Over time, several native groups made their home in the arid Southwest region of North America, which stretches from what is now roughly Arizona and New Mexico into Northern Mexico As they adapted to the desert climate and rugged terrain, three distinct types of cultures emerged: villagers, farmers, and hunter/gatherers.

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About this Region


Geography and Topography

The Southwest is a dry landscape of desert, plateau, and spectacular rock formations. At higher elevations, there are forests and a few green river valleys.


Southwest Cultures

Pueblo (village) is the name given by the Spanish to the people who inhabited terraced, apartment-like houses made of adobe (dried clay). Despite the scarcity of water, the Pueblo raised maize, squash, and beans, and augmented their diet by hunting and gathering. Many Pueblo continue to live in their homelands today.



Other groups became productive farmers in the southwest despite the hot climate. This resource includes works by Diné (Navajo), Hopi, Zuni, and Pima artists. The ancestors of the Navajo and Hopi migrated to the Southwest from the North about 1,500 years ago, well after the Pueblo people arrived in the Southwest. At first, these groups were nomadic hunter/gatherers, but they learned from the Pueblo how to raise maize and weave cotton. Historically, they lived in villages made up of hogans, or earth lodges.



The Apache also migrated to the Southwest from the North. They never settled in one place but lived as hunter/gatherers and raiders. They created a type of portable shelter known as a “gowah” to Apaches and as a “wickiup” to outsiders. The gowah is a domed structure with a frame of thin poles covered with brush, grass, or woven mats. This resource includes works by Chiricahua (Cheer-ih-COW-ah), Mescalero, and Jicarilla (hee-kuh-REE-uh) Apache artists.

The Spanish arrived in the Southwest in the 1500s. Native groups quickly learned how to use the horses, sheep, metal, cloth, and new food the Spanish brought with them to enhance their way of life. The Apache became master horsemen. The Diné and others began to weave wool into beautiful blankets, and to create jewelry combining silver and local turquoise. All Southwestern cultures incorporated metals into cooking pots, tools, weapons, and jewelry.

Southwest Themes