Cultures of Prehistory

Several relatively distinct Native American cultures developed in the Four Corners area over the centuries. For the most part, they were quite similar, varying only in minor points about their methods and modes of construction and whether their ceremonial structures were round or angular. Some maintained trade contact with societies in central and southern Mexico while others were outliers, living on the fringes of the influence from down south. Others, like the Gallina people, existed as an active resistance to the growing levels of hierarchy in the cultures around them. Some were so loose in structure that they might not even be considered "cultures." Those named in the list below were influenced in some way by descendants of people directly from central Mexico and/or, secondarily, by descendants of people from the Four Corners area.

Major societal changes were marked by extreme weather events and large-scale migrations. Those migrations have usually been blamed on variations in the local weather patterns bringing more-or-less drought for a couple years or a couple decades. More recently, the greatest overall changes have been mapped across the world and time and the time periods coincide with catastrophic events on a global scale: usually massive volcanic eruptions that spewed ash into the atmosphere and cooled the planet for years afterward. That same ash provided an atmospheric particulate that caused massive downpours, too. One of most traumatic episodes seems to have taken place in either late 535 or early 536 CE. While a source for the eruption hasn't yet been determined, histories around the world have recorded that 536 was a year when it snowed all year round, and in places where snow had not previously been known. One medieval scholar has been quoted as saying "536 was the worst year to be alive." The time period from 536 to about 660 CE is known as the Late Antique Little Ice Age and its effects were global. It was during this time period that the societies we recognize as being distinctly Hohokam, Mogollon and Chacoan first came into being. All showed clear signs of continuing connections with population centers in central and southern Mexico.

Most of the story this website is concerned with is about descendants of the Ancestral Puebloans, most of which were descendants of Chaco, Mesa Verde and the Four Corners area. Part of what ties it all together is the design library, and parts of that design library extend back to 5,000 years ago in northern Peru and southern Ecuador. 2,000 years ago it was in central Mexico. Around 1200 CE it showed up in the Four Corners area. A small piece of that library is contained in the designs (and design strategies) employed by Nampeyo of Hano, between about 1883 and 1925 when she was painting her own pieces. It's not that she was so good at creating new designs, it's that she was so accomplished in recreating the look and feel of ancient designs. However, she recreated those designs from potsherds she found laying on the ground. She never traveled more than a few miles from her home at Hano on First Mesa to find those potsherds. Many of those designs came into her neighborhood from places several hundred miles away, some of them 400 years before she was born. Some came from the ancient Kayenta potters, some from the potters of Betatakin, Homol'ovi and the Fourmile Ranch area, and some from the refugee Tiwa potters of Alameda Pueblo in New Mexico. Clearly, there was a significant amount of inbound migration to those mesas over the centuries, and a lot of cross-pollination of rituals, technologies and designs.

Prehistoric Cultures