Petrified Forest National Park Service
US Department of the Interior

Petrified Forest National Park
Petrified Forest, AZ




  Visitors to Petrified Forest often wonder how people lived in this seemingly harsh land. People, however, have made this region home for almost ten thousand years. The climate has changed over this long period, from cold steppe to arid shortgrass prairie. Imagine making a living off the land of Petrified Forest. What would you hunt? How would you farm? In what sort of home would you live?

9500-6000 B.C. 


After the last Ice Age, hunter-gatherers roamed the Southwest. During this time, the region was cooler, a steppe environment with mixed coniferous forests in protected canyons and higher elevations. People gathered wild plants for food and hunted extinct forms of bison and other large herd animals. The nomads used a device called an atlatl to   throw their spears and darts. With their distinctive elegant fluting, the projectile points of these ancient people help define the Folsom Culture. Although Folsom camps have not been found within Petrified Forest National Park, several fluted projectile points made of petrified wood have been discovered in the park.

Archaic Culture
6000 B.C. to

A.D. 300

By 4000 B.C., the climate had become similar to that of the present. As the area became warmer and the monsoon pattern of precipitation evolved, piñon-juniper woodlands and arid grasslands replaced the cold steppe. The megafauna of the past were extinct. People had to broaden their source of food, including many different species   of plants and animals. Farming and sedentism began during this period, particularly as corn was brought into the region from the south in the Late Archaic Period. Indicative of this period were basin metates, flaked tools, and no pottery. While no definite Archaic sites have been found within the park yet, they have been found in the surrounding area.

II and III

A.D. 300 to 700

Basketmakers were increasingly sedentary, living in pithouses with stone-lined cists. As the Basketmaker period progressed, settlements moved down from the mesa and dune tops to the slopes closer to farm land. They grew corn, beans, and, eventually,   squash. They made beautiful baskets and Adamana Brown pottery. Their tool kit changed and broadened. Petroglyphs throughout the area were created by these people, including images of humans and animals.

III – Pueblo I
A.D. 700 – 950


During this period, settlements ranged from five to fifteen deep pithouses with wall niches, floor pits, and entry ramps. It appeared to have been a stressful period, with a major drought from A.D. 850 to 900. Artisans began to decorate their pottery with painted designs.


Cross-section of a pithouse

Ancestral Pueblo People:
Pueblo II-III
A.D. 950-1300

Sherd of corrugated pottery

While most of this period was similar in climate to the present, there was a prolonged widespread drought from A.D. 1271 to 1296 (based on tree-ring data from nearby El Malpais National Monument). Although a few people still lived in pithouses, above ground rooms were becoming prominent. Subterranean ceremonial rooms called kivas were introduced. Sites expanded across the landscape. Homes evolved into above-ground pueblos, some with multiple stories. People began to make
  corrugated pottery. Tools included manos and slab metates, petrified wood and obsidian points and scrapers, and pottery that was both locally made and trade items. Artifacts link park sites to Homol’ovi, Flagstaff, the Hopi Mesas, Gallup, and Zuni areas. Many petroglyphs were made throughout the Little Colorado River Valley, including solar markers. A large percentage of the recorded sites at Petrified Forest National Park belong to Pueblo II – III.

Ancestral Pueblo People: Pueblo IV
A.D. 1300 – 1450

After the drought extending into the early 14th Century, there was a period of environmental change, the return of long winters and shorter growing seasons. These conditions extended well into the 19th Century. Around A.D. 1300, belief in Kachinas (Katsinam—singular Katsina—in the Hopi language) became widespread, marked by images of Kachinas in petroglyphs, pictographs, and kiva murals. Pottery became more colorful   with sophisticated designs. Piki stones (for making piki bread) became evident. Their tool kit included small triangular projectile points. The population began to aggregate into larger communities, with over a hundred rooms, kivas, and frequently a plaza, located along major drainages or near springs. By the end of Pueblo IV, most of the Petrified Forest area appears to have been unoccupied, but people still used the region for a travel corridor and for resources.

Sites to visit in Petrified Forest National Park  Puerco Pueblo
Perhaps constructed all at once, 100 to 125 rooms, one-story high, were built around a rectangular plaza near the Puerco River. Within the plaza were three rectangular kivas, their unusual shape indicating Mogollon influence from the south. When Puerco Pueblo was unoccupied around A.D. 1400, the people may have migrated to even larger communities nearby. There was a trend throughout the region at this time to aggregate into larger
  communities. Puerco Pueblo is one of the few Western Pueblo IV sites managed by the National Park Service.

Agate House
This rare gem is the only excavated Pueblo III site in the park. The eight room pueblo may have been constructed entirely of petrified wood. Although there were no traditional kivas found, one of the rooms is thought to have been used for ceremonial purposes due to its large size. Agate House may have been occupied for only a short time.

Where did
they go?

In old books, the Ancestral Puebloans were said to have mysteriously disappeared. Writers, researchers, and others speculated on everything from drought to aliens as the cause. The Hopi, Zuni, and other living Puebloan people have always recognized the Ancestral Puebloans as their predecessors. Today, most researchers believe this as well. Visiting places such as Zuni    Pueblo, Walpi, and Acoma, it is easy to connect them to the silent spaces of Puerco Pueblo and other archaeological sites. With a little imagination, these sites can live again. The effort to bring the past to life continues. More than 700 archeological sites have been identified in Petrified Forest. Less than half of the park has been surveyed. What will the future bring to light?

Care for the Past


Remember that archeological sites are fragile. Every little artifact tells part of the story. Please don’t climb on the walls, touch the petroglyphs, or remove anything. Stay on the designated trails. Leave these fascinating sites for future generations to enjoy and explore. They are part of our American legacy.

Artist's concept of Puerco Pueblo


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