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Ancient Peoples in a Land without Water

Edited by Christian E. Downum

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, postholes 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.

2012. 196 pp., 30 color plates, 118 black-and-white illustrations, 4 maps, reading list, index, 8.5 x 11

Contributors: Lyle Balenquah, Ellen Brennan, Gregory B. Brown, Jeffrey S. Dean, Christian E. Downum, Mark D. Elson, Lisa Folb, Daniel Garcia, Kelley Hays-Gilpin, Saul L Hedquist, Phyllis Hogan, James P. Holmlund, Kathryn Kamp, Stewart B. Koyiyumptewa, Leigh Kuwanwisiwma, Ruth E. Lambert, Lloyd Masayumptewa, Michael J. Novotny, F. Michael O’Hara, Michael H. Ort, Anita Poleahla, Jeanne Stevens Schofer, Francis E. Smiley, Donald E. Weaver Jr., John C. Whittaker

Awards: 2012 Southwest Books of the Year Top Pick

Download an excerpt, and/or a full color section.

“A superb summary of the deep Native history in the area around Flagstaff, Arizona—the archaeological Sinagua region. What a lively history it was: volcanic eruptions; Chaco-meets-Hohokam geopolitics; violence on the frontiers! And, of course, families, clans, and villages that survived and even thrived amid alarms and excursions. This strikingly-illustrated volume is the ‘go-to’ resource for Sinagua. Leading researchers present their recent discoveries and new syntheses of past work. Insightful chapters by Native scholars remind us that the story continues today at the pueblos of the Hopi Tribe.”
—Stephen H. Lekson, author of A History of the Ancient Southwest (SAR Press)

“For anyone with an interest in southwestern prehistory, the eloquently written Hisat’sinom is a must read. It connects the past to the present by offering multiple voices and perspectives that illustrate the varied meanings, interpretations, and values surrounding this archaeologically rich region.”
—Wolf Gumerman, University Honors Program, Northern Arizona University

“The history of the Native Americans who long ago lived around Arizona’s Sunset Crater and the Verde Valley have fascinated, and sometimes puzzled, generations of researchers and casual visitors. We are most fortunate now to have an authoritative book that general readers can enjoy, which explains what is currently known about the life and culture of these ancient peoples.”
—David Grant Noble, author of Ancient Colorado: An Archaeological Perspective and In the Places of the Spirits (SAR Press)

“SAR continues its successful Popular Archaeology series with this volume on the archaeology of the Sinagua region near Flagstaff, Arizona. I am unaware of a popular series that so effectively blends academic research with accessible writing in such a compellingly illustrated package.”
—Wesley Bernardini, University of Redland, Journal of Anthropological Research, vol. 69, no. 1, 2013


  1. Hisat’sinom and the Sierra Sin Agua: Ancient Peoples and Places of the San Francisco Peaks
    Christian E. Downum
  2. Pasiwvi: Place of Deliberations
    Leigh J. Kuwanwisiwma, Stewart B. Koyiyumptewa, and Anita Poleahla
  3. They Are Still Here: Wupatki Pueblo and the Meaning of Place
    Lyle Balenquah
  4. Marks on the Land: Rock Art of the Sierra Sin Agua
    Kelley Hays-Gilpin and Donald E. Weaver Jr.
  5. Fire in the Sky: The Eruption of Sunset Crater Volcano
    Mark D. Elson and Michael H. Ort
  6. Trees, Time, and Environment
    Jeffrey S. Dean
  7. People and Plants in the Sierra Sin Agua
    Phyllis Hogan
  8. Motisinom: Ancient Peoples from Pleistocene to Pueblo
    Francis E. Smiley and Michael J. Novotny
  9. Hohokam and Chaco in the Sierra Sin Agua<
    F. Michael O’Hara
  10. Peoples of the Sierra Sin Agua
    Christian E. Downum and Daniel Garcia
  11. Wupatki Pueblo: Red House in Black Sand
    Christian E. Downum, Ellen Brennan, and James P. Holmlund
  12. Children of the Sierra Sin Agua
    Kathryn Kamp
  13. Farmsteads and Field Houses: The Big View from Small Sites in Wupatki National Monument
    Jeanne Stevens Schofer
  14. Ancient Architecture in the Sierra Sin Agua
    Lloyd Masayumptewa
  15. House and Garden: Learning about Small Structures through Excavation
    Ruth E. Lambert
  16. Hisat’sinom Farmers and Their Fields
    Gregory B. Brown
  17. Pottery of the Sierra Sin Agua
    Kelley Hays-Gilpin and Christian E. Downum
  18. From Seed Pod to Shirt: Cotton Textiles in the Sierra Sin Agua
    Lisa Folb
  19. Exotic Goods in the Sierra Sin Agua
    Saul L. Hedquist
  20. The Troubled End of Pueblo Life in the Sierra Sin Agua: Evidence from the Site of New Caves
    John C. Whittaker and Kathryn Kamp
There are no working papers for this book at the present time.