The Zia people have occupied their land since the 1200's after migrating from the Four Corners area. The rocky nature of their landscape has made agriculture difficult so for many years they have traded pottery ollas and bowls to other pueblos for agricultural products.
The Spanish first came in 1540 but they found no gold and they left. They came back several times over the years and in 1598, the Franciscan fathers estimated the population of Zia Pueblo at about 2,500 people. The mission church, Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion, was dedicated in 1612. Like most other pueblos the people of Zia participated in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 and they partially destroyed the mission church in that process. When Domingo Cruzate invaded New Mexico in 1688 in an abortive mission to retake the province for Spain, he attacked both Zia and Santa Ana Pueblos. He succeeded in killing more than 600 people and captured many others that he took back to Mexico as slaves. Those who escaped the carnage fled into the mountains to hide. Cruzate burned the Zia village, then returned to Mexico.
The Spanish returned in 1692 under Don Diego de Vargas. They retook Zia without much of a problem and the partially destroyed mission church was restored a few years later. The pueblo never really recovered and the remaining population was severely affected by other marauding tribes and by diseases introduced by the Spanish and other Europeans. Once one of the largest of the pueblos, by the 1890's the population was down to 98.
Today, Zia has two plazas, each with its own kiva. The plazas are surrounded with one-and-two-story buildings made in the traditional way: native rock walls plastered with adobe mud. Zia is a living pueblo and no photos, recordings or sketching is allowed. The pueblo is open for visits daily from dawn to dusk but is closed during religious ceremonies.
Zia's pottery has been made from brick red clay, tempered with crushed basaltic rock and hard-fired for several hundred years. A white slip was added to the process a couple hundred years ago. The product is durable, as evidenced by the large number of older surviving pots. Their pottery is very similar in style and design to that of Acoma except that Zia pots have thicker walls and are overall much heavier. They also prefer very stylized designs of birds and water with red and black arches (rainbow patterns). The Acoma and Laguna bird is the parrot while the Zia bird is the roadrunner. The arrival of tourists on the railroads in the late 1800's may have influenced Zia bird designs to become more natural as their roadrunners became more recognizable as roadrunners. Also highly recognizable is the Zia "Sun" symbol, present even on the New Mexico state flag.
Today, there are still a significant number of Zia potters turning out products in the traditional way using traditional designs. Among those potters are the Toribio, Medina, Gachupin and Pino families.