The Ancestral Puebloans, commonly referred to as the Anasazi, were a civilization, which lived in the Four Corners region in the United Sates as far back as 1500 BC. The term Anasazi is the way they were called by the Navajo and translates to “ancient enemies”, an expression which is deemed derogatory by modern day Pueblo Indians such as the Hopi and the Zuni.
At the height of their civilization around the 10th and 11th century, they possessed a complex network which covered a big portion of the Colorado Plateau. They built over 600 km of roads, as well as substantial settlements. One such – Pueblo Bonito, had buildings as high as five stories and about 800 rooms. They had advanced knowledge about the celestial objects and even built sophisticated observatories. However, around 1250 something happened, which caused many to move away from the open and started constructing their villages within the cliffs of the canyons. These characteristic settlements, the largest of which is the Cliff Palace in Colorado, can be found in many canyons, preserved in pristine condition.
No one knows what exactly, but around 700 years ago some catastrophic event must have occurred, as all across the territory the Puebloans fled south towards the Rio Grande and Little Colorado River, abandoning their villages. Some scientists assume that this extreme reaction was caused by the environment. Data, gathered from tree rings, points to a great drought throughout the end of the 13th century. This, combined with greater levels of deforestation, brought by the increased development of the land, could certainly lead to such an exodus. However, they had lived there for hundreds of years and this was by far not the first nor the worst drought they have endured. So why leave now all of a sudden?
Another theory suggest that the reasons were internal to the Pueblo society. Archeological findings at Sand Canyon and Little Rock indicate that their culture became violent. Tribes started fighting internally with leaders ruling through fear. Excavations at multiple sites unearthed human remains, showing signs of massacres. Such a transition may explain why so many first tried to seek shelter in the cliffs and eventually left never to return again.
The archeological digs at sites like Castle Rock, Sand Canyon or Cowboy Wash unearthed an even grimmer secret – many of the bones showed signs of cannibalism. They also found traces of myoglobin inside cooking vessels and within human waste. Myoglobin is a type of protein, occurring only in human muscles. If this extreme behavior was caused by the drought and subsequent starvation is still unclear.