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Prehistory: First Inhabitants
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Arizona Early History (Prehistory)
First Early Inhabitants of Arizona
Early history examines the archaeological record that tells the story of the first inhabitants of Arizona. Learn about the prehistory and culture of the first early inhabitants, and what lessons it might teach us about the early history of Arizona.
Arizona First Early Inhabitants Timeline
Early History of Native Americans in Arizona
The Indigenous People of Arizona
The land that is present-day Arizona is one of the oldest inhabited areas in the United States. Although statehood was achieved as recently as 1912, Arizona's history began more than 12,000 years ago.
Little is known of the early people in Arizona as they left no written word. Historians assume the first inhabitants came from Asia across a long land bridge in the Bering Strait created by receding polar ice.
Native Americas inhabited the area that is now Arizona many thousands of years before Europeans came to the region. The earliest settlements were those of the Hohokam, Anasazi, and Mogollon.
The Cochise people lived in this region from about 5,000 years ago to the early part of the first century. They were hunters, gatherers, and farmers who grew an early form of maize (corn) along with beans and squash.
The Anasazi inhabited the high plateau region of northwestern Arizona. Their name was Navajo for "those who lived before." The tribe is the first known to abandon a nomadic lifestyle to build multi-room houses into caves. They also built circular buildings, or kiva, for ceremonial purposes. Canyon de Chelly is the home of the Anasazi White House ruins. The Sinagua (without water) people descended from the main Anasazi tribe.
The people of the mountains in eastern Arizona were named Mogollon after an early Spanish colonial Governor of New Mexico, Juan Ignacia Mogollon. The Mogollon were likely descendants of the Cochise, although their culture was more complex than the Cochise.
The Hohokam, a name derived from the Pima language meaning "ancient ones," were farmers. They constructed an elaborate irrigation canal system as early as 500 A.D. The Casa Grande ruins are monuments to the Hohokam way of life.
The Anasazi and the Hohokam tribes reached the height of their civilization between 1100 and 1300 A.D. but by 1400 A.D., the Mogollon, Anasazi, and Hohokam no longer existed. The disappearance of these people remains a mystery, but speculation of a prolonged drought may have reduced food supplies and dried farmland.
When the Spanish arrived in the 16th century they found the distribution of native peoples largely as it is today. The tribes native to Arizona are divided into three groups: the Uto-Aztecan, the Athapascan, and the Yuman. Many other tribes can be found here, but they moved to Arizona from other locations. These include the Paiute from Utah and the Yaqui from Mexico. Among the Uto-Aztecan tribes are the Hopi, the Pima, and the Papago.
The Hopi are a peace-loving people who have kept their culture intact due in large part to living in an isolated area. The Pima and Papago are believed to be descendants of Hohokam farmers. The name Papago means "bean people"; however, in 1986, the Papago changed their name to Tohono O'odham, meaning "people of the desert."
The Athapascans include the Apache and Navajo. The Apache tribes include the Chiricahua, the Mescalero, the San Carlos, the Cibecue, and the White Mountain Apache. Among their membership were famous chiefs such as Cochise, Victorio, Nana, and Geronimo.
The Navajo live in northeastern Arizona. The entire Navajo reservation is located in parts of four states. Their tribal headquarters are located in Window Rock, Arizona.
Many early Spanish explorers asked the native people what they called themselves. In one case, the native thought the Spanish were asking the name of the chief's son and so answered "Yuma." Thus the Yumans were misnamed, but the name carried forward. Among the Yumans are the Mohave, the Quechan, the Cocopah, the Maricopa, the Yavapai, the Hualapai, and the Havasupai.
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