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Anasazi pottery


The American Southwest

The American Southwest incorporates the southern sections of Colorado, Utah, and Nevada, and all of Arizona and New Mexico. The northern reaches of the Mexican states of Chihuahua and Sonora are also included. While this land is generally thought of as vast, uninhabitable deserts with wide-open fields of cactus, in reality it is a diverse landscape. The ecology of the southwest varies from high mountain forests of juniper and pine, winding rivers though sandstone canyons, and high desert plateaus.


While it is true that the southwest can be a harsh and difficult place to live, many cultures have lived on these lands for thousands of years. Some of the oldest evidence of a human presence in the southwest dates it to 11,000 years ago and human occupation of North America dates back even earlier. These early inhabitants formed cultures and civilizations well before the European exploration of the New World. Sometime around 700 AD three large groups - the Anasazi, Hohokam, and Mogollon - began to develop major cultural distinctions.


To study these ancient cultures, archaeologists have examined material goods that were left behind. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, archaeologists such as Alfred Kidder and Neil Judd began an intensive study of the southwest. The National Geographic Society and the Smithsonian Institution often sponsored many early expeditions. Today archaeologists
are still studying the many cultures that have called the American Southwest home.


Importance of Pottery

The earliest evidence of pottery in the southwest dates to 200 AD and was widespread by 500 AD. The introduction of ceramics completely changed diet and lifestyle in the region. Foods could be boiled preserving more nutrients than dried food and easily stored.


Archaeologists use pottery or pottery fragments to understand more about the cultures of the southwest. Through pottery, archaeologists can see evidence of distinctive cultural groups, trace trade and contact routes, and also use the chronology of pottery to estimate how old a site or feature may be.



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