Sinagua

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For the closed high school, see Sinagua High School.
Historic view of the Sinagua cliff dwelling at Montezuma Castle National Monument. 1887
Sinagua petroglyphs at the V-bar-V petroglyph site

The Sinagua were a pre-Columbian cultural group that occupied a large area in central Arizona from the Little Colorado River (near Flagstaff) to the Salt River (near Phoenix), including the Verde Valley and significant portions of the Mogollon Rim country, between approximately 500 AD and 1425 AD.

Early Sinagua sites consist mostly of pit houses, similar to the ones built by the Hohokam people of southern Arizona. Later structures more closely resemble the pueblo architecture practiced by other contemporaneous cultural groups occupying the southwestern United States. The Sinagua economy was based on a combination of hunter-gatherer foraging and subsistence agriculture.

The name Sinagua was coined by archaeologist Harold Colton, founder of the Museum of Northern Arizona, from the Spanish words sin meaning "without" and agua meaning "water", referring to the name originally given by Spanish explorers to the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff, the "Sierra Sin Agua". The name reflects the surprise the Spanish felt that such large mountains did not have perennial rivers flowing from them, as is common in Spain.

Colton also distinguished between two different Sinagua cultures. The Northern Sinagua were loosely centered in the highlands around Flagstaff, with Walnut Canyon National Monument, Wupatki National Monument, and Elden Pueblo the best-known publicly accessible sites. The Southern Sinagua inhabited lower elevations across the Verde Valley of central Arizona; Montezuma Castle National Monument, Montezuma Well, Tuzigoot National Monument, Palatki and Honanki Archaeological Sites, and the V-Bar-V Petroglyph Site are notable localities open to the public.

The last known evidence of Sinagua occupation for any site comes from Montezuma Castle, around 1425 AD. Like other pre-Columbian cultures in the southwest, the Sinagua apparently abandoned their permanent settlements around this time, though the precise reasons for such a large-scale abandonment are not yet known; resource depletion, drought, and clashes with the newly-arrived Yavapai people have been suggested.[citation needed] Several modern Hopi clans trace their ancestry to immigrants from the Sinagua culture, whom they believe left the Verde Valley for religious reasons.[citation needed]


Cliff dwellings of the Sinaguas[edit]

Cliff dwellings of the Sinaguas
Montezuma Well is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, reference #66000082. 
Cliff dwellings of the Sinagua people. 
Close up view of the Cliff dwellings of the Sinagua people. 
Diorama showing how the pre-Columbian Sinagua people may have lived in Montezuma Castle, a 22-room cliff dwelling located near Camp Verde, Arizona. The display and its contents are the work of an employee of the Bureau of Land Management. 
Pit House ruins of Sinagua people, which dates back to 1050 AD. The two largest holes in the dirt floor held the timber which supported the roof. The holes around the edge reveal the outline of the structure. It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, reference #66000082. 
Ruins of a Sinagua house

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