Searching for the Ancestral Puebloans ~ NYT

In the red rock desert of the Southwest, an ancient culture was thought to have vanished. A new view connects it to pueblo dwellers of today.

Credit…John Burcham for The New York Times



On a cool spring day, in the bewitching crystalline light for which New Mexico is famous, I stood in the middle of the Acoma Sky Cityand looked out into the ocean of desert at an island of pale red and dun colored rock called Enchanted Mesa.

My tour guide, Marissa Chino, a young Acoma woman, said it isn’t known if her people once lived there. There are tales, though, that say they did. One story holds they descended to the valley to tend their squash and corn and, while they were farming, a violent storm washed away a stone ladder that was their only access. With no way back up the monolith they abandoned their home and moved to the 357-foot tall mesa where the village sits now.

This is only one of the great many mysteries about the ancient Puebloan civilization that once flourished across the desert landscape of the American Southwest and, for a long time, was believed to have vanished.

Its fate has become clearer in recent years, as researchers have peered more deeply into where this civilization went on its ‘final migration’ and listened more closely to the descendants of those once called the Anasazi — Navajo for Enemy Ancestors — who are now known as Ancestral Puebloans.

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