From cliffside fortresses, they controlled a sprawling trade network — and hoarded wealth beyond dreams. Meet the merchant princes of the ancient Southwest.
When we hear terms like “invasion” and “first contact” in American history, we naturally think of European colonialism — and with good reason.
The Spanish arrival in New Mexico devastated indigenous populations, disrupted regional trade, introduced horses and guns, and left the Southwest irreversibly transformed.
But the Spanish were not the first foreign people to set foot on Southwestern soil — nor were they the first to introduce new technologies, languages, beliefs and ways of life that radically altered the region’s ecology and social structure.
More than a thousand years before the Spanish, a different group of colonists erupted into the Southwest.
They raised mighty mud-brick cities, and built a trade empire spanning the Southwest. Meet Arizona’s desert lords.
The people had been walking in the desert for many days. When they’d departed from northern Mexico on their great northward migration, they’d been more than a hundred strong – men, women and children, well-practiced at surviving in this merciless land.
These people knew how to drink water from cacti, how to trap the mice and lizards that scurried among the rocks, and how to find shady places to sleep through the brutal midday heat.
But this miserable life was very different from the one they’d left behind.
The Revenant takes place in Montana in the 1800s, but most of it could’ve happened any time since the last Ice Age, in any cold part of the earth.
There’s the snow. The wind. The trees. The slow shaggy meaty animals and the quick fierce ones that bring them down.
Men in heavy furs trudge across this landscape. They carry spears and bows. They know the trick of making fire. They catch fish with their hands in the cold river. When a storm blows through, they cut the trees and build shelter.
We didn’t always have numbers—we had to invent them first. Here’s how the birth of math changed everything.
Anthropological studies all over the globe have confirmed that in the most primitive cultures, numbers as abstract entities have no meaning at all.
In other words, you can talk about one tree, two bananas or three goats, but the words “one,” “two” and “three” are just adjectival modifiers, used in the exact same way we use modifiers like “large” and “round.”
Ask a person in one of these cultures to draw a representation of the concept of “three,” and this person will draw you three trees or three goats: The number exists strictly as at attribute of the thing described.
Asking the person to “just draw a three” sounds as nonsensical to them as a request to “just draw a round.” The person can draw a round shape, but has no way to represent the abstract quality of roundness without reference to some object, real or imagined, that is round.
And that’s where things stood until very recently.