Anasazi: What's in a name?

 

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story, "Out of the Four Corners."

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.

Pueblo 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 Mexico.

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.

So, what name should we use? There is no simple answer. These people were Ancestral Puebloan, Hisatsinom, and Anasazi. And they were none of these.

High Country News Classifieds
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    HawkWatch International seeks an experienced fundraiser to join our awesome team! This position will provide support in all aspects of the department. We are looking...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING IN TAOS, NEW MEXICO www.westernlaw.org/about-us/clinic-interns-careers The Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) is a nonprofit public interest environmental law firm with a...
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    will develop and execute Wild Utah Projects fundraising plan. Call, email or check full description of job online for more details:
  • HAND CRAFTED LOG HOME IN TETON VALLEY
    on ten acres. Full view of the Grand Teton. 35 miles to Yellowstone and 20 minutes to Grand Targhee Ski Area.
  • ACREAGE WITH HOME, SHOP, BARN FOR SALE!
    Must see for sng/extd fam or corp retreat in pines! $1,030,000
  • WESTERN REGIONAL MANAGER
    The American Forest Foundation seeks a smart and highly motivated candidate to join our Western conservation team. The Regional Manager supports the Regional Director to...
  • TRANSPORTATION PLANNER
    Exciting opportunity to lead the charge on meeting the future transportation demands of our community! This position will develop, coordinate, and implement the Integrated Transportation...
  • ENVIRONMENTAL WRITING INSTITUTE (EWI)
    with Robert Michael Pyle September 26-30, 2018, in Missoula MT.
  • REPORTING FELLOW - BOISE, ID
    Boise State Public Radio is hiring a Reporting Fellow as part of a new nationwide collaborative, Guns & America. Based in the state capitol, Boise...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Middle Colorado Watershed Council. Rifle, CO.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF RIVERSEDGE WEST (FORMERLY TAMARISK COALITION)
    RiversEdge West is seeking an entrepreneurial leader with solid nonprofit management skills to lead our high functioning team and help us make an impact on...
  • HIRING BEARS EARS EDUCATION CENTER DIRECTOR
    Conservation nonprofit Friends of Cedar Mesa in Bluff, Utah is hiring an Education Center Director to oversee the operation of the Bears Ears Education Center....
  • DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR WITH WRA
    Western Resource Advocates (WRA) is seeking a talented, organized person with great people skills, who is passionate about protection of the natural environment to work...
  • DIRECTOR OF REGIONAL COMMUNICATIONS STRATEGY
    The Wilderness Society is recruiting for an experienced Communicator for our Northwest Region. This position is located in Seattle, WA. For more information please visit...
  • SALMON RIVER IDAHO WILDERNESS RETREAT HOME
    Here is an opportunity to have a piece of self-sufficient paradise on Idaho's Main Salmon River adjacent to the largest Forest Service wilderness area in...
  • RAMMED EARTH SOLAR COTTAGE
    in 5-home conservation community & botanical sanctuary on 20 acres.
  • MEMBERSHIP AND ENGAGEMENT COORDINATOR
    The Montana Wildlife Federation is looking for an enthusiastic and innovative Membership and Engagement Coordinator to help grow and maintain our grassroots voice for wildife,...
  • SR ENVIRONMENTAL PLANNER
    The City of Fort Collins is excited to announce a Sr Environmental Planner position within the Natural Areas Department. This position will be housed within...
  • HISTORICAL VACATION CABIN
    on beautiful Snow Angel Ranch located within San Juan National Forest near Pagosa Springs, CO. Lakes, fly-fishing, swimming, hiking, mountain biking, horse trails, horse accommodations...
  • FIVE-ACRE VIEW LOT WITH WELL
    5 acres, well. Abuts Carson NF; hike fish ski; deer turkey elk.