More Clues in the Verde Valley

More clues to the mystery have been unearthed 100 miles (160.9 km) northwest in the Verde Valley, which harbors some well-preserved ruins constructed by the cliff-house–dwelling Sinagua, who also abandoned an ancient and adaptable Sonoran Desert civilization in the 1400s, including well-constructed stone pueblos at Tuzigoot, Montezuma Castle, and Montezuma Well.

The mysterious Sinagua settlement of Tuzigoot sits alongside the Verde River and represents the climax of a human occupation of the Verde Valley stretching back perhaps 10,000 years to Ice Age mammoth hunters. The Sinagua came after these big game hunters vanished and began farming along the Verde River between a.d. 1 and 700.

The Sinagua built large villages and nourished trade routes stretching from New Mexico to California and from Colorado deep into Mexico, including the Hohokam to the south and the Ancestral Puebloans to the north. Initially, the Hohokam exercised the greatest influence and the Sinagua built Hohokam-style ballcourts and platform mounds. As the tide shifted in favor of the Puebloans, the Sinagua built cliff-houses, imported their ceramics, and buried their dead with an array of prized possessions.

Tuzigoot marks the peak of the Sinagua civilization in the 1300s when thousands of people lived in 50 large pueblos scattered along the Verde River. Set on a rounded hill, the 100-room settlement built between 1125 and 1400 commanded both a loop of the Verde River and the spring-fed Tavasci Marsh. Archaeologists unearthed a Mexican macaw buried carefully in the floor; a medicine man's bag containing a bone whistle, carved fetish, obsidian point, and quartz crystal; a 3,295-bead necklace adorning a “magician's” neck; exquisite inlaid turquoise jewelry; gemstones; a little boy buried with his juniper wood bow; a mother buried with her six-year-old child; and the graves of hundreds of infants laid lovingly to rest in the floors of their parents' apartments. Archaeologists speculate that these in-home burials ensured that the mothers' spirits could eventually lead the children on into the next world.

Nearby stands the beautifully constructed five-story, 20-room Montezuma Castle, perched beneath an overhang in a limestone cliff overlooking Wet Beaver Creek. Together with a now mostly vanished 45-room pueblo, Montezuma Castle sheltered up to 300 people and was accessible only through long ladders.

Several miles up the creek stands yet another Sinagua ruin, set into the crater of Montezuma Well. The well formed when a gigantic limestone cavern created by an underground hot spring collapsed, leaving a crater in a hill. Nearby Beaver Creek cut an outlet at the well's base, and the 1,000-gallon-per-minute spring at the bottom of the 55-foot-deep (16.8 m) well thereafter maintained a constant water level. The valley's earliest inhabitants discovered the well and used the outlet to provide a steady supply of irrigation water. Native American legends hold that our world, the Fourth World, started here long ago. Human beings fled the first three worlds just ahead of rising floodwaters caused by gods disgusted with human strife, greed, and deceit. Human beings wiggled through this hole in the roof of the Third World, and the floodwaters rose into the well and then halted.