A thorough discussion of the ancient people of the Four Corners region would fill volumes. Indeed, more than one doctoral dissertation has been written on the topic. Many archaeologists have dedicated their entire careers to various aspects of the prehistory of this area. What we hope to do here is provide a very brief overview. With that, we will barely scratch the surface.
The Four Corners region of the Colorado Plateau has a very long cultural history dating back to the Paleo-Indian or early hunter-gatherers, c. 9500 to 7000 BC. Their sites are usually identified by the distinctive tools they left behind, e.g., the beautifully made Clovis and Folsom spear points.
The Archaic period began around 7000 BC and continued up to roughly AD 200. It saw a decline in the dependency on large game, and an increase in utilizing wild and eventually domesticated plants for food. The Archaic people were still highly nomadic, following seasonal food sources, both animal and plant. However, as they began to domesticate crops during the later Archaic period, they also began to stay in one place for longer periods of time, leading to more permanent settlements and ultimately to the village dwelling lifestyle of the Basketmaker and Pueblo periods.
Throughout the content of our site we have chosen to follow the historic tradition in Southwestern archaeology, and use the term "Anasazi" when referring to the prehistoric people of the Four Corners region of the Colorado Plateau.
The term "Anasazi" was adopted by archaeologists in 1927 and was utilized in the Pecos Classification system. Until fairly recently, it was the accepted term for the ancient people living in the Four Corners region of the Colorado Plateau.
The word comes from a mispronounced Navajo word meaning "ancient enemy", "enemy ancestor" or "ancient non-Diné". Archaeologist Linda Cordell discusses the word's etymology and use:
" The name "Anasazi" has come to mean "ancient people," although the word itself is Navajo, meaning "enemy ancestors." [The Navajo word is anaasází (anaa "enemy", sází "ancestor").] It is unfortunate that a non-Pueblo word has come to stand for a tradition that is certainly ancestral Pueblo. 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 name was further sanctioned in archaeology when it was adopted by Alfred V. Kidder, the acknowledged dean of Southwestern Archaeology. Kidder felt that it was less cumbersome than a more technical term he might have used. Subsequently some archaeologists who would try to change the term have worried that because the Pueblos speak different languages, there are different words for "ancestor," and using one might be offensive to people speaking other languages.'
While some modern Pueblo peoples, and many non-Native American peoples, object to the use of the term "Anasazi", they do not agree on an acceptable native alternative. Each distinct group has a different word for the same concept. The Hopi prefer either "Hisatsinom" or "ancestral pueblo". The Navajo Nation Department of Archaeology refuses to use the phrase "ancestral or ancient puebloan", instead using the word Anasazi.
To add to the debate, University of Colorado professor emeritus David Breternitz feels that the word "Anasazi" is not a Navajo word at all. He believes it is a made-up, Anglo word to designate the ancient people who lived in the Four Corners area. Eddie Tso, the Navajo Nation's director of the office of language and culture, disagrees and believes that the word "Anasazi" is a Navajo word and has a more benign meaning than commonly believed -- "those who came before us."
We prefer David Robert's explanation for his reason behind using the term "Anasazi" over a term using "Puebloan," noting that the latter term derives from the language of a European oppressor who brutally treated the indigenous people of the Southwest . The word "Puebloan" is Spanish and literally refers to one that resides in a town.
We apologize if anybody has been offended by our use of the word "Anasazi." Until a descriptive term for the Anasazi is agreed upon by everyone, we will, for the most part, use the traditional terminology.