Who Were the Anasazi?

Dana Hinders
Dana Hinders

Contrary to popular belief, there was never a Native American tribe known as the Anasazi. This term is a descriptive label used to classify the residents who lived in the Four Corners region of northeast Arizona and northwest New Mexico, as well as adjacent areas of Colorado and Utah, between 1 and 1300 AD. The Anasazi are the ancestors of Modern Pueblo People.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

In archaeological research, the Anasazi are often referred to as Ancestral Puebloans or Ancient Pueblo People. Some of the Modern Pueblo People dislike the term Anasazi as well. The label is based on a Navajo word that means “ancient stranger” or “ancient enemy.” This has led certain groups to argue that Anasazi is essentially an ethnic slur.

Anasazi culture still remains somewhat mysterious. Since the Anasazi lived so long ago, all evidence of their daily lives is indirect. In addition, there is often disagreement among archaeologists about various aspects of the Ancient Pueblo culture.

The Anasazi were farmers, but most also spent a fair amount of time hunting and gathering in order to protect their families from the danger of crop failure caused by drought or cold weather. They lived in pueblos made from clay that covered a lattice of sticks and was anchored to a row of foundation stones. Many of these pueblos were multi-family dwellings, since expanding an existing pueblo was an easier task than building a new home.

Archaeologists believe the Ancient Pueblo People may have spoken several different languages, including Tewa, Tiwa, Keresan, Zuni, and Hopi. They wore clothing that was woven on large upright frame looms and often made necklaces, bracelets, earrings, arm bands, and hair pins from bone, wood, coral, turquoise, or slate. Moccasins, sandals, and snowshoes were the preferred Anasazi footwear.

Anasazi religious activities were most often based upon a belief in the importance of nature and harmony with the world. Careful observation of the stars, moon, and sun was a vital part of Ancient Pueblo culture. There were many prayers and rituals designed to encourage successful hunting and farming. Key religious figures within Anasazi culture were prominent community members selected for their family lineage as opposed to ecstatic visions.

Traditionally, Pueblo societies were matrilineal and matrilocal. Clan affiliation was typically determined by the female bloodline, with children belonging to their mother’s clan. When a woman married, her new husband was expected to move into her family’s household. However, the Anasazi men did enjoy special positions of civil authority.

Dana Hinders
Dana Hinders

Dana holds a B.A. in journalism and mass communication from the University of Iowa. She has loved being part of the wiseGEEK team ever since discovering the joys of freelance writing after her son was born. Dana also hones her writing skills by contributing articles to various blogs, as well as creating sales copy and content for e-courses.

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Discussion Comments


As was true of many ancient Native American people, they placed great importance on nature to guide them and to find a peaceful existence.

In some ways, they were way ahead of us. In our complex world, we are trying to find natural ways to bring more peace and less stress to our lives.

The Anasazi people tried to find order and peace in their world. They practiced a variety of rituals, which helped to bind them together. Women had a strong position in their culture.

Sometimes studying the culture of our Native Americans can provide some ideas for improving our culture.


I've visited the Four Corners area, where the Anasazi people lived and worked. Since they lived so long ago, I'm surprised that so much of their architecture and culture have been preserved. I wonder if these tribes continued on and eventually became the Pueblo, or if there was an interruption in their inhabitation of this area before the Pueblos.

Also, I was surprised to learn that there was never a tribe called the Anasazi. And that, in fact,it is a derogatory term. I remember reading legends about the Anasazi people in school and I always thought it was the name of the tribe.

It's fascinating to read about and visit tribal locations of our Native Americans.


@burcinc-- The circular places you saw are called "kivas." These were "rooms" that the Anasazi used for worshiping and holding religious ceremonies.

You touched on a good point that some are larger and stand alone while others are connected to the housing. That's because, in the beginning, the ceremonies were held together, but with time, each family started building their own personal kiva for the family's use.

I think this is one of the most interesting aspects of Anasazi culture. And some of these kivas are very very deep. I think the architecture involved in making them are pretty impressing too. It does tell us a lot about Anasazi culture and science.


My family and I visited some of the Anasazi ruins as we traveled through. We spent some time at the Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado and the Chaco Canyon in New Mexico.

Both were really beautiful places, but I think I found the Chaco Canyon area more interesting. The Anasazi built huge housing there, much larger than I had seen at Mesa Verde. If I remember correctly, the tour guide said that some of the Anasazi homes there had about 600 rooms! I guess once they started building on and expanding the homes, there was no stopping!

Something I saw both at Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon but never got to ask about were these circular, deep embedded areas. At Mesa Verde, they were right in front of the Anasazi houses. At Chaco Canyon, they were in separate fields and much larger.

Does anyone know what that is and what it was used for? I so curious to know.

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