“THE NORTHERN OUTPOST WUPATKI”
Authors: Dr Roberto Peron, Barb Benson, Rob L.
When the Spanish Conquistadors came from Mexico into what is today New Mexico and Arizona they found the Native People living in moderate (and some very old and broken down) pueblos. Many lived in little huts made of straw and mud. What the Conquistadors did not know is that what they were looking at was a primitive culture that came AFTER a high culture that once dominated the region hundreds of years before. They assumed these primitive people had always been primitive and when the first archaeologists came into the Americas they assumed the same. Neither knew anything of the Hohokam, the Northern Toltecs, and the high civilization that once existed in this region. But, as time moved on we began to find clues and those clues were and still are nothing short of astounding!
The Phoenix area appears to have been a major Hohokam agricultural area complete with a vast canal system used for irrigation to grow crops and flowers. This man-made oasis in the desert attracted wildlife, fish, and birds of all types too making the area a good are for hunting and fishing. The Hohokam were obviously a people with a high culture and high intelligence. They understood the dynamics necessary to modify their environment so that it was more livable. As their culture declined, however, times began harder. Remnants of this culture remained in the area but the area was also overtaken by other tribes and these are the tribes we see in Arizona and New Mexico today for the most part.
Turning now to what we might call the “northern frontier” let us look at some ruins just north of Flagstaff, Arizona. The place is known as “Wupatki.” Could this have been a Toltec (Hohokam) outpost? A sort of “northern colony” of Toltec and maybe even the Maya? Before you jump to any rash decision consider this. The archaeological evidence at this site north of Flagstaff CONFORMS to the template we find in Mexico at Toltec, Aztec, and Mayan sites!!
Pueblo ruins at Wupatki National Monument
For a long while now archaeologists have suspected that the Toltec, Aztec, and even the Maya may have had outposts that stretched into Arizona and New Mexico and possibly beyond. The magnificent ruins at Chaco Canyon in NE New Mexico are breathtaking to say the least. When I first saw these ruins many years ago my first thought was that they had been built by the Maya. The construction was perfect and the engineering was perfect. I was in shock as I sat in one of the large Kivas which was a perfectly round circle of stone sunken into the earth. Here once stood multi-storied apartments that rival anything found in Greece or Rome! Roads stretched out from Pueblo Bonito, Chaco Canyon in all directions and along those straight roads fires were kept burning at night so travelers could see in the darkness. Chaco Canyon, like the Phoenix area, was a MAJOR cultural center for the ancestors of the Pueblo people whom mainstream archaeologists offensively refer to as the “Anasazi.” Offense because the word in Navajo means “ancient enemies.”
Could Chaco have been yet another Toltec outpost? I have no doubt that the ancestors of the Pueblo people, including the Hopi, may well have been the Toltec and the Toltec were the forerunners of both the Aztec and Maya! So I think it certainly within the realm of possibility that these “northern Toltecs” (aka: Hohokam) were the ancestors of the Pueblo people. This may well turn out to be very true but there is another site that is also interesting and that is Wupatki north of Flagstaff.
Wupatki is about 12 miles beyond Sunset Crater both actually northeast of Flagstaff. The primary ruin at Wupatki is today 6 miles west of the nearest source of water which is the Little Colorado River. Notice I said “today” because things long ago were NOT necessarily the same as they are today including environments.
The primary ruin at Wupatki is a “great house” and it is believed that it was once the largest building 50 miles around. Tree ring dating has yielded a date of 1106-1220 AD which would be when the logs were cut but not necessarily used for construction. The word “Wupatki” means “long cut house.” The structure is a 4 story, 100 room structure (pueblo) similar to what we see at Chaco Canyon. It measures 345 feet long and 140 ft wide. It conceals a number of natural caves atop which this magnificent structure was erected.
The primary point of interest for many researchers and visitors is, however, the ball court! To look at it, it is right from the land of the Maya! The Wupatki ball court is the northern most such ball court found thus far but it is NOT an oddity because, in fact, between 700-1200 AD these Native people built OVER 200 SUCH BALL COURTS in SOUTHERN ARIZONA!! I say 200 but that is only what has been discovered so for and I’m sure there are more.
These ball courts were a major part of the settlements and villages of these ancient people, the Hohokam (the northern Toltec). It is also known that the Hohokam traded cotton and salt with the people of the south (Mexico) in return for such valued wares as copper bells, onyx, parrots, macaws, etc. We find evidence of these trade goods also at Chaco Canyon and other sites in Arizona and New Mexico too. We have also found the balls used in these ball courts namely at a site near Toltec, Arizona. The ball(s) found at this site date to 900-1200 AD and now sit in the Arizona State Museum. These balls were made of shaped rocks and covered with pine pitch or other materials and they are very similar to those game balls found in Mexico at Toltec, Aztec, and Mayan sites. In the game itself the object seems to have been to move the ball forwards using a curved stick or by kicking it. This game could be brutal much like soccer is sometimes but the catch was that the sometimes the defeated team and/or even the victors were ritually slain for the appeasement of the gods! These ball courts served as recreation and as a major social function for all of these native people.
To get specific, Wupatki was not the primary center of the Hohokam as far as we can tell and neither was what is modern Phoenix either, for that matter. In fact, the main center for the Hohokam (northern Toltec) was at a place known as “Snaketown” located near Santan, Arizona (San Tan) just south of Phoenix in what is today the Hohokam Pima National Monument. It’s believed that this large community once had at least 2000 residents! The site was originally excavated in the 1930s and 1960s and those excavations yield habitation dates between 300-1200 AD. The site was recovered with earth after these excavations you might note.
On a personal note, when I was a boy of about 10 years old I was hunting with my father in the Flagstaff area. After hunting for a few hours we decided to return to town and on the way back on a dirt road we stopped when we saw a bald eagle circling over head. We watched the eagle and then kind of roamed around the forest for a bit. I spotted something at the base of a hill and got my father so he could see it. There at the base of this hill was a halfway uncovered reddish stone like a tile and very smooth. My father said it was probably the remains of someone’s old homestead. Say what? So they had a homestead built into a hill that is not covered with dirt and trees? I don’t think so. I mention this because I wonder if it was part of the “Aztec pyramid” that has been rumored about and talked about by residents of Flagstaff for decades now. Word is that there is a “Aztec pyramid” in the forest not far from Flagstaff but no one seems to know exactly where it is. So I wonder if that red slab is it? Did we stumble upon this pyramid? It that what was buried under the hill? And if so I’m pretty sure it’s not Aztec but TOLTEC!
In Part 3 we’ll take a look at SNAKETOWN and a few other sites as we unravel the mystery of the Northern Toltec, the Hohokam.
Dr. Cyclone Covey’s Thesis:
Wupatki: a Toltec outpost? by Philip Coppens:
Wupatki National Monument, National Park Service: