The name Sinagua was coined in 1939 by archaeologist Harold S. 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.
Sinagua farmers cultivated maize beginning in the eighth century. They learned irrigation techniques from their southern Hohokam neighbors and added beans and squash to their crops. The 1064 and 1066 eruptions of Sunset Crater covered the area in ash, which greatly enriched the soil for farming.
Around 700 CE, they became active in the region's long distance trade which reached the Gulf of California and Mesoamerica. They traded their baskets and woven cotton cloth for copper, macaws, marine shells, salt, and rare pigments.
Besides ceremonial kivas, their pueblos had large "community rooms" and some featured ballcourts and walled courtyards, similar to those of the Hohokam culture.
The last known evidence of Sinagua occupation for any site comes from Montezuma Castle, a limestone cliff dwelling by Beaver Creek in Verde Valley. This 65-room structure was believed to be built by Sinagua women between 1100 and 1350 CE.
Art and material culture
Close view of the sinew wrapped split feathers on a Sinagua arrow mainshaft from Montezuma Castle
Known as Alameda Brown Ware, their plain pottery was built using the paddle-and-anvil method. Their clay was grey or brown, tempered with crushed potsherds, and painted with buff, brown, and red slips.
Sinagua peoples left the Verde Valley by the early 15th century. 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.
Several contemporary Hopi clans trace their ancestry to immigrants from the Sinagua culture, whom they believe left the Verde Valley for religious reasons. Pima, Tohono O'odham, Yavapai, and Zuni also potentially have cultural, linguistic, and historical connections to the Sinagua people.
Melanie O'Brien, acting manager of the National NAGPRA Program, writes of Montezuma Castle:
Evidence demonstrating continuity between the people of the Verde Valley during A.D. 1125–1425 and the Hopi Tribe includes archaeological, anthropological, linguistic, folkloric, and oral traditions. Ceramic vessals made only on the Hopi mesas are found at the sites and are similar to items made by historic and modern Hopi people. Additionally, plain woven and painted textiles, coiled basketry, and woven matting are similar to items made and used by modern Hopi people. Living Hopi clan members also have ancestral names and traditional stories about specific events and people at each site.
Cliff dwellings of the Sinaguas
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, BLM
Sinagua pithouse, from 1050 CE. Two largest holes in the dirt floor held the timber roof supports. The holes around the edge reveal the outline of the structure.