New Mexico’s First Early Inhabitants

Written by on November 28, 2016 in NM History & Heritage - Comments Off on New Mexico’s First Early Inhabitants

As far back as 12,000 years ago, New Mexico drew early humans to its lands and bounty. Though the landscape changed radically over the years, the evidence of their presence has been well preserved in many locations throughout the state.

13000 – 10000 B.C. (or even earlier)
The Sandia people left the earliest evidence of human habitation in New Mexico. In 1936, archeologist Wesley Bliss (a graduate student) excavated Sandia Cave, located in the Sandia Mountains, and discovered a spear and lance points, arrow points, scraps of baskets and yucca moccasins lying in material that was between 10,000 and 13,000 years old. He also found the bones of camels, prehistoric horses, wooly mammoths and mastodons in the same layer. You can still visit Sandia Cave, which is located in Las Huertas Canyon. It’s a three mile drive on gravel roads, and then a half mile hike — with outstanding views of the Rio Grande Valley — to the cave, but the trip is worth it for the feel of the history in the cave.


13000 – 9000 B.C.
Near Clovis, New Mexico, is the archeological site of Blackwater Draw. Nearly 13,000 years ago, large glaciers covered the North American continent including a large portion of the Rocky Mountains. The weather conditions during this era were cool and dry in the Southwest, but perfect for huge stands of grass to thrive. Such huge stands of fodder were able to sustain equally huge browsers and grazers — like mammoth, camels, horses and bison. Human adapted to changing conditions by changing their small hunter/gatherer societies into large game hunters. Blackwater Locality No. 1 is located on Highway 467, one mile north of the Oasis State Park highway exit. Special guided tours can be arranged in advance by calling 575-356-5235. Admission is $3 for adults, $1 for children. The site is open every day from Memorial  Day to Labor Day and Saturdays and Sundays the rest of the year from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

9000 – 8000 B.C.
Folsom people flourished throughout Southwest at the end of the last Ice Age. Folsom points (arrowheads) were first excavated near Folsom, New Mexico in 1926. The people who made these points lived and hunted now-extinct bison on the western great plains. Today, these ancient ancestors are known as the Folsom people. As the decades passed, knowledge of Folsom Paleoindians grew considerably with the discovery on the American Plains of dozens of other sites of the same age and cultural tradition. While you can visit the Folsom site, there isn’t much to see — just a big hole in the ground that, to untrained eyes, doesn’t look like much.

10000 – 500 B.C.
Cochise people are first inhabitants to cultivate corn, squash and beans, the earliest evidence of agriculture in the Southwest. Although these ancient people were hunters, archeologists have discovered manos and metates (mortars and pestles) showing the importance of grains and nuts in their native diet. Though Cochise sites are all over New Mexico, again they are nothing spectacular, but they did lead to the development of the Anazazi people.

A.D. 1 – 1300
Anasazi basketmakers elevated weaving to a high art, creating baskets, clothing, sandals and utensils. These early Native Americans lived in pithouses throughout the southwest. Between 700 and 1300 A.D., the Anasazi culture culminated in the highly developed Chaco Civilization. The Anasazi occupied the region where present day Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado meet. They were among the most highly civilized of the Native American cultures. They raised corn and cotton, and tamed wild turkeys, using the meat for food and the feathers for clothing. In the winter, the Anasazi wore garments fashioned from turkey feathers. The Anasazi were cliff dwellers and built many apartment houses out of closely fitted stones. One such building, the Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Culture National Historic Park, had nearly 800 rooms.

Today, you can visit many different locations in the Southwest to view the Chaco and Pueblo Indian cultures.


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