Thursday, January 24, 2019

Homes of the Ancient Ones

24 January 2019

When we were at the Grand Canyon, one of the stops I made was at the Tusayan Museum and the Tusayan Pueblo Ruin.  (The second and third photos are of the museum, built to look like the architecture of Tusayan; the subsequent photos are of the pueblo.  And the final photos are from the same place as this first photo - more later!)

In our previous blog about the Canyon, I mentioned that people lived around the rim as well as deep inside the Canyon.  With the freezing weather and our relatively short time frame, we weren't going to go down into the Canyon.  (Although it's about 20 degrees F (maybe 10 C) warmer at the bottom of the Canyon!)

The Havasupai, Hualapai, and Paiute all live in the Grand Canyon area.  The Havasupai name means “people of the blue-green water,” the color of the water that flows down Havasu Canyon and into the Colorado River.

The Havasupai people were seasonal nomads.  They farmed in the canyon during the summer months and hunted and foraged on the rim during the winter.

People have lived on the Colorado Plateau for at least 13,000 years.  Cultures changed from nomadic hunter/gatherers to settled communities linked by trade.
The Tusayan Pueblo was a small community on the south rim of Grand Canyon, built about 1185 Common Era.  It really was an interesting place to visit.  And even though archaeologists have surmised a great deal about the early people dwelling here, there is still much that we don't know.

One of the interesting finds housed in the museum is an animal figurine made of split twigs.  It really looks like a rather stylized, modern version of a deer or antelope.  Just lovely.  These figurines have been found mostly in remote caves, with no indication that the caves were used as dwellings.

The signage includes this simple statement:     “They had been found in caves not used for living purposes and extremely difficult to reach.  Their placement under a rock cairn suggested a special importance ….. I began to realize I was in what had been a ritual cave.”  -Douglas Schwartz, Archaeologist (1955)

To give you sort of a timeline and comparison, I'm including a table I copied from the museum.  Really fascinating to see the development of human efforts and creations!

Events in Time

National Park Service established in 1916

known as
1,000 yrs ago
Ancestral Puebloans lived at the Tusayan site beginning about 1185 Common Era
2,000 yrs ago
Baskets used before development of pottery

Bow and arrow replaces atlatl
2,500 yrs ago
The Parthenon, Greece

3,000 yrs ago
Corn introduced in the Southwest
4,000 yrs ago
Stonehenge, England
5,000 yrs ago
Pyramids, Egypt
6,000 yrs ago
Wooden plow invented in Mesopotamia
7,000 yrs ago
Smaller spear points used for hunting smaller game
8,000 yrs ago
Atlatl used for hunting in North America

9,000 yrs ago
Oldest playable flute, China
10,000 yrs ago
End of the Ice Age
11,000 yrs ago
Folsom spear point
12,000 yrs ago
Clovis spear point used to hunt large animals

Archaeological evidence of human presence in the Grand Canyon region
13,000 yrs ago
Mammoths and giant sloths roamed the Southwest

The name “Tusayan” was the Spanish name for the geographic area, and was given to the ruin by archaeologists who excavated the site in 1930.  The Tusayan Pueblo Ruin is a remnant of a small village of about 30 people who lived here for 25 to 30 years in the late 1100s.  The architecture was typical for that period.  Pueblo architecture varied according to availability of local materials.  Here, builders used limestone blocks held together with mud.

From this site, Humphreys Peak, part of the San Francisco Peaks, is visible, the highest point in Arizona at 12,633 ft high (3851 m).  It is unknown whether the early people viewed this mountain as a spiritual place.  

This view is held today by the Hopi, who are believed to be modern spiritual descendants of the ancestral Pueblo people of this area.  The Hopi people believe that the San Francisco Peaks are the dwelling place of the Kachinas, their ancestral spirits.

The following information comes from the signage around the ruins: 

"This circular row of stones outlines a kiva (ceremonial room).  Various activities took place here, including storage, ceremonies, rites, and festivals.  Public portions of these ceremonies were usually held in the plaza. 

"Usually kivas were built mostly underground, but the Kaibab Limestone in this region prevented digging very deep.

"Sometime during the occupation of the pueblo, this kiva burned.  Rather that rebuild here, another kiva was built nearby to replace it.
"These smaller rooms were built for food storage. 

"Grand Canyon does not bring to mind an agricultural way of life.  But Tusayan’s inhabitants raised corn, beans, and squash, using methods acquired from peoples to the south.

"In this low-lying wash, Tusayan’s farmers may have planted handfuls of seeds in small deep holes, then carefully tended their crops.  After harvest a large portion of the food was dried and stored for winter.  Without it, there could be no survival.

