We explain what Oasisamerica is, its characteristics and main cultures that lived there. In addition, its location, fauna, flora and more.

Oasisamerica was inhabited between the years 500 a. C. and 1500 d. c.

What is Oasisamerica?

Oasisamerica was a cultural region that was inhabited between the year 500 a. C. and 1500 d. C.. It encompassed parts of the present-day southwestern United States and northern Mexico. Its name comes from the conjunction of the words oasis Y America, which allude to the terrain of mountain ranges surrounded, both to the east and to the west, by great plains of deserts and oases. It was part of an even larger pre-Columbian territory with little biodiversity called Aridoamerica, which bordered the Mesoamerica region to the south.

The main American oasis cultures were the Anasazi, the Mogollones and the Hohokam.. They built settlements on the cliffs of the mountains and used different irrigation techniques to take advantage of the scarce water that was in the region. From the V century AD. C., entered into commercial contact with Mesoamerican cultures, from whom they took the construction of ceremonial mounds and the practice of the ball game.

See also: Latin American culture

Oasisamerica Features

The Oasisamerica region was characterized by its arid lands.

The main characteristics of Oasisamerica are:

  • It is a hostile region, with a hot and dry climate, with rocky and arid terrain.
  • It is an area rich in turquoise stone.
  • In the pre-Columbian era, it was inhabited by nomadic tribes and sedentary cultures.
  • Its main cultures were the Anasazi, Hohokam and Mogollon.
  • From the V century AD. C., the oasis-American cultures traded with the Mesoamerican cultures.
  • In it are the archaeological remains of Mesa Verde, Paquimé and Cañón del Chaco, among others.

Oasisamerica Geography

oasisamerica mapoasisamerica map
Oasisamerica was part of Aridoamerica.

oasisamerica was part of a larger territory, called Aridoamerica, which bordered the Mesoamerica region to the south. It included part of the current states of Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, California and Texas, in the United States, and part of the states of Sonora, Chihuahua and Baja California, in Mexico. Geographically, it encompassed the Sonoran Desert and its meeting with the sea.

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The entire region today is practically a desert; characterized by hostile, hot and dry climate. The rains are scarce, and they occur in a concentrated and torrential way in a few months of the year. Its terrain is rugged, made up of mountain ranges, arid plains, and cracked soils. However, being to the west of the Sierra Madre Occidental, it makes it possible to take advantage of the slopes of the mountains and create spaces suitable for agriculture in areas of the foothills and the coast.

On the other hand, Oasisamérica stood out for its numerous deposits of turquoise, a light blue mineral, which was found within sedimentary, volcanic or sandy stones. The turquoise stone had a slight gloss-dullness and a density of little hardness.

Oasisamerica history

The Anasazi culture built settlements on the cliffs of the mountains.

Throughout its history, the cultural occupation of the region was limited by the hostility of the climate and the scarcity of water. Nevertheless, there is evidence that the area was inhabited by nomadic tribes and by sedentary cultures that practiced agriculture.

The main sedentary cultures that inhabited this region had several features in common. To take advantage of the natural resources of a particularly arid region, The Anasazi, the Hohokam, and the Mogollon developed irrigation techniques for cultivation. and they built their homes with architectural techniques that allowed them to take refuge from the heat and hostility of the climate. With their canals, terraces, dams, and ridges, they transformed the landscape they inhabited. In the valleys, the plateaus and the mountain cliffs they built villages with multi-family dwellings of several floors.

Around the sixth century AD. C., contact with Mesoamerican civilizations through trade generated some changes in the settlement patterns of the oasis-American cultures: the first mounds for ceremonial use appeared and some courts for the ball game. They also made constructions with other types of stone and developed a style of red ceramic, characteristic of the area.

oasisamerican cultures they obtained different craft goods from the Mesoamericanslike rattles made of copper and pyrite mosaics and in exchange, they sold them turquoise, which they extracted from the mountainous areas of the north.

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All sedentary American oasis cultures disappeared decades before the arrival of the Spanish in the region, at the beginning of the 16th century. Specialists consider that their disappearance was due to a series of droughts that made sedentary life difficult in large settlements, combined with continuous attacks by nomadic tribes.

