Southwest: Precontact

Part of the Totems to Turquoise exhibition.

Early Life: Southwest Jewelry of the Past

Obsidian Blade
Artist Unknown (Ancestral Pueblo)

The mesas and canyons of the Southwest have been home to Native peoples for thousands of years, with traces of life dating to 10,000 BC. Between 300 BC and AD 1300, groups known as the Ancestral Pueblo and Hohokam built major cultural centers in the region, complete with irrigation systems to water their crops of cotton, corn, beans and squash. People from distant communities met and traded with each other. At Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon near the Four Corners area, the Ancestral Pueblo constructed impressive towns of sandstone and adobe.

About 700 years ago, a severe drought caused the people to abandon their towns, and some resettled near water sources such as the Rio Grande. By AD 1500, the ancestors of the Navajos and Apaches reached Arizona and New Mexico, after migrating hundreds of miles from western Canada. Like their neighbors, they adapted to life in the arid Southwest, shaping a culture that strengthened their ties to the land.