Yesterday's Light

Images in Space and Time

The same, but Different

Bandelier NM

Bandelier NM

We really didn’t plan on it, but we’ve spent a good deal of time visiting the ruins of early Native American settlements.  Most of the sites we’ve visited date back roughly 1,000 years and most seem to have been abandoned sometime around 1300.  No one really knows why.  It may have been drought or hostile neighbors or disease or something else.  In any case, after living in these locations for hundreds of years, they disappeared.  And they left some fairly sophisticated structures behind.

Bandelier NM

Bandelier NM

Primarily farmers and traders, these people started with small housing units and then added more as the population increased.  By the time they left, some of these settlements were quite large and built high into adjoining cliff walls.


Montezuma Castle

Montezuma Castle

I think Montezuma Castle is my favorite location (so far), mostly because of its grand structure.  However, as the Rangers like to tell you, the name is a bit misleading.  It clearly isn’t a castle, and Montezuma was never here.

Tuzigoot NM

Tuzigoot NM

Tuzigoot is also interesting.  First, it’s pronounced TUZI – WOODT (the “g” is silent).  Second, the name “Tuzigoot” has absolutely nothing to do with the original occupants.  The name was coined by the workers who restored this site back in the 1930’s.  When the site was first located there was nothing here but piles of rocks.  Archaeologists had to determine the size and location of individual structures by examining artifacts that had been left behind.  I’m not sure how they did all that but they’re apparently fairly confident that they got it right.

Walnut Canyon NM

Walnut Canyon NM

Walnut Canyon is located near Flagstaff, AZ, and sits in a very steep canyon.  Most of the housing area is about halfway up the side of the canyon and sits in what I would consider a precarious location.  A creek flowed at the bottom and must have been extremely difficult to reach, especially during the winter (Flagstaff very definitely has 4 seasons).  I’m only guessing, but there must have been numerous accidents resulting in immediate death or broken bones.  And broken bones could certainly have been a death sentence for these people.

The above image was taken from the inside of one of these small dwellings.  I was sitting along the back wall of a room that’s maybe 10 feet by 15 feet.  The roof of these houses was a natural alcove that can be seen at the top of the picture.  The opposite side of the canyon is clearly visible, although the steepness of the drop outside the doorway is hidden.

For me, it is difficult to comprehend the fact that these people lived and flourished generations before the Europeans arrived.  While they looked a lot like us and probably experienced much of the same joys and tragedies of life, they were very different.  Or perhaps it would be more correct to say that it is us who have become very different types of humans.  Most of us wouldn’t survive this life, at least not for very long.  And personally, I’m not sure that we’re headed in a better direction.  Heck, at this moment I’m sitting in a hotel room in Las Vegas typing on a computer.  I wonder what these cliff-dwellers would think of that?




4 Responses to “The same, but Different”

  1. Cedric Canard

    An interesting post Paul. We didn’t get to see any of these places though I wish we had. As you say it would be interesting to see what the people from the past would make of “progress”. There have been a few documentaries made in that vein with old tribes from Papua New Guinea and from the Amazon Rainforest and I’m always fascinated by them.

    • Paul Maxim

      Yes, if the ghosts of these people are as cynical as I am I doubt that they’re too impressed with our “progress”. I also wonder what they’d think of our dramatically larger population. The total world population then was likely in the millions; today it’s 7 billion. Yikes.

  2. Ted Byrne

    Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 goes missing now: Hundreds unaccounted for… Some centuries ago the ancient Sinagua of Tuzigoot went missing: Hundreds unaccounted for… The “Breaking News” banners no longer pop up around these Arizona sites, yet the mystery’s as intriguing to us as ever. BTW… I wonder if a Boeing 777 which absorbed between $200-$250 million of scarce resources to construct used more or less inputs than the entire village of Tuzigoot? And should that jet never be found… Will there be as much fascination over its mystery centuries from now as you trigger with your Tuzigoot images? Wonderful wonder fodder here 🙂

  3. Paul Maxim

    I hadn’t thought of it that way, Ted. That’s a good comparison, though. And I know you’re talking tongue-in-cheek about the “resources”, but I learned that they did, in fact, have a form of money back then. They’d learned that some rocks were more valuable – as in more scarce – than others (because of the minerals they contained) so they used them as a means of trade. Fascinating stuff………

    In spite of our technological superiority, I fear we may never find Flight 370. Who knows – maybe they’re in the same place as the Ancestral Puebloans 🙂


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