North-South-East-West: American Indians and the Natural World

Corn: We are Rooted in Our Corn Fields

Seed JarThe Desert Southwest

People have been living in the Southwest region of the United States for at least 10,000 years. Faced with the hardships of life in an arid land, these peoples developed cultures that relied on the area's natural resources.

The Southwest is a land of mountains, desert, plateaus, mesas, and deep canyons. In places, it rises above sea level to altitudes of 5,000 to 7,000 feet. Throughout the region, rainfall averages less than 10 inches per year, and there are few permanently flowing rivers. The lack of both rain and flowing water makes survival extremely difficult.

Despite the harshness of the environment, many forms of plant and animal life have adapted to it. Many varieties of plants are indigenous to this region, including roots, grasses, plants, and cacti. Juniper and pinon trees are also scattered throughout the area. Rabbits, rodents, and reptiles are quite abundant. In some places, larger animals such as deer, antelope, bear, foxes, and coyotes can be found as well.

By using the plants and animals that were available to them and by developing practices that realized the land's full potential, the Hopi people adapted to a desert way of life.

Image: Seed Jar
Nampeyo?, Hopi, early 1900s
Special jars are used to store carefully selected melon, pumpkin, sunflower, and bean seeds until planting time. These pottery jars have broad shoulders and narrow openings that can be stoppered to keep out insects and rodents.
Clay, vegetable and mineral (hematite) paints; H 9.0 x D 29.0 cm; 14367-9, gift of Miss E. Bertha Hewitt

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