The Zuni Indians descended from desert hunter-gatherers. About 2,000 years ago they joined in a general shift toward the cultivation of crops that gave birth to the Southwest's Pueblo culture. In time, small villages appeared along the streams of this arid land. As more centuries passed the Puebloans built large multi-storied towns laid out around plazas.
The Zuni towns centered on the Little Colorado River drainage. As trading middlemen between the Puebloan world and other cultures of the Southwest, the Zuni played a central role in transmission of trade items and cultural values.
Atsinna Ruins atop El Morro dates from the time of larger towns. Archeological evidence shows that Atsinna and nearby massive pueblos were built about the same time - in the late 1200s. After only 75 years they were abandoned. (Perhaps they were meant to be only temporary: unusual heat and drought may have driven the Zuni from the river valleys to the high ground around El Morro.)
For the Zuni people, Atsinna and nearby sites continue to be sacred places, parts of a larger homeland that once stretched far beyond today's Zuni Reservation. The symbols and pictures communicate both the mundane and the spiritual. Eventually a new breed of travelers took inspiration from the Indian scribes. With points of steel they continued the story in records of conquest and colonization.