Acoma Pueblo Indians, oldest continuously inhabited village in US


Last Updated: 6 years

The Acoma Pueblo, also known as “Sky City”, is a Native American pueblo built on top of a 367-foot (112 m) sandstone mesa in the U.S. state of New Mexico. The Pueblo, believed to have been established prior to the 10th century, was chosen in part because of its defensive position against raiders. It is regarded as the oldest continuously inhabited community in the United States. 

Access to the pueblo is difficult as the faces of the mesa are sheer (a topographic map shows this best). Before modern times access was gained only by means of a hand-cut staircase carved into the sandstone.

There are several interpretation of origin of the name “Acoma”. Some believe that the name Acoma comes from the Keresan words for the People of the White Rock, with aa’ku meaning white rock, and meh meaning people.

Others believe that the word aa’ku actually comes from the word haaku meaning to prepare; a description that would accurately reflect the defensive position of the mesa’s inhabitants. 

Acoma Pueblo comprises several villages including Acomita, McCarty’s, Anzac and the newer subdivision of Sky Line. Acoma people dry-farm in the valley below Aa’ku and use irrigation canals in the villages closer to the Rio San Jose. 

Tracing their lineage to the inhabitants of ruins to the west and north, the Acoma people continue the traditions of their ancestors.

Acoma people practice their traditional religion and some also practice the Catholic religion that came with Spanish settlers in the 1500’s. Acoma people have traded and interacted with their neighbors for centuries, some of which extended beyond the local Pueblos.

Trade between Aztec and Mayan people was common prior to European settlement. 

Only more recently has trade and interaction with other tribes been hampered by international boundaries. Traditional alliances still exist between the Pueblos who often speak different dialects or different languages.

The Acoma Pueblo Indians speak primarily the Western Keresan dialect, which includes Aa’ku, Zuni, and Hakukya.

Keresan (also known as Keres) is a group of seven related lects spoken by Pueblo peoples in New Mexico, U.S.A.. Each is mutually intelligible with its closest neighbors.

Throughout the year feasts are held in celebration of historic occasions. Visitors are allowed to attend these feasts but are encouraged to be respectful and aware of local protocol.

One of the most stringently enforced rules for visitors is the “no camera rule.” Permits are required ahead of time to take pictures, and are very rarely issued.

Acoma Pueblo and its reflection in a pool of water.The Spanish settlers had the mission church of San Esteban Rey built at the pueblo from 1629 to 1641.

Its 30-foot beams were carried 30 miles from Kaweshtima or Mount Taylor Mountain, and the dirt for its graveyard was carried up the mesa from the valley below. Both the mission and the pueblo are registered National Historical Landmarks. 

Like other pueblos, Acoma and the surrounding area are considered federal trust land, administered by the federal government for the pueblo.

Several families still live on the mesa itself year-round, while others elect to live in nearby villages (Acoma Village, New Mexico, among them). The 2000 US Census lists 2,802 inhabitants of the Acoma Pueblo and off-reservation trust lands. 

The pueblo is located 60 miles (100 km) west of Albuquerque on Interstate 40 and 12 miles (20 km) south on Indian Route 23.

The pueblo is not open to the public and visitors must obtain visitor and camera permits from the Sky City visitor center at the base of the mesa.