In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Ancient Pueblo (Anasazi) Art

  • Introduction
  • Anthologies
  • Museum and Exhibition Catalogues
  • Research Bibliographies
  • Guidebooks
  • Thematic Studies
  • Archaeoastronomy

Art History Ancient Pueblo (Anasazi) Art
James Farmer
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 March 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 March 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0084


The Ancient Pueblo (aka, “Anasazi”) tradition ranged between c. 500 BCE and 1600 CE in the American Southwest. Although the tradition is identified primarily through archaeological research, it is widely seen as the primary ancestral tradition to the historic and modern Puebloan communities in New Mexico, Arizona, and the surrounding region. Indeed, a significant degree of direct cultural continuity has been established between the late prehistoric phases, commencing after c. 1300 CE, and historic Pueblo communities along the northern Rio Grande area and the Hopi mesas of northeastern Arizona. The demarcation between ancient and historic contexts is determined by the effects of the earliest Spanish colonization in the early 1600s in northern New Mexico. The Ancient Puebloan culture is considered the largest and longest-lived of several ancient cultures that coexisted in the Greater Southwest prior to 1600. Archaeologically, Ancient Pueblo culture traditionally is divided into an early “Basketmaker” period (c. 500 BCE–500 CE) and a later Pueblo period (c. 500 CE–16 CE). Art historical scholarship on Ancient Puebloan art and architecture is relatively young and is dominated by anthropological and archaeological methods and theory (see the Oxford Bibliographies article “Native North American Art, Pre-Contact”). The earliest publications date to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Though primarily archaeological in nature, many of these early reports are still valuable to art historians for establishing context and providing original descriptions and early photographs and illustrations. Not until the 1970s did distinct bodies of scholarship on Ancient Puebloan art begin to emerge from a generation of academic art historians, such as J. J. Brody of the University of New Mexico, including scholarship dedicated to related Mimbres pottery. Theoretical approaches to Ancient Pueblo art and architecture by archaeologists and art historians have varied considerably over the past 150 years. Until the mid-twentieth century, Ancient Pueblo art works were typically treated as archaeological artifacts often stored in ethnological collections; rock art was commonly dismissed as art altogether, primarily because of difficulty in dating and assigning cultural affinity. Not until the 1940s did the truly artistic merits of Native American art begin to be acknowledged, despite the fact that architecture and pottery composed the primary lines of evidence for Alfred Kidder’s groundbreaking An Introduction to the Study of Southwestern Archaeology (Kidder 1962, cited under Archaeological Studies). Stephen Plog’s Ancient Peoples of the American Southwest (Plog 2008, cited under Archaeological Studies), and Stephen H. Lekson’s A History of the Ancient Southwest (Lekson 2009, cited under Anthropological Overviews) provide overviews of the evolution of archaeological theory in their relative introductions. J. J. Brody’s Anasazi and Pueblo Painting (Brody 1991, cited under Media Studies: Painting) provides an extended discussion of the history of Puebloan art historical theory and scholarship as well the relationship of art history to archaeology in the introduction. Polly Schaafsma’s article “Form, Content, and Function: Theory and Method in North American Rock Studies (Schaafsma 1985, cited under Rock Art: Thematic Studies) provides a review and critical discussion on theories and methods specific to rock art studies. A note on terminology: the term “Anasazi” (literally, “ancient enemy”) comes from the Navajo language, of a completely different culture from that of the Pueblos, and has rather derogatory, racially offensive connotations. Since the 1990s, many Puebloan communities have pushed to replace its usage officially with the more politically acceptable term “Ancient Pueblo” (or “Puebloan”). In this article, the term “Ancient Puebloan” is used as frequently as possible. However, because the term “Anasazi” remains so widespread in the relevant scholarship, its usage is retained herein if the original source uses that term.

General Overviews

A number of good, comprehensive general overviews of Ancient Puebloan art and architectural styles and mediums are listed in the following sections. These overviews are primarily archaeological in their focus and consider the Ancient Puebloan tradition in a variety of contexts. Well-illustrated volumes with especially strong art historical focus solely on the Ancient Puebloan tradition, though limited in number, include Brody 1990 (cited under Art Historical Overviews), Bruggmann and Acatos 1990 (cited under Art Historical Overviews), Cordell 1994 (cited under Anthropological Overviews), and Rohn and Ferguson 2006 (cited under Anthropological Overviews). Surveys that include continuity between the Ancient and Modern Puebloan styles include Whiteford 1989 (cited under Anthologies) and Berlo and Phillips 1998 (cited under Art Historical Overviews). Comprehensive overviews that consider the Ancient Puebloan tradition within the broader context of the Greater Southwest paradigm include Plog 2008 (cited under Archaeological Studies), and Lekson 2009 (cited under Anthropological Overviews). Even broader approaches placing the Ancient Puebloan tradition in relationship to the entire ancient North American culture area include Snow 1976 (cited under Archaeological Studies), Berlo and Phillips 1998 (cited under Art Historical Overviews), and Penney 2004 (cited under Art Historical Overviews). Each of these volumes includes a discussion of primary methods and theory for each area of interest.

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