Middle Ages Technologies
Anasazi Buildings
by Taisha Galipault

Anasazi buildings advanced in many ways throughout the years in response to the environment.

Anasazi ruins were first discovered in modern times during the 19th century. The Anasazi were one of the 3 major native American cultures in the southwest, along with the Mogollon, and the Hohokam. The Anasazi were descendents of the culture of the archaic desert, originating around 6,000 B.C.E. in the four corners region. They didn’t build for the first 1,000 years or so and just lived in open areas.

The Anasazi homes started out as caves near agricultural lands. This construction in the environment near fields lasted for a very long time and meant they could now conveniently grow crops.

After this came the Anasazi pit houses. These were semi-permanent dwellings made of poles and mud-plastered brush. They were really cold, smoky and smelly, but were superior to the caves. These were only occupied for 15 years.

The next step is called "Out of the Pit" by archaeologists. The Anasazi homes of this period were above-ground structures that were square or rectangular in shape. This happened from 900-1100 C.E. The homes were made of mud and stone, and the floor was gradually raised to ground level. Each family constructed a house that connected to that of another family. They also made a move up to mesa tops. This was the standard building to live in until the 13 th century when a parallel evolution came along.

The population was growing along the San Juan River. The growing population forced many to build farther away from the rivers. This forced a lot of the Anasazi to work at dry farming. It was really hot during the summer, and they depended on rains to water the crops. Winter, however was cold, and in response to the weather the Anasazi then faced their buildings to the south, in order to get winter's sun-warmth. This was a major advancement.

The ancient Anasazi high-rise was next. These were as big as present day apartment buildings! One remaining example is the “Great House”. It has 450 rooms covering 161,000 square feet. Another example is the “Pueblo Bonito” at Chaco Canyon. This building takes up 3 acres of land and is 5 stories high. It has 800 rooms and held over 1,000 people. More than half the rooms were for storing food, to be used in the years when farmers crops failed.

Pueblo Bonito was the largest apartment in the world until 1882. It was in the shape of the letter "D" and contained numerous kivas, which are round ceremonial structures usually aligned with some astronomical feature.

Kivas were found in most Anasazi pueblos. They were used for communal or religious reasons. They had various painted wood artifacts, fire pits, flag-stoned floors, masonry walls, carved, symbolic rock art and murals. Kivas were where they made offerings.

Vaults in the kivas are believed to have served as foot drums. They looked like boxes that were found on the floor of the kiva. Small square openings on the side were probably sound holes.

They each had different jobs. Some of them would be the carpenters and tree cutters. Archaeologists estimate that the Anasazi cut down 215,000 trees from forests 30-40 miles away to make the floors and roofs of the 12 great houses at Chaco Canyon. They used a lot of resources from the environment to build the houses. They built 100 more great houses throughout the countryside. Anasazi road builders constructed over 400 miles of straight, 30-foot-wide roads that connected the Great Houses to Chaco Canyon. Since the climate was good and favorable, they had some great building projects at this time. The Great House buildings went on for 2 centuries.

The last stage of Anasazi architecture was the cliff dwellings also known as pueblos. The best known are in Yellow Jacket, which is the largest town in the Four Corners area. These are larger buildings housing thousands of people. The Anasazi began to build them from 1100-1300 C.E. These were stone houses, arranged in in villages or towns. They were built in caves or on sheer rock canyon walls. In response to the warm summer weather they made the over hanging lip of the cliff blocking off the high summer sun, so it was much cooler and more comfortable. The lower summer sun was able to shine below the lip at a lower angle. These had rock bridges with no handrails. They were built in places that were easily defensible. These were the most significant buildings of the Anasazi and it’s what they are most famous for.

However, they suggest overpopulation, fighting, and a move away from necessary resources. 45 percent of children would die of poor nutrition along vast areas. By the end of the 1300’s all the cliff dwellings were abandoned.

The Anasazi had a lot of advancements in their buildings throughout the years, which illustrate much about their culture and environment.