The national monuments of Wupatki, Walnut Canyon, and Montezuma’s Castle showcase the treasures of the first people who settled and developed farms, towns, and trade routes throughout northern Arizona and beyond. The Hopis call these ancient peoples “Hisat’sinom,” and Spanish explorers named their hard, arid homeland the sierra sin agua, mountains without water. Indeed, much of the region receives less annual precipitation than the quintessential desert city of Tucson. In Hisat’sinom: Ancient Peoples in a Land without Water, archaeologists explain how the people of this region flourished despite living in a place with very little water and extremes of heat and cold.
Exploiting the mulching properties of volcanic cinders blasted out of Sunset Crater, the Hisat’sinom grew corn and cotton, made and traded fine cotton cloth and decorated ceramics, and imported exotic goods like turquoise and macaws from hundreds—even thousands—of miles away. From clues as small as the tiny fingerprints left on children’s toys, post holes in the floors of old houses, and widely scattered corn fields, archaeologists have pieced together an intriguing portrait of what childhood was like, the importance of weaving cotton cloth, and how farmers managed risk in a harsh environment. At its peak in the late 1100s, Wupatki stood as the region’s largest and tallest town, a cultural center for people throughout the surrounding region. It was a gathering place, a trading center, a treasury of exotic goods, a landmark, and a place of sacred ritual and ceremony. Then, after 1200, people moved away and the pueblo sank into ruin.