Oasisamerica cultures

The Anasazi culture painted petroglyphs on the walls of their settlements.

Archaeologists distinguish the following cultural areas in Oasisamerica:

  • Anasazi (100 BCE-1450 CE). The Anasazi settled in a region known as “the four corners”, made up of the current states of Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado. In principle, they built solitary houses, cubic in shape and with thatched roofs, which served as shelter and storage space. With population growth, villages began to appear that came to house hundreds of inhabitants. Many of the towns were built in exceptional places, such as on cliffs or on the sides of mountains. They used fired brick, and weaved cotton, cassava and leather fibers. Some specialists consider that towards the 10th century AD. C., the Anasazi developed an unequal society; that is to say, that there were differences of hierarchy among its members.
  • Hohokam (200-1450 AD). This culture was located in the desert regions of Arizona and Sonora, between the Colorado and Gila rivers. Throughout their history, they developed higher levels of complexity in their settlements. They built canals to take advantage of the water from the rivers and develop corn crops. Around 500 AD C., Hohokam urban centers with ceremonial mounds and ball courts appeared, under the influence of Mesoamerican cultures that were connected through trade. Around AD 1450 C., a series of droughts (which made storage and agricultural production difficult), added to continuous attacks by nomadic tribes led to the dispersal of the Hohokam culture.
  • Mogollon (500 BC-1500 AD). The Mogollones settled in the Sierra Madre Occidental region, south of New Mexico, north of Chihuahua, and northeast of Sonora. They inhabited the forests of the mountainous area and its open valleys. Their culture was characterized by burying their dead with grave goods full of brown ceramics painted with red decorations. In addition, they made white bowls with black drawings, in which they represented scenes from the human world and the supernatural world: mythical characters, animals with masks, warriors and priests, hunting scenes, births and swimming episodes, among other images.
  • Pataya (500-1350 AD). This cultural area arose around the Colorado River and encompasses southeastern California, western Arizona, northern Baja California, and northwestern Sonora. Its inhabitants were semi-nomadic, so their settlements were small and sporadic. They were influenced by the Hohokam culture, from which they borrowed agricultural practices, pottery making, ball games, and cremation of the dead.
  • Fremont (400-1300 AD). This cultural tradition was located in what is now Utah Territory, and was strongly linked to the Anasazi culture. They were hunter gatherers who began to settle in the region around 400 AD. C. They dedicated themselves to basketry and the extraction of turquoise, which they traded in exchange for other manufactured goods. They painted petroglyphs, developed red pottery, horticulture, and built underground.
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Archaeological sites of Oasisamerica

The main archaeological sites of Oasisamerica are:

  • Paquime, Chihuahua, Mexico.
  • Trenches, Sonora, Mexico.
  • Bat Cave, New Mexico.
  • Mesa Verde, Colorado, United States.
  • Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, United States.
  • Snaketown, Arizona, United States.

Flora and fauna of Oasisamerica

oasisamerica wildlifeoasisamerica wildlife
Reptiles such as the desert iguana abounded in Oasisamerica.

The American Oasis Flora was characterized by a xerophytic vegetation (plants adapted to heat and drought), such as cacti, shrubs and agaves or succulents, capable of storing water in their own tissues.

However, the presence of the rivers that flowed into the oases allowed the existence of lusher vegetation and high altitude forests in the mountains.

The fauna was characterized by including animals capable of withstanding arid terrain and hot climates with little rainfall, such as arachnids (among them, the scorpion or scorpion), reptiles (such as the desert iguana) and mammals (such as the fox, buffalo or coyote).

Continue with: Teotihuacan culture


  • Chavez, HD, & Aguilar, RAC (2008). The farming towns of Oasisamerica.
  • Austin, AL, & Lujan, LL (2019). The indigenous past. Fund of Economic Culture.
  • “Oasisamerica” ​​in Mexican Archaeology.
  • “Mogollon culture” in Britannica Escola.
  • “Southwestern culture” in OER.

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