Archaeology and geography

The North American Southwest that comprises the border of the US Southwest and adjacent parts of northern Mexico is not only a geographical concept, as the name may suggest, but in an archaeological and anthropological sense. It is, perhaps above all, a cultural term. Its broad definition encompasses both its characteristic desert and semi-arid landscape with cacti and prickly pears, vast sandstone plateaus/mesas crisscrossed by canyons, as well as pre-Hispanic, historic and modern indigenous cultures, including the highly developed agricultural Native American societies who thrived in this difficult environment and climate long before the arrival of Europeans. Today, the term Southwest is alive and well in colloquial American discourse, reflecting the division of the United States into parts or areas of economic, geographic, landscape, cultural, and touristic importance.

Geographically, the Southwest region extends from the central-southern parts of the states of Utah and Colorado, through the southeastern and eastern parts of Nevada and California, covering all of Arizona and New Mexico, and as far south as the adjacent areas of the north of Mexico (the northern parts of the states of Sonora and Chihuahua). To the east, the region extends to the extreme western side of Texas and the border of the southern Great Plains.

The center of the Southwest, both in the pre-Hispanic period and nowadays, consists of four American states: the southern parts of Utah and Colorado along with Arizona and New Mexico bordering them from the south, which together form the region popularly known as the Four Corners. This name arose because the boundaries of these four states intersect at right angles at one point. This place is located in the Navajo reservation, which today features a viewing point for tourists and a memorial set up where the borders of these four states meet.

Although the individual indigenous cultures and tribes of the US Southwest differed quite significantly from one another, particularly during the pre-Hispanic period that marked the beginnings of agriculture we can distinguish several features common to this area. First, there was the economic, cultural, political, and territorial domination of peoples with an agricultural economy. These included, first and foremost, the Pueblo, Hohokam, Mogollon/Mimbres, Casas Grandes cultures and, in part, the Fremont culture and others cultures. They formed great cultural provinces, together covering virtually the entire Southwest, leaving only some ecological niches and land available to hunter-gatherer communities. Ultimately however, this balance shifted dramatically in favor of the hunter-gatherer peoples and the areas they occupied due to two factors: environmental, climate, and social changes that affected almost the entire North American Southwest from the 13th and 14th centuries AD and the arrival of Europeans in this area soon after.

Only Pueblo culture survived into the historical period and until today and the rest of them collapsed even before Europeans came to the Southwest. There are twenty one different Pueblo groups today living in reservations in northern Arizona (Hopi) and New Mexico (mainly in Rio Grande Valley). Some modern Pueblo communities have lived continuously in these settlements founded in the 13th and 14th centuries A.D. (e.g., the Oraibi and Walpi pueblos by the Hopi or Acoma pueblo), so they are the oldest settlements still inhabited in the United States today. There also many other indigenous groups (some of them came in historic period to the Southwest) that have their reservations in the Southwest. Many elements of traditions, rituals, and beliefs, including dances and ceremonies, had survived compared to, for example, the cultures and Native American cultures and tribes of the east of the North American continent.


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