A thousand years ago, when their civilization arose in the Southwest, the people who built these great stone structures did not call themselves Anasazi. The word did not even exist: It was created, centuries later, by Navajo workers who were hired by white men to dig pots and skeletons out of the desert. It’s a word that recently has fallen out of favor.
What is wrong
with "Anasazi"? For starters, it is a Navajo word unrelated to any
of the Pueblo peoples who are modern-day descendants of the
Anasazi. But more than that, the word is a veiled insult.
For a long time, it was romantically — and incorrectly
— thought to mean "Old Ones." It actually means "Enemy
Ancestors," a term full of political innuendo and slippery history.
In Navajo, ’Ana’í
means alien, enemy, foreigner, and non-Navajo.
’Anaa’ means war.
Sází translates to something or
someone that was once whole and is now scattered, a word used to
describe the final point of corporeal decay, as a body turns to
bones and is strewn by scavengers and erosion.
people have expressed serious concerns about this word. Naming the
past can either connect people to their own ancestors or alienate
them, and a word as loaded as Anasazi is likely to erode crucial
links to the past.
Some have suggested using the Hopi
word Hisatsinom, a term referring to ancestors.
But because Hisatsinom is a Hopi word, it does
not account for other Pueblo groups, such as the Zuni or Acoma, or
the many pueblos along the San Juan River and the Rio Grande in New
Many archaeologists and media outlets have turned
to using "Ancestral Puebloans," an expression that is rapidly
gaining popularity. But the modern Pueblo tribes trace their
ancestry to nearly all of Arizona, and as far away as the Mexico
City region — far beyond the Colorado Plateau where the
Anasazi once lived.
Using any single, overarching name,
politically correct or not, is simply misleading, because it
reinforces the notion that the Anasazi were one distinct group of
people. And that is just not true: The archaeological record and
reports from living Puebloans reveal myriad ethnicities occupying
the Four Corners a thousand or so years ago.
name should we use? There is no simple answer. These people were
Ancestral Puebloan, Hisatsinom, and Anasazi. And
they were none of these.