The Beauty of an Ancient Pueblo People

They lived in the harsh landscape for thousands of years, making their homes in the cliff dwellings and multi-storied adobe buildings whose remains are still visible today. The Ancestral Pueblo people lived in small, isolated settlements and large thriving cities. In the beginning they were nomadic, before they built more permanent homes. These homes were architectural marvels, often built with stone and wood carried from great distances. Built sturdy and straight with tools of stone, these walls held up to the weather and the years. There are even some remaining today which feel as solid and secure as any modern home.

Descending trail from Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico. ca. 1900-1910. Photo by Mcclure

In their communities and settlements, they harvested wild plants and hunted what game could be found. These means did not always provide well, so they farmed the seemingly hostile landscape for additional food supplies. To do this, they built irrigation canals, using the water in the most efficient means to produce their crops. Their ancient civilization remains an amazing testament to the ability of a people to embrace the world they lived in.

Much as their descendants, the modern Pueblo people, there was great diversity among the Ancestral Puebloans. Each city had its own governance, and, though there were similarities, their own belief systems. Ancient roads have been uncovered which allowed for travel between settlements and contact between the Ancestral Pueblo and the wider world. Trade goods have been found which indicate that contact, including macaw feathers and copper bells. Taken as a whole, their world was a thriving one.

One hallmark of their culture which stands out is their deep attachment to the beauty that lay around them. Although food and shelter were likely their greatest work, the things they have left behind show those were not their only concerns. They filled their lives with items far from simply utilitarian, adorned instead with images that reflected the things around them and their beliefs about their place in the world. Woven turkey feather blankets provided warmth as well as beauty while woven baskets showed their great skill as artists. Their pottery, one of the most lasting of their crafts, allowed them to reveal the highest quality of their artistic skills.

Mary Histia, an Acoma Pueblo potter. New Mexico. 1935. Photo by Burton Frasher.

Using the clay from the ground, they created vessels of differing colors, sizes, and shapes. On the outside, and sometimes on the inside, they adorned these vessels with intricate geometric designs and patterns. They also used images of what they saw in their daily lives to add to the decoration of their pottery: animals, people and nature. Pottery needed to be sturdy to serve its utilitarian purpose, but clearly these people did not see that as a reason to leave it plain. With the eyes and skills of true artists, they spent the extra time to create something of great beauty as well.

Through what remains of their own work and the continuing legacy they left their descendants, today we still see how important the beauty of the natural world is to the Pueblo people. Their art, their language, their connection to the earth are all reflected in the beauty they still create every day.