Living in the desert Southwest, we find ourselves among the ruins of ancient civilizations at almost every turn. It is easy here to enter the world of the Ancestors who inhabited this region, for much has been preserved due to the efforts of the National Park Service. There are Pueblo ruins and Mission ruins, and scattered amongst them, pieces of ancient pottery, and other cultural items giving us clues into the lives of the Ancestors.
Today we see the Pueblo peoples living along the Rio Grande, the Navajo on their vast reservation, and the Apache dwelling mostly in the mountainous regions of the desert Southwest. They are all descended from the ancient cultures that inhabited this region. Where did they all come from? Where did any of us come from? More importantly, what can we learn from the Ancestors that will help us today?
Delving into the prehistory of the Southwest, we find that many cultures lived in this region, often trading with one another, in an intermingling of their cultures that is still in practice today. There were the Anasazi in the northern reaches of the Southwest, the Olmec, Maya, Zapotec, Mixtec, and Toltec civilizations of Mexico and Central America in the south, and the Mogollon civilization that flourished in between these two regions in southern New Mexico, an area once a part of Mexico itself.
The designs on their pottery alone demonstrate the mixture of cultures. From the horned serpent that represented Quetzalcoatl, to the beautifully plumed macaw of Mexico, some of the repeated themes used in pottery design show up in many of the civilizations that were vastly separated by land, but linked by the route of traders.
Shells and brightly colored feathers adorning clothing and used in sacred ceremony are also common themes in many of these cultures. Yet, the Southwestern civilizations were far too distant from the sea to gather their own shells, and as such, they were seen as sacred objects.
Many types of dwellings remain from the days of the Ancestors, like the pyramid style structures in Mexico, the pueblos in New Mexico, and the cliff dwellings of the Anasazi, yet all used local materials for their construction. Mud processed with fire to make adobe formed many of the dwellings of the Ancestors. This same process was also used to make pottery.
Each civilization had its own style of pottery, from the designs painted on the vessels, to the style of vessel made, although we see some common themes, they were made to serve a specific purpose, indigenous to that area.
Later, we will look at the details of each of these cultures, how they lived, the pottery and art they created, and what their ceremonial customs may have been like. For now, we will stick to similarities, to illustrate how we are all related.
We all come from the same roots; we are all related to the ancient civilizations of this world, through our blood. Within our blood, lie the memories of the Ancestors, waiting for us to call upon them, to learn from them, and to pass these traditions on to our succeeding generations. Therefore, looking into how the Ancestors lived will help us to understand who we are today, and how we evolved throughout time. To learn of one’s past, is to embrace where we came from. To embrace it, is to understand its importance. To fully evolve in our own lives, we must first begin with learning about the Ancestors, and what they can teach us. Thus begins our journey into the worlds of the Ancestors…