Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Montezuma Castle National Monument, Verde Valley, Arizona

Montezuma Castle belongs to ancient farms of the Verde Valley, the world of the Southern Sinagua, who flourished in the Verde Valley hundreds of years ago. For thousands of years, hunters and gatherers roamed the Verde Valley. The first permanent settlements here resembled those of the Hohokam culture from southern and central Arizona. Between 700 and 900 AD some Hohokam moved north into the valley. These productive farmers grew corn, beans, squash, and cotton using techniques like canal irrigation. They also made their distinct red-on-bluff pottery and built ballcourts. One-room pit houses perched on terraces overlooked their crop fields in the bottomlands. 

Masonry Dwelling

Northern Sinagua culture, centered around present-day Flagstaff, influenced the above-ground masonry dwellings that appeared about 1125. Small structures and later pueblos, like those built by Ancestral Puebloan people living north of the Mongollon Rim, rose along major streams. By 1150, Southern Sinagua began building large pueblos, often on hilltops or in cliff alcoves. Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot villages reached their maximum size in the 1300s and were occupied for another century.

No one knows why the Southern Sinagua migrated away from their pueblos by the early 1400s. It may have been over-population, depletion of resources, disease, conflicts within or between groups, climate change, or perhaps spiritual beliefs. Whatever the reasons, many Southern Sinagua likely migrated northward to pueblo villages. Others may have stayed in the Verde Valley and returned to hunter-gatherer ways.

The lines show the five floors of the dwelling

Stone front in lower left of picture

Diagram of what the dwelling looked like inside

Southern Sinagua farmers built this five-story 20-room dwelling sometime between 1100 and 1300. It occupies a cliff recess 100 feet above the valley. Early American settlers marveled at the structure. They assumed that it was Aztec in origin, hence the name Montezuma Castle. A short distance west, nudging a cliff base, is Castle A. Now badly deteriorated, it was once an imposing five-story apartment-like building with about 45 rooms. Occupants found reliable water in the creek and fertile land on the nearby terrace.

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