloans are an ancient people (500s-1200s A.D.) that are shrouded in a bit of mystery. Anthropologists are always on the search for more information about their daily lives, and the reason why they quickly left their homeland.

The term “Anasazi” is a Dine (Navajo) word, meaning “ancient enemy,” and thus, contemporary Pueblo people prefer the term “Ancestral Puebloans,” which reflect their heritage.

Attractions & Cultural Centers

Important cultural locations, and some of the best examples of their dwellings and art, are located at:

  • Anasazi Heritage Center, Dolores, CO
  • Chaco Culture National Historical Park
  • Mesa Verde National Park
  • Canyons of the Ancients National Monument
  • Aztec Ruins National Monument
  • Bandelier National Monument
  • Hovenweep National Monument
  • Canyon de Chelly National Monument


When Ancestral Puebloans first settled an area, after being traditionally nomadic hunter-gatherers, they chose the southern Colorado Mesa Verde and Four Corners region of the southwest. This was the center of their civilization. Over the course of their history, as their population grew into the thousands, they expanded and relocated to different nearby areas, such as where the current Chaco Culture National Historic Park is located.

History & Culture

The Ancestral Puebloans settled in the Four Corners/ Mesa Verde region sometime around 550 A.D. They were the archaeological “Basketmaker” group. Previously hunter-gatherers, they settle and became farmers, which transformed their culture and way of living. For almost a millennium they lived there, building intricate stone communities, often hidden in the walls of a canyon. In the 1200s A.D., the people all left the area and their homes.

Though the people left pictographs and petroglyphs, they left no written record that tells us their story or what caused them to leave. There is evidence that supports some anthropological theories, however, such as the apparent move of many in the last several years back to the high, protected cliff dwellings. This could suggest greater conflict with their enemy tribes. Some historians think perhaps eventually they just left the area altogether. Another theory is that they faced crop failures and hunger, after depleting the soil too much, after years of farming the same area.

Most anthropologists believe the Ancestral Puebloans moved south, and many settled in New Mexico and Arizona, which is consistent with many modern day Pueblo peoples’ claim.

Ancestral Puebloans are known for their unique homes and communities, namely their pueblos, pit-houses, later kivas, and cliff dwellings, often only accessible through serious climbing, ropes, or ladders. They are also known for their pottery, baskets, and rock art.


Mesa Verde.

Encyclopedia Britannica.