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Earth Notes: America's Oldest Towns

Traditional Pueblo adobe houses with ladders
New Mexico Tourism Department
Acoma Pueblo

When you think of our Nation’s oldest settlements, stories of Plymouth Rock, Jamestown, or Albany may come to mind. Yet America’s oldest towns are actually right here on the Colorado Plateau—Oraibi in Arizona and Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico.

Oraibi, on the Hopi Reservation’s third mesa, was founded around 1,000 A.D. Archeologists say a series of severe droughts in the late 13th century may have required the Hopi to consolidate within a few population centers, Oraibi among them. As its population grew, it became the most influential of the Hopi settlements.

Oraibi was unknown to European explorers until around 1540 when members of the Coronado Expedition encountered the Hopi while seeking the fabled seven cities of gold. A century later Franciscans repeatedly attempted to establish missions there, but failed. Today, a visit to Oraibi offers a unique look into Hopi life and culture.

Not far away in New Mexico is another of North America’s oldest continuously inhabited communities, Acoma Pueblo. It was built atop a steep sandstone bluff in a valley amidst towering monoliths at least as early as 1100 AD. Today visitors can stop at the Sky City Cultural Center and Haak’u Museum located at the base of the mesa, which aims to sustain and preserve Acoma culture. The cultural center showcases the same style of architecture built in places like Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde centuries ago.

Generations of families have lived in both Oraibi and Acoma Pueblo for over one thousand years and they still call it home.

Carrie Calisay Cannon is a member of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma, and also of Oglala Lakota and German ancestry. She has a B.S. in Wildlife Biology and an M.S. in Resource Management. If you wish to connect with Carrie you will need a fast horse; by weekday she fills her days as a full-time Ethnobotanist with the Hualapai Indian Tribe of the Grand Canyon of Arizona, by weekend she is a lapidary and silversmith artist who enjoys chasing the beautiful as she creates Native southwestern turquoise jewelry.
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