Ancient Peoples of the Colorado Plateau

More than a thousand years before the arrival of Europeans in the southwestern U.S. native peoples were establishing their occupation of the Colorado Plateau. They learned early how to derive a living in a dry climate where winters were bitter and summers torrid. And they left behind proof of their scientific and technological accomplishments in plain sight—with a little assistance from contemporary archaeologists.

Learning Objective

Students will learn about ancient people in the Southwest, their history, and accomplishments that archaeologists studied.

Social Studies Standards

Culture: A, C, D

Discussion Prompts

  • What are the advantages and disadvantages for ancient people living in Walnut Canyon? Describe several of each.
  • If you were to write a message in rock for future generations to see, what design or words would you draw or write and why? Your message should communicate important ideas.
  • Share the reasons why the Wupatki area was abandoned in the year 1225. What was left behind and why? What might be an alternative solution to leaving the area?
  • Discuss the social and structural accomplishments of the ancient people. What artifacts might archaeologists uncover that shows details of their lives?

Lesson Activities

  • Research the ancient people who lived in the Colorado Plateau including details of their daily life such as diet, hunting, shelter, and day-to-day routines. Complete a T-chart that compares their daily life to contemporary times.
  • Create a board game that includes travelers trekking through canyons, forest, highlands, grasslands, and deserts. Make sure your game addresses some of the challenges of the climate of this region. Include Chaco Canyon, the Painted Desert, and the Petrified National Forest.
  • You are an archaeologist able to travel back in time to Chaco Canyon. You can bring back a treasure map that will help historians learn more about the geology and people of the area. Create your treasure map and then share with a partner.
  • Create an outdoor activity or game that could be played in the Wupatki plaza or ball court that showcases their culture and community.


  • aesthetic
  • endure
  • highlands
  • painstakingly
  • petrified wood
  • revelations
  • rim
  • scorched
  • stark
  • sustained community


In the Americas Season 10 Lesson Episode 2