Facing Arizona’s Past

Street Photography by Denis Bouvier

Street Photography by Denis Bouvier

Traveling through Arizona is nothing less than astounding. The monumental red rocks of Sedona, the Grand Canyon, and the Sonoran Desert leave one spellbound. Scattered throughout this natural beauty are ruins of the ancient dwellings of Arizona’s prehistoric residents.

After driving very slowly over an extremely bumpy road 24 km west of Sedona, you come upon the Honanki Ruins in the semi-arid region of the Verde Valley. The rock face in this picture is under a cliff overhang. It’s part of the back walls of one of the largest ancient pueblo dwellings in the region, containing at least 60 rooms. Ancestors of several Hopi clans, the Sinagua, lived here between 1100 and 1300 CE. You can see pictographs in the lower left part of this photo. Some of the pictographs at Honanki were here as early as 2000 BCE, but most were done by the Sinagua, who created one of the greatest concentrations of pictographs in the Sedona/Verde Valley. The painted symbols were important in their daily and spiritual lives. The spiral symbol seen here can mean many things, including a settlement had to be abandoned and its inhabitants forced to migrate, which actually happened at Honanki.

One question that immediately arises about the Honanki location is how a people could sustain themselves for so long in such arid, inhospitable, near desert-like conditions. Their name itself was coined by archeologist, Harold Colton. It’s a contraction of the Spanish, sin agua – without water. Indeed, at this ruin, the main water supply was from run-off in the rainy seasons. However, this seeming lack of resources is the beauty and miracle of these people and other Native American groups in this area. They became one with their environment, mastering hunting, gathering and farming techniques to supply all their needs. The Sinagua mastered the art of dry farming by capturing water run-off to irrigate their fields, overcoming drought, thin soils, and hot, drying winds. They knew the nutritional and medicinal properties of all the desert plants.

The Sinagua were among the most successful traders of the prehistoric Southwest, exchanging pottery, jewelry, copper bells, salt, cotton cloth and argillite. By the early 1400’s the Singua suddenly left their settlements in all parts of the Verde Valley. There is speculation on whether war or drought was responsible for this disappearance but present day Hopi feel religious reasons were a factor. The legacy of the Sinagua, however, is not only in museums and ruins. Their inspiration lives vibrantly today in their Hopi descendants and in the wonder they create in the minds of anyone who studies their past.

Don Richardson