Arizona Early History (Prehistory)

First Early Inhabitants of Arizona

Arizona Early History: Arizona Flag

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

  • 25,000 BC - Indigenous cultures in Arizona, but they probably lived in the region as early as 25,000 BC
  • 2000 BC - Indians introduce agriculture to Arizona. Cochise Culture develops in what is now southern Arizona. The Cochise people introduce agriculture to Arizona, growing vegetable crops including corn.
  • 1000 BC-1000 AD - Anasazi culture develops on the Colorado Plateau.
  • 700-1000 AD - Anasazi culture develops into its Pueblo Period in which they build complex structures and ceremonial chambers.
  • 300 BC - The Hohokam settled in south central Arizona and built irrigation canals.
  • 500 AD - Sinagua people are farming near San Francisco Peaks.
  • 1064 AD - Sunset Crater erupted.
  • 1200 AD - Hopi village of Oraibi is founded. May be oldest American town where people have continuously lived.
  • 1150 AD - The myth of Cibola and Seven Cities of Gold originated when the Moors conquered Mérida, Spain. According to legend, seven bishops fled the city, not only to save their own lives but also to prevent the Muslims from obtaining gold, gems, and sacred religious relics. A rumor circulated that in a far away land- a place unknown to the people of that time- the seven bishops had founded seven cities. These cities supposedly grew very rich, mainly from gold and precious stones. This idea fueled many expeditions in search of the mythical cities during the following centuries.
  • 500 AD - 1450 AD - A later culture, the Hohokam (AD 500-1450), were pit dwellers who constructed extensive irrigation systems.
  • 700 AD - 1100 AD - The Hopi pueblo village of Oraibi was founded, making it the oldest continuously inhabited town in Arizona (and along with Taos and Acoma Pueblos of New Mexico, one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in America).
  • 11th and 14th century -The Pueblo flourished in Arizona between the 11th and 14th century and built many of the elaborate cliff dwellings that still stand. The Apache and Navajo came to the area in c.1300 from Canada.
  • 1275 - A great drought began and lasted until 1299.
  • 1300 - Casa Grande is built near the Gila River.
  • 1400 - Cultural decline of various pre-historic groups. Hohokam culture disappears.
  • 1539 - Father Marcos de Niza claims Arizona for Spain.

Early History of Native Americans in Arizona

The Indigenous People of Arizona

The names of the Arizona tribes included the Yuma, Pima, Papago, Zuni, the Pueblo, the Navajo and Apache.

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 AD 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 AD but by 1400 AD, 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.

Sources : Arizona Blue Book - Chapter 2

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