Member of a prehistoric American Indian people who lived in the Rio Grande Valley of New Mexico and other parts of the southwest from 100 BC to AD 1300. The Anasazi were skilled weavers, potters, and farmers. They are mainly known for their cliff dwellings, built from about AD 1000 in canyon recesses and on mesa tops, such as the Mesa Verde in Colorado. Around AD 1300 the Anasazi suddenly abandoned their homes and ceremonial centres, possibly because of prolonged drought or pressure from other American Indian groups. Their descendants are believed to be the Pueblo Indian peoples of Arizona and New Mexico.
The Anasazi made baskets and sandals, which they wove out of plants such as vines or straw. They also created pottery decorated with geometric designs, similar in style to the pottery made by the neighbouring Mogollon and Hohokam peoples. Farming was difficult in the arid southwest, scarcity of water being a particular problem. Anasazi farmers made cisterns (water tanks) and dug ponds and lakes to collect and store rainwater against shortages. They also used irrigation techniques to water crops.
The early Anasazi lived in pit houses, homes that were dug halfway into the earth, then reinforced with wooden poles, and covered with mud or reeds. After AD 700, the Anasazi built above-ground living spaces called pueblos, made of adobe (sun-dried earth bricks) or stone. These eventually evolved to resemble apartment complexes with hundreds of rooms, some of which had ladders to climb up to the next level. Some survive and attract many tourists. The pit houses were retained as ceremonial chambers, known as kivas.
From AD 1000, the Anasazi occupied mainly cliff and mesa-top dwellings, which offered them protection from enemies. Mesa Verde is a magnificent example of an Anasazi cliff-city complex and ceremonial centre.