"This wash has changed since prehistoric times.  In historic times, part of it served as a “tank” to water livestock.  Some features in the wash today relate to these more recent uses."

It's always fascinating to walk through places where people once lived, and try to imagine what their lives were like.  Picture these remnants of walls as one or even two-storey buildings, with people dwelling here, cooking, eating, sleeping, living inside these walls, farming these lands, hunting in the forest.  And when they left, where did they go?  Why did they leave?  

As I said, we have some answers, or at least we think we do.  But we also always have so many more questions.

There's some information at the Grand Canyon National Park website:  

After we left the Grand Canyon, we drove back to Camp Verde.  It was Richard's birthday, and he likes to see how lucky he is in a casino.  So we checked into our lovely Cliff Castle Hotel, and I went off to visit the Cliff Castle for which the hotel is named.

The more common name of the cliff dwellings in Camp Verde is "Montezuma's Castle."  I hesitate to use that name, since it was neither built by Montezuma nor was it a castle.  This incredible cliff dwelling was really more like an apartment complex or series of condominiums.  With a riverside view.  Really.  The place was amazing!

National Park Service website:

About the same time that people were living in Tusayan Pueblo, other ancestors of today's Puebloan people built and occupied Montezuma's Castle, or the Cliff Castle.  Between approximately 1100 and 1400, the Castle neighborhood also included a larger pueblo and numerous small alcove homes in the cliff face along Beaver Creek.

The Yavapai call this place “the home of the protectors of the Yavapai.” The Hopi refer to it as both Sakaytaka, “place where step ladders are going up,” and Wupat’pela, for “long, high walls.”

We don't know exactly who the people living here were, nor what they called this place.  The Spanish named this region the "La Sierra sin agua" - the hills without water.  And then began referring to the indigenous people as the "Sinagua."

Quoting the National Park signs here:
"Various Native American nations trace their ancestors to this site.  The Hopi, Zuni, Tonto Apache, and Yavapai have oral histories that include origins in the Montezuma Castle region. 

"The community surrounding Montezuma Castle was one of related households – both familial and social units. The Hopi Parrot, Bear, Water, Cloud, Bearstrap, Bluebird, and Spider clans all have oral histories about residing at Montezuma Castle. These Hopi clans are related to one another and travelled together during long migrations. The Zuni say their ancestors migrated through here as well.

"Ancestral Yavapai bands likely had interactions with these groups. Ancestors of the O’odham people of southern Arizona traded here, while the Tonto Apache and Yavapai consider nearby Montezuma Well their place of origin. The cultural connections to Montezuma Castle and other sites in the Verde Valley are rich and complex."

The site definitely has that spiritual, other-worldly feeling that ancient dwellings often hold.  Indigenous peoples have cultural beliefs against disturbing places once inhabited by ancestors, and this place definitely is one of those sites where there is a feeling of something beyond ourselves.  There is something very special about Montezuma's Castle, beyond the early technology used to build this huge dwelling.  Something almost holy and sacred in a non-religious sort of way.

Okay, so why is it called Montezuma's Castle if Emperor Montezuma (more properly Motecuhzoma II) never lived here?  Well, the early settlers, European Americans, were fascinated by the Inca, Maya, and Aztec civilizations; as they moved across the Southwest in the 1860s, they gave exotic names to places and sites such as this.  Totally clueless, right?

The technology and engineering used is incredible.  Keep in mind that at the time this cliff dwelling was built, Europe was in the Medieval period, and most people who were not aristocrats were living in single-storey stone houses with thatched roofs.  (Okay, Angkor Wat was built about the same time.  But not some 90 to 100 feet (30-33 m) above ground level into the side of a cliff.  Seriously, the ingenuity used to build this structure is incredible!)

The Cliff Castle is nestled in a natural alcove in a limestone cliff overlooking Beaver Creek.  The builders were able to fit 20 rooms into the shape of this naturally eroded alcove! 

The builders used local trees for floor and roof beams, with river cobblestones for the walls.  Limestone and mud mortar held together these stones.  All walls were eventually covered and sealed with mud plaster, both interior and exterior walls.  Small handprints are still visible in the plaster today, leading archaeologists to surmise that women and/or children did the plastering as well as annual patching.

The final Castle has five storeys.  FIVE storeys!!!  Made of logs, rocks, mud!!!  I find this absolutely incredible, especially considering the fact that this wasn't built on the ground but about ninety to one hundred feet (or 30 to 33 meters) above the ground, in sort of an open cave!!!

If you look closely at some of the photos, you can see the original roof beams protruding from the wall just right of the tower.  Yes, original beams from about the year 1100!!!

There are small windows and doorways the provided light, but by late afternoon the rooms were fairly dark.  It is speculated that each family group living in the Castle had their own room, roughly 140 sq feet (13 sq m) - not very large.

The natural alcove provided quite a bit of protection, and most of what remains today is the original Castle.  This is thought to be one of the best-preserved sites from this period! 

I described this dwelling place as an apartment complex - and the Castle itself is not the only dwelling right here.  If you look closely at the photos, there are a series of holes in the actual cliff.  These are sockets to hold floor and roof beams.  There was another five storey structure built in stone along the cliff right next to the Castle!!!  
According to archaeological evidence, the wooden floor and roof beams burned and caused this structure to collapse away from the cliff.  It is unknown whether this happened while the original people were still living here or after the site had been abandoned (about 1450).  But the information about the site didn't mention any skeletal remains, so I suspect it happened after the original dwellers had left and abandoned the community.

But imagine this small town with five storey rock buildings using the cliff wall as the back of the structures, along with a huge adobe structure practically in the air!  Absolutely amazing!  It must have been quite the sight to see back when this was a thriving community.  And what would people from other communities think when they first arrived and saw people living in a building high up inside the cliff??  It would almost be like seeing people living in the sky!  It still seems that way to this day, as if the Castle is an eagle's aerie built way up into the top of the cliff!

The carved alcoves and small caves that were carved by humans are referred to as "cavates."  Many of these cavates were used as storage areas, but some were used as dwellings as well.  And some cavates were in back of the stone structure that once stood here, creating almost like cupboards or closets for the inhabitants.

There were other, smaller groupings of buildings along the various rivers and tributaries in the Verde Valley, some dating back as far as the year 600!!!  As I walked along the paths, I could see some carved out squares in the cliffs across the river, apparently neighboring dwellings!  By about 1300, there were roughly 40 small communities in this region.

The people who lived in this community farmed along the river, as well as traded goods they created such as pottery and woven items.  Some of the cavates contained pottery shards used by archaeologists to identify the people who lived here as well as groups with whom they traded.  Cotton and agave were grown here, the cotton being used to weave garments and blankets, while the agave was used for more durable items such as twine, rope, nets, bags, and even sandals.  I would imagine bow strings may have also been made with the agave twine. 

At the base of what once was that multi-storeyed stone structure were two stone tools - something like an early grindstone, I think.  The slab of stone was curved in the center, with ridges on the two long sides.  It looks like it was used as part of a mortar and pestle arrangement - something like corn could be placed in the curve or hollow, and a round or cylindrical stone could be used to grind the corn or whatever into a flour or coarse powder.  They weren't labelled, but I've seen similar tools in other museums, so I'm guessing that's how these were used.

Some time around 1400-1450, people began to leave this community.  Archaeologists aren't sure what prompted the exodus, but speculate that people chose to join larger pueblos or villages in other parts of the region.  The Hopi say that their ancestors purposefully settled and left villages like Montezuma Castle for a reason, one that involves fulfillment of a spiritual covenant.  

Archaeologists and anthropologists consulted with Hopi and other Native elders who explained that dwellings such as the Cliff Castle were meant to fall down, decompose or erode, and recycle back into the earth.  This is part of their tradition of living in harmony with their natural environment.

However, European Americans like to create monuments that are preserved for present and future generations.  There is a long tradition of creating and keeping such structures as a record of human history.

In 1906, the Castle became a national monument, and eventually came under the care of the National Park Service.  The park has worked to preserve and maintain the structure while allowing visitors to marvel at this feat of human ingenuity and engineering.

Prior to 1951, the park service allowed people to walk through the Castle, but eventually realized the impact that these visitors were having on this fragile site.  So the ladders were removed, and access to the cliff dwellings ended.  

At the same time, the National Park Service’s Museum Laboratory in Washington DC created a diorama showing what the interior of the Castle looks like, along with furnishings, people, and the various accoutrements of their daily lives.   

It really is one of the most amazing human accomplishments I've seen - it isn't a monument to a religion or a deity, as many huge architectural structures are.  Nor is this place a monument to kings and leaders and their egos.  No, this is a simple dwelling place built to fit into the landscape, and made of natural materials.  It was built to look like it grew on this site.  And it was meant to eventually return back to Nature and to this site, without being preserved to the people who created it.

But I'm glad it was preserved.  Because it is a monument to human imagination, ingenuity, and perseverance.  It's a monument to a belief system that honors the natural environment, and reminds us to live in harmony with our surroundings.  

There is something truly holy about this place.