Age of Discovery/Mesa Verde

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Cliff Palace.JPG

  1. Read the sources (see Weblinks)
    1. Explain where the name "Anasazi" comes from? Why?
    2. Name the plants people grew and ate.


The Ancestral Puebloans were an ancient Native American culture that spanned the present-day Four Corners region of the United States.

They lived in a range of structures that included small family pit houses, larger structures to house clans, grand pueblos, and cliff-sited dwellings for defense. The Ancestral Puebloans possessed a complex network that stretched across the Colorado Plateau linking hundreds of communities and population centers. They held a distinct knowledge of celestial sciences that found form in their architecture. The kiva, a congregational space that was used chiefly for ceremonial purposes, was an integral part of this ancient people's community structure.

The Ancestral Puebloans vanished in the 13 century. The Navajo who came hundreds of years later into the area, used the name "Anasazi" meaning "enemy ancestors." The term was first applied to ruins of the Mesa Verde by Richard Wetherill, a rancher and trader who, in 1888–1889, was the first Anglo-American to explore the sites in that area. Wetherill knew and worked with Navajos and understood what the word meant.


The historical line between the hunter-gatherer culture and the emerging Anasazi culture is defined in part by evidence that around 1200 B.C. they began to settle down in one place for longer periods of time and domesticate and cultivate crops from one year to the next.

In the Basketmaker period the primary crop was corn, also known as maize, which is believed to have evolved from teosinte, a wild grass native to what is now Mexico and Central America. At the same time, they were growing squash, which also came from Mexico. Around A.D. 500, beans were added to the Anasazi diet. Pottery, which was supplanting baskets for food storage and cooking, was essential to the beneficial use of this new dietary item because of the bean’s longer cooking time.

The Anasazi often sun dried their vegetables. Many food items were stone-ground, using grinding stones — metate and mano[1]. Seeds were parched in hot coals and ground into meal. Pine nuts were ground into a paste. Corn was ground to make corn meal. Food was stored in large pits, often sealed in baskets or pottery for protection from insects, animals and moisture[2].

The Anasazi's dry-land farming relied on the natural blessings of rain and the runoff from melting snow. Often they helped Mother Nature by building check dams, terracing hillsides or locating fields near the mouths of arroyos[3] and springs. One of the largest of their water conservation efforts was a 500,000 gallon reservoir at Mesa Verde.

But the Ancient Ones did not abandon the foods of their nomadic forebears. Even in A.D. 1300, corn, squash and beans, alone, would not be enough. They still hunted animals like deer, rabbits and prairie dogs. And they gathered wild plants for sustenance. The nuts of the piñon pine were eaten roasted or ground. They ate the ripe fruit of the banana yucca and dried the red fruit from the prickly pear cactus for later consumption. Pigweed and amaranth provided greens.
Source: (Agriculture and Other Food Sources)

Interactive Exercises

Match the pictures and the names!

Cucurbita moschata Butternut 2012 G2.jpg squash / pumpkin
Maize Corn Cultivars.jpg maize / corn
Phaseolus vulgaris var. nanus 01.jpg grean beans
Organic home-grown tomatoes - unripe to ripe.jpg tomato
Bowl Chaco Culture NM USA.jpg ceramic bowl
Basket of Basketmaker Pueblo people.jpg basket
Prickly pear CDC.jpg prickly pear


  1. A metate or metlatl (or mealing stone) is a type or variety of quern, a ground stone tool used for processing grain and seeds.MetateW-Logo.gif(English)
  2. moisture = Moisture is the presence of a liquid, especially water, often in trace amounts. Small amounts of water may be found, for example, in the air (humidity), in foods, and in some commercial products.
  3. arroyo = a small canyon