This region of the U.S. is largely a desert landscape (Figure 1.6). The earliest habitations within the southwest are associated with the Clovis culture, largely defined through stone tool technology. The type of site for the Clovis is located in northeastern New Mexico, but these points have been found throughout the Southwest. As early as 9500 bc, there is evidence for human occupation and land usage; it is likely nomadic groups following game. Clovis groups are consistently associated with large now-extinct Pleistocene animals. Later, during the Holocene, a second type of point is typically found in association with smaller animals and bison. These Folsom points likely indicate the increasing scarcity of large game and the shift in subsistence base to smaller game. These two culture types and the change in focus from large to small game are indicative of climatic change to a warmer, more arid environment (Plog 1997).
Around 7000 BC, the Archaic period begins. At this time, groups were still nomadic, and so archaeological evidence of their habitation tends to be focused on technology and campsites. Archaic peoples were focused on hunting and gathering of resources. They inhabited the entirety of the Southwest, from northern Mexico to northwestern New Mexico. There is more evidence for gathering of foods and
FIGURE 1.6 Desert landscape typical of the American Southwest. Modified from an image created by Alanthebox, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, under Universal Public Domain.
nuts as well as grasses and small game. Subsistence usage was dependent upon locally available resources. Game hunted included sheep, antelope, deer, bison, carnivores, and small game such as squirrel, rabbit, and gopher. Despite zooarchaeological findings at campsites, it is believed that this period marks a social change with a larger emphasis on the gathering of plants. Grinding stones begin to be common in assemblages. This change in subsistence is likely tied to climate change. Two transitions appear to have occurred. The first (5500—5000 bc) was a change in weather related to the retreat of the glaciers covering the northeastern U.S. Generally, this was associated with dryer weather, particularly in the summers. This would have brought with it more soil erosion, which may have led to the migration of larger game out of the area. A second shift (2500—2000 bc) is essentially the opposite of the first one and would have been associated with the formation of floodplains and created environmental conditions favorable for cultivation and irrigation of crops (Plog 1997: 48—49). It is not surprising, then, that this second shift sees the first experimentations with agriculture in the region.
changes in vegetation patterns had an impact on movement because groups were highly mobile and would have rotated between established areas to take advantage of plant and animal resources throughout the year. Maize cultivation begins as early as around 3000 bc, but is firmly established by 1000 bc. It has been suggested that the adoption of agriculture was a response to improved environmental conditions (e.g., Guilday 1984), but this shift has also been interpreted as a way to increase efficiency of food collection at a time when population was increasing and access to some resources may have been restricted (Haynes 1984).
It is important to remember that at this time groups were still relatively mobile, likely shifting between cultivated crops at various times of the year and continuing to exploit game and wild vegetable resources. Dry caves may have been used as places for seasonal shortage based on the assemblages found in many caves in New Mexico. The use of these caves as both storage places and burial places has allowed for the reconstruction of behaviors based on perishable items that would likely not have survived open-air sites. These include basketry, fur cloth, cradleboards, and sandals, to name a few that have been found (Plog 1997).
Around ad 200, groups begin to settle down into permanent villages. This sed- entism implies a reliance on a stable and nonmoving food source (i.e., cultivated crops). This shift is a show one, and it is not until around ad 600 through 800 that residential villages show signs of occupation year-round. It is likely that until this time, groups rotated between different semipermanent villages based on crops and available wild resources. One running theme throughout the vignettes in this book is that the transition to agriculture led to not only large social changes but also changes (usually negative) in the health of those practicing it. One reason for this is that the breadth of the diet narrows with the introduction of agriculture. Another is a decrease in the amount of protein eaten overall; without large-game hunting, protein would have been gained from the consumption of hunted meat. Even in modern agricultural groups, hunting still forms an important element of the diet.
A shift to agriculture may have been important for the creation of larger permanent settlements, with individuals coming together to share the benefits and the hard work of tilling and harvesting fields. This creation of larger settlements with more people would have introduced groups to new disease vectors. Crowd diseases such as tuberculosis and parasitic infections are far more common in large aggregated communities than small agricultural or nomadic groups. The introduction of crops from Mexico, such as beans, would have provided more protein than could be gained from wild plants and likely became an important part of the diet along with the maize that was already present. The introduction of these plants indicates cultural contact between groups, likely in a down-the-line exchange pattern (see chapters in Hegmon 2000).
People lived in semisubterranean structures known as pit structures, with areas for work outside the structure. These structures would have been grouped together around communal plazas and held numerous storage pits for grain and other goods. After around ad 200, ceramic vessels are created. These become an important element of society in that they allow for longer term and tighter storage than could be accomplished with basketry. Large grinding stones are also more common after this period. These would have been very cumbersome to move and tend to be incorporated into the architecture of the village.
It is also between ad 200 and 700 that regional differences become evident. For the Southwest, these groups include the Hohokam, Mogollon, and Anasazi groups. The focus of this book is to primarily examine Anasazi and some Mogollon groups. It should be noted that there is significant blurring at the edges of all culture areas, based on artifact styles (Plog 1997). It is therefore likely that social boundaries were also malleable and constantly negotiated.
The time from ad 700 to 1150 is marked by increasing aggregation and the creation of large communities tied to farming. These communities began to have communal ritual rooms, usually subterranean, called Kivas. This also marks the beginning of the Pueblo I period around ad 800. For the ancestral Pueblo people, inhabiting the Four Corners region, large settlements can be found in a variety of environments, from high desert to mountainous environments. The cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde, Navajo National Monument, Chaco Canyon, Mancos, and Ridges Basin are all examples of these settlements. They likely held important social and political roles in addition to serving as a focal point for agriculture. For example, Sacred Ridge — an early Pueblo I site near Durango, Colorado — appears to have held ritual significance based on the presence of large quantities of ground stone as well as large quantities of turkey bone (Potter and Chuipka 2007).
Exchange becomes a very important part of life during the Pueblo period, with the construction of large roads into and out of Chaco Canyon.
Around ad 1150 to 1200, several developments in the Southwest signaled major changes in both political structuring and population aggregation (Martin 1994: 100). Environmental reconstruction indicates major climatic fluctuations that necessitated a more creative use of cultural innovations to buffer the people from lower agricultural productivity. During this period, the large ceremonial center at Chaco Canyon ceases to be utilized, and there was widespread population movement with some clustering of communities in the more northern regions of the Southwest. This is a period of increasing droughts and population movements.
By ad 1350, many of the groups leave the northern areas of the Southwest and migrate and create large, dense settlements along the Rio Grande in New Mexico. The Hopi and Zuni Pueblos stay on the western side of the Southwest in the areas of Arizona, where their ancestors were for hundreds of years. Many of the other Pueblo groups migrated and reorganized into communities along the Rio Grande, which is where the Spanish conquistadores found them in the 1500s. Human remains from the hundreds of sites that have been excavated are very challenging to summarize, but there are some very good syntheses beginning to emerge (see for an excellent examples, Stodder 2008; 2015).