Monday, April 3, 2017

Enduring Architecture of the Ancients

         Imagine your home, still standing 900 years from now and being visited by fascinated tourists from 30th Century America.  Can't picture it?  Neither can I.

Montezuma's Castle, part of a cliffside village containing a 5-story
apartment-like building which was once home to several thousand people.

         The architectural wonders of Montezuma's Castle and Tuzigoot National Monuments however, have endured since the 12th century in the Verde River Valley south of Flagstaff, Arizona.  These Puebloan multistoried adobe structures adorn hillsides and cliff alcoves and were home to the Southern Sinagua people.

         Don't feel dismayed if you haven't heard of the Southern Sinagua.  I hadn't heard of them either until a few weeks ago when I toured Tuzigoot and Montezuma's Castle and learned that contemporary Hopi tribes trace their ancestry to immigrants from the Sinagua culture.

         The Sinagua lived and farmed in the Verde River Valley for over 300 years—longer than the United States has been a country—and then disappeared.  Why did they leave?  It's a mystery, but archeologists speculate any number of reasons ranging from overpopulation and resource depletion to disease or conflict within groups.

Tuzigoot National Monument.  This hillside pueblo once contained
100 rooms.  Many artifacts were discovered here.

         When the Sinagua left their villages they didn't take much with them.   The structures themselves are impressive, but even more incredible was the array of artifacts found within.
         While unearthing the rooms of Tuzigoot, archeologists discovered a treasure-trove of everyday household items—carved tools and needles, decorated pottery, storage containers, ornaments of shell and turquoise for personal wear.
         But what really brought these homes to life for me was the discovery of tiny carved animals and bowls, believed to be children's toys.
         How on earth did the Sinagua persuade their children to leave their toys behind?

Antique's Roadshow, eat your heart out!
These carved stone toys are all miniatures, no
larger than a few inches.
No way could anyone have pried these tiny
stone animals from my five-year-old hands!

         I highly recommend a visit to these two ancient archeological sites.  You'll walk away in awe of the Sinagua people and their resilience and ingenuity.   And you may wonder what of any significance will endure from our culture.


  1. Wow! This is so intriguing, Rita!

    Your post about the Sinagua in Verde River Valley is quite similar to the Anasazi in New Mexico, down to the dwellings carved out of the cliffs. Did you climb up to Montezuma's Castle??

    I'm always intrigued by cultures like this, and I share your sentiment about leaving behind precious objects, like the carved children's toys, which are beautiful.

    While there's a lot of folks who love the mystery behind disappeared cultures, I think the current anthropological thesis is that they simply joined other existing groups - one of the wonders of DNA analysis - and joined their skills and artistry with those of other tribes in the region.

    Thanks for capturing these amazing sites of ancient culture.

    1. I'm glad you found this post intriguing!

      The park service does not allow climbing to Montezuma's Castle due to the crumbling nature of the limestone cliffs.

      Thanks for providing the current anthropological thesis regarding the "disappearance" of these cultures. DNA analysis is an amazing tool and we know that DNA doesn't lie!
      Still though, you're right about people being enchanted by the "unknown"—there's something about a good mystery!

      I'm happy to have been able to share these wondrous sites with an archeology geek!

  2. Hi Rita,

    I very much enjoyed your commentary and photos related to your visit to Montezuma's Castle and Tuzigoot National Monuments. I've never been to those sites, but am aware of the intriguing history of the Sinagua people. Perhaps their fate is best summed up by the following quote from Carle Hodge in his book "Ruins Along the River":
    "The mystery of their departure defies solution, since every explanation proposed simply provokes more questions"


    1. Hi John,

      You've heard of the Sinagua people? I'm impressed!
      I looked up the book "Ruins Along the River" and it looks like one I should add to my collection.

      As Vickie noted in her comments above, the Sinagua likely integrated their culture with others in the region—which nullifies some of the intrigue associated with their disappearance.
      However, as to why they left the Tuzigoot Hilltop in particular, and so abruptly as to leave toys, tools and pottery behind, well I like to think of that as a mystery which indeed leads to more questions than answers!

      Thanks for visiting this region along with me!

  3. This is an informative piece with an emotional tug, Ria, a difficult combination that you skillfully accomplished. I've seen the sites, and your writing and photographs brought them back to me with all their original impact. Also, your cover photograph is splendid.

    1. Janet, I love the fact that you've been to many of the places I write about and I'm happy to evoke memories from your travels.

      Thanks for your kind words!

      The cover photo is one of my favorites. You can't go wrong photographing the landscape of Capitol Reef N.P.—with the Henry Mountains in the background.

  4. I'm sorry my flying fingers skipped over the t in your name. I noticed a split second after I hit publish. Sometimes I think the world I live in is too fast for me!

  5. Hi Rita! Reading this wonderful post, one could not help wondering why the producers of the Indiana Jones and the Lara Croft series gave Montezuma's castle a miss!

    And well, I believe there are similar mysteries about disappearances of ancient cultures like the Harappan civilization in the Indian subcontinent for example, and the people who built the Stonehenge ...

    And that's the march of time.

    Thank you once again

    1. You're welcome, Soumyendu!

      I looked up information on the Harappan civilization—intriguing, and much more ancient than the Sinagua culture.
      Yes, there are lots of interesting archeological mysteries that would make good movie material!

      Thanks for commenting!