Between 1933 and 1935, the Federal Emergency Relief Agency’s Civil Works Administration excavated the ruins of the Tuzigoot Pueblo. Archeologists Louis R. Caywood and Edward H. Spicer led the project under the direction of the U.S. Department of the Interior National Park Service. They discovered remains of an agricultural community that inhabited the valley for centuries.
The Sinagua people who built Tuzigoot inhabited the Verde Valley from approximately 1000 CE to 1450 CE. Archeologist Harold S. Colton named the people after the San Francisco peaks located north of the valley, which early Spanish explorers called “Sierra Sin Agua,” meaning “mountain range without water.” The explorers chose this title due to the lack of perennial rivers that were so common to the mountains of Spain. While the name given to the inhabitants derives from the Spanish language, Tuzigoot received its name from the Apache name for Peck’s Lake near the site, meaning “crooked water.”
Various valley communities contributed to the Sinagua culture. Archaeological remnants of these communities were discovered from Montezuma’s Castle all the way to the Platki and Honanki sites. The Sinagua included diverse lifestyles: an agricultural society, likely attracted to the favorable growing conditions of the Verde Valley; hunters, concluded from the bones of deer, beaver, and other animals discovered in middens near the site; and skilled artists, derived from clay animal and human effigies, ceremonial and cooking pottery, spindle whorls, painted coil baskets, and turquoise and shell jewelry. Furthermore, the presence of macaw bones—not a local item—demonstrates the Sinagua people had trade connections.
The ruins of Tuzigoot span just over one square mile, but were home to an estimated 250 people. It was first described as a “rambling pueblo” because rooms fell into disuse and other rooms were built on top and around them. The residents gained access through ladders and roof entry points instead of exterior doors. The walls were constructed of limestone and sandstone, the most readily available materials in the area.
The people built Tuzigoot over the course of nearly three centuries but suddenly abandoned it in the 15th century. While oral history implies that violence may have driven out some communities from the Verde Valley, there is no evidence of a sudden mass catastrophe at Tuzigoot. There are several theories, however, regarding its total abandonment. A drought occurred in regions north of the Verde Valley, which may have increased competition due to migration. Following the drought, archaeologists know the Apache and Yavapai had hostile interactions with the Sinagua when they moved to the valley. It is also possible that increased populations led to overfarming, encouraging the Sinagua of Tuzigoot to seek more fertile lands. The infant-mortality rate was significantly higher before abandonment, and the population of Tuzigoot may have reached its peak just before the Sinagua’s ultimate departure.
While it is difficult to determine where the Sinagua traveled after abandoning Tuzigoot, cultural tradition and oral history suggest that some Sinagua communities merged into the Yavapai people or became involved with what are now the modern-day Hopi Tribe of Arizona and the Zuni Tribe of New Mexico.