Paleo-Indians and Clovis Culture
The presence of big-game animals, such as the giant sloth, mammoth, saber-tooth tiger, horse, bison and camel, in a savanna-like climate around Honanki would have been an attractive area for the Paleo-Indian (11,500 to 9,000 B.C.). The first evidence of these people was only found in 1995 when a Clovis projectile point was found at Honanki. Three more Clovis points have since been found in surrounding areas. This type of point was named for the Clovis culture, considered to be the first widespread, archaeologically visible cultural group in the American Southwest. These people specialized in big-game hunting, but they also stalked smaller forms of extinct and modern game animals.
The end of the big-game hunting by Clovis appears to have occurred very abruptly, sometime about 9,000 B.C. when most of the big-game disappeared. Scholars are divided about why the big game disappeared, although currently they are leaning towards a natural disaster combined with climate change that killed off all the large animals. It is possible that the extinction was helped along by over-kills. Overkills are known from bison jumps at several sites. A buffalo jump is when a herd of bison are stampeded off a cliff; the hunters then butcher a few of the animals and leave the rest, usually with quite a bit of waste.
Western Archaic People
Archaeologists use the term Archaic to refer to prehistoric people with a migratory hunting-and-gathering lifestyle. The timeframe assigned to this cultural stage varies with the location and the group. Here in the Verde Valley, the Archaic period (9,000/3,000 B.C. to A.D. 300) represents the longest cultural occupation, longer than in other areas of the Southwest because of the ecological diversity and large amount of resources. The Archaic period fills the time gap between the big-game hunters and the more sedentary agriculture-dependent cultures that followed.
The Archaic period is also marked by several cultural traits not often found with earlier groups. These include the use of vegetable materials for clothing, cordage, and basketry, all of which were fairly common. In addition, grinding stones (manos and metates) are prevelant.
About A.D. 650, a people archeologists refer to as the Sinagua entered the Flagstaff and Verde Valley regions from east-central Arizona. Archeologists divide the Sinagua into two branches. The Northern Sinagua occupied the area around what is now Flagstaff, while the Southern Sinagua lived along the middle stretches of the Verde River.
The Southern Sinagua quickly learned about the plants, animals, soils and climate of the Verde Valley and developed a dynamic culture. The rich mineral resources of the Verde Valley, and its central location between the Hohokam to the south and the Ancestral Puebloans to the north, resulted in active trade and exchange of ideas that enriched all the cultures of prehistoric Arizona.
After about A.D. 1125, the Sinagua expanded their occupation of the Verde Valley and for the first time constructed cliff dwellings in the Red Rock canyons around
present day Sedona. This shift was probably made possible by a slightly moister climate. In the Red Rock canyons the Sinagua could raise their crops with dry farming techniques. A more moist climate meant more consistent harvest. Between A.D. 1150 and 1300, the Southern Sinagua reached their maximum territorial extent, with villages of 3 to 10 families scattered throughout every environmental niche in the Verde Valley.
But, between A.D. 1300 and 1400, the climate fluctuated dramatically between wet and dry periods. The Flagstaff area was abandoned, and there were major disruptions in the cultures to the north and south. These and other complications prompted the Southern Sinagua to congregate into about 50 pueblos - large masonry towns - each occupied by 20 to 100 or more families. Most of the pueblos were spaced along the Verde River and its perennially flowing feeder creeks, linking the abundant wild plant and animal food resources of the uplands along the Mogollon Rim with the fertile farming soils of the Valley bottom lands.
Like other areas of Northern Arizona, the Verde Valley was abandoned by the Sinagua about A.D.1400. The ultimate fate of the Sinagua is unknown though there is some evidence linking the Sinagua with the Hopi of historical times. The Yavapai-Apache (see Yavapai-Apache history) hold that not all the Sinagua left the area. Several family groups remained in the Verde Valley and intermarried with the Yavapai and Apache.