For lack of texts, this Amerindian civilization having disappeared before the arrival of Europeans in America, we do not know by what name the Anasazis designated themselves. We do know, however, that this people, who left monumental remains, two of which are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, gave a very important place to women. Archaeologists speak of a matrilineal civilization. There is also evidence that these people built extremely elaborate roads for the time.


The Anasazi are Native Americans who were divided into several groups in the current states of Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. It is not known, for lack of ancient texts, by what name the Anasazis designated themselves. The word Anasazi comes from the Navajo. It means “former enemies” in the Navajo language. The Hopi Indians, who claim to be descendants of the Anasazis, prefer to use the word Hisatsinom, which simply means “ancient inhabitants”. The Anasazi civilization has left many monumental remains on several sites. These constructions testify to a mastery of techniques of ceramics, weaving, irrigation, astronomical observations and a system of pictorial expression. Today, descendants of the Anasazis, the Zunis and Hopis of Arizona and New Mexico, still carry on some of their traditions. But the history of this people remains very enigmatic, for lack of written testimonies.


However, in a study published in the journal Nature Communication, archaeologists believe they have at least understood how the Anasazi were governed. Indeed, in 1896, archaeologists discovered the ruins of a gigantic 650-room house on the site of Pueblo Bonito. In the center of this house, people had been buried in a crypt. They were richly decorated with bracelets, necklaces and other jewelry made from opalescent shells. This burial is the richest discovery so far in the American Southwest. By analyzing the DNA of the buried people, the archaeologists realized that they had identical mitochondrial DNA. Mitochondrial DNA is the part of DNA that is passed from mothers to their children. This means that all of these people, who were undoubtedly top people, had the same maternal ancestor. They therefore put forward the probable hypothesis that Anasazi society was matrilineal, that is to say that power was transmitted from mothers to daughters.


The Three Anazasis Periods and Road Building

Archaeologists divide Anasazi history into three distinct periods. The beginnings, the Pueblo I period goes from 700 to 900 AD It is characterized by the construction of small isolated houses and by the appearance of irrigated cotton cultivation. The Pueblo II period which extends from 900 to 1100 marks the peak of the Anasazi civilization. At that time, some agglomerations would have had 6,000 inhabitants. The villages of the Chaco Canyon were so close together that they formed a conurbation gathering 15 to 30,000 inhabitants. At that time, the Anasazis achieved the feat of carrying out their constructions in places that were very difficult to access with rudimentary techniques. In particular, they made sure to build dwellings on the side of the cliff to protect themselves from both the heat and the cold, but also from their enemies. Indeed, these were put to the test if only to gain access to the homes of the Anasazis. Also, the Anasazi built roads that were impressive for the time. More than 640 km of roads have already been identified. These roads were not simply paths carved by walkers over hundreds of years. They were real planned roads and their development required both a significant investment in construction and also in maintenance. We know that they had thanks to these routes, commercial exchanges with the peoples of Mesoamerica. During the last period, Pueblo III, which lasts from 1100 to 1300, there is an unexplained repression of the Anasazis in the Mesa Verde alone, and the return to a rudimentary troglodyte habitat. From 1300, the Anasazi took refuge in the Río Grande Valley and in central Arizona. We end up losing track of them, before the Europeans arrive on the continent…