Palatki Heritage Site

One thing I’m really glad I got to do is to visit this Native American cultural site. I’ve only been to some similar ruins in Colorado many years ago and even though the light was pretty terrible for photography, I really enjoyed seeing what the people made all those centuries ago.

The people were called Sinauga by Europeans and probably means without water. I’d love to know what they called themselves. Probably something like The People since that’s about the most common name any group gives itself. They lived in this valley for approximately 200 years before the water ran out. These ruins date from approximately 1100-1300. We can’t be more sure because the current Hopi Nation leaders won’t allow carbon dating or even straight up archaeological excavation. It is maddening to some, but clearly they are comfortable with just knowing these things are here and were made by ancestral people at some point. I don’t believe human remains have been found on the site.

They built family homes next to each other in the shelter of the cliff overhang. This overhang protected from runoff and also acted as a thermal regulator, heating up in the day and releasing that heat at night. They had two floors with fire pits on the lower one.

Here in the valley the hunting was good and the water plentiful enough for crops of squash, beans, corn and cotton. The cotton went into making fabric that was traded for other things they couldn’t get locally. Probably salt among other things. Obsidian points have been found here and that speaks to the trade networks as well since there are no volcanoes to produce it in the area.

Here you can see the remains of a 19th century building that was made by filching and reusing building materials from the older Sinauga houses. It would have been nicer to have more of the Native American structures, but I don’t blame the old guy for using what was to hand. He didn’t dismantle all the buildings which is why we can still marvel at them today. Because these remains are over 50 years old, they must also be preserved along with modern graffiti that was added to the walls alongside the Native Americans’.

A couple of minutes walk away is another rocky overhang that is thought to have been a sacred site, or at least one of importance for gathering. The walls are covered in artwork. Some drawings are clearly different kinds of animals, but some are abstract and made for reasons obscured by time.

Most are consistent with the kind of artwork the Sinauga people made, although their pottery was not decorated. Some motifs are thought to be Apache and of later date.

The picture above and the one below look like donkeys, but donkeys are not native to the Americas and Europeans hadn’t arrived with them yet, and so they probably represent deer.

That might be a snake and…I have no idea. It’s fun to wonder what people had in mind when they decided to make these pictures. Especially the ones that are pure design. What do they mean? Are they symbols of family groups? Of events or natural phenomena? Dreams? Or just drawing for the sake of it and creating something interesting to look at?

There are human figures on the walls as well, but not as many as you’d think. Some are on their own, but others are mixed in with animals –

There is also a stunning natural formation that when coated with soot from fires, looks like a screaming eagle –

It’s no wonder that people ascribe things like this to the supernatural and imagine divine revelations.

But art is art and it speaks to us through ages and cultures. It crosses divides and harnesses our vast imaginations. It was humbling and wonderful to see these carefully crafted images. Each important to the person who drew it and those it was drawn for.

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