Steve Lekson of the University of Colorado Museum is primarily known for his controversial ideas, irreverent attitude, and close association with Chaco dating back to his work on the Chaco Project. However, he has also done a considerable amount of research on the Mimbres region in southwestern New Mexico, and his work in that area is quite well-respected despite his occasional use of it to support his wacky theories. It’s not really surprising, then, that his contribution to The Prehistoric Pueblo World, chapter 11, focuses on the Mimbres Valley and the surrounding valleys and uplands, which constitute a considerable portion of what is known as the Mogollon culture area.
Also unsurprising is his approach in the chapter. Unlike some other contributors to this volume, who eschew the Pecos Classification as being inappropriate or misleading for their regions, Lekson insists on using it even though doing so is decidedly not standard in Mogollon archaeology. The reason for this, of course, is that Lekson has long maintained that there are considerably more parallels between at least this part of the Mogollon region and the Anasazi regions to the north (including Chaco) than have typically been acknowledged by Mogollon specialists eager to guard their turf.
The main parallel Lekson sees, which does indeed seem quite reminiscent of contemporary developments in various Anasazi areas, is a process of aggregation of dispersed communities into large, compact pueblos coinciding with the transition from Pueblo II to Pueblo III. This transition occurs in different parts of the region, seeming to diffuse from east to west and possibly from south to north. The first area to aggregate was the Mimbres Valley as early as AD 1000 (during the so-called “Classic Mimbres” period), and aggregation spread over the following few centuries into the uplands and valleys further west.
This is similar to the widespread aggregation seen among the Pueblo III Anasazi, but there are some important differences. The most important, perhaps, is the timing. AD 1000 is long before there was substantial Anasazi aggregation, and indeed it coincides with the rise of Chaco rather than its fall. This suggests, perhaps, either that conditions were significantly different in the Mimbres Valley than further north in this period or that the causes of aggregation in a Mogollon context were different from those in an Anasazi context. (Or both.) Lekson acknowledges the difficulty in explaining the processes he sees unfolding, but tentatively proposes that at least in his area aggregation may have been spurred by population growth due to favorable climatic conditions reaching a point where agricultural intensification in the form of canal irrigation was necessary. The proximity of the Mimbres to the highly successful model of irrigation agriculture practiced by the Hohokam to the west may explain their use of this adaptation, which would have involved increasing residential aggregation as a way to pool the necessary labor, rather than the various strategies seen later among the Anasazi.
This model fits the Mimbres situation fairly well, and most of the other regions that show the same tendencies have insufficient data available to evaluate it. The one area where it doesn’t seem to fit is on the northern edge of the region in the Quemado area, where the trajectory of development seems to be much more similar to that in the adjacent Cibola region than to anything further south. Indeed, since both Lekson here and Keith Kintigh in the Cibola chapter note that Quemado seems to belong more properly with Cibola, it’s not at all clear why it was put here instead.
Lekson’s overall point here is that developments among the upland (and valley) Mogollon are sufficiently similar to developments further north to include them in the overall “pueblo” cultural sequence, and, indeed, the inclusion of these areas in this book at all is a tacit recognition of the value of this approach. He acknowledges that Mogollon scholars fought long and hard to establish that their region constitutes its own cultural tradition separate from those of the Anasazi and Hohokam, and that this shift will be a hard sell. I would add that if the upland Mogollon are to be grouped together with the Anasazi there is a need to clarify the characteristics that define this grouping and an additional need to specify where the differences are both in culture and in chronology so that their importance to the classification can be properly assessