Ancient people lived in the Sedona Verde Valley Red Rock area beginning in Paleo- Indian times. Archaeologists have documented Clovis spear points dating to 12,000 BCE, as well as a geometric grid pattern petroglyphs dated to 11,000 BCE. These people left little in terms of artifacts; they were nomadic, hunter gatherers, a lifestyle encouraging few belongings.
During the Archaic period, from 8000 BCE to approximately 600 CE, prehistoric peoples left a variety of pictographs and petroglyphs. Many Archaic petroglyphs and pictographs can be found at the Palatki and Honanki National Heritage Sites.
In approximately 600 CE, people archaeologists call the Sinagua arrived in the area. They created extensive rock art, using the same pigments as earlier people: red paint from hematite and ochre, black from charcoal or soot, white from kaolin clay, and yellow-green from limonite. The V-Bar-V National Heritage Site is the largest known petroglyph site in the area and one of the best-preserved. The rock art at this site consists of over 1000 petroglyphs on 13 panels.
In addition, the Sinagua left many other artifacts. The most noticeable are the ruins of their dwellings, whether early pit houses, later pueblo-style multistory buildings, or single-room dwellings in alcoves. Cliff dwellings can be found at Palatki and Honanki. Sinaguans also left pots, potsherds, manos and metates, corn cobs, brown-ware pottery, and fragments of exquisitely woven and dyed fabric. Remains of grid, or waffle, gardens and check dams found at Palatki indicate a functioning agricultural community.
At Sacred Mountain, another site near V-Bar-V, there are the fallen remains of a 50-to-60-room pueblo with a classic Hohokam-style ball court at its base. There are three room blocks of about 20 rooms each on three corners of the butte, with the southwest corner exposed to form a plaza. The ball court, at the southeast base of the butte, is the last of the identified courts to be constructed in the Verde Valley. It is in the style of the Hohokam people, whose lands were south of the Verde Valley. Sacred Mountain also has significant agricultural remains. Around the basin surrounding Sacred Mountain, dense rock alignments, including waffle gardens, linear borders, and check dams, were found. A total of 1410 meters of primary canals, 810 meters of secondary canals, and 100 meters of tertiary branches were traced. This abundance of agricultural features suggests a Sinagua strategy of agricultural maximization linked with intensive cultivation.
The Sinaguans lived in this area until the early 1400s. The Hopi people, who are, in part, descendants of the Sinagua, believe that the Sinagua left the area in order to continue their migration, their quest, to find their true home. This culminated in the settlement of the Hopi Mesas, which are still home to the Hopi today. The Hopi offer interpretive assistance at their ancestral sites in the area.
In 1200-1300 CE, the Yavapai people arrived from the South and West, and shared the area with the Sinagua. They were nomadic people and survived as hunter-gatherers. The Yavapai are Yuman in lineage and culture. They are part of the group of Pai people who lived and continue to live in Arizona. They did not leave as many artifacts as the Sinagua; however, they left much rock art. The Yavapai used some of the same pigments as those used by all earlier cultures.
The Apache people arrived here approximately 1500 CE, coming from the North and East. Their lifestyle was similar to the Yavapai’s, although their language, lineage, and culture were different. Apache lineage is Athapascan. Both cultures moved in nomadic ways throughout the area. They left behind significant rock art, again using similar native pigments.
In 1873, The U.S. Army forced the Yavapai and Apache to make “The Long Walk,” 180 miles to the San Carlos Reservation. They were repatriated beginning in 1910. The Yavapai-Apache Reservation near Camp Verde was created in 1937. Both tribes resisted having to share a single reservation, explaining that they were not one but two distinct tribes, but they were overruled.
We are fortunate to have interpretative assistance from the Yavapai-Apache Nation. A significant artifact left by the Yavapai and Apache people is the collection of roasting pits, used by them to roast and process agave hearts. We know from the enormous size of most of these pits, and from present-day Yavapai and Apache peoples, that these pits were a result of widespread community gatherings that lasted for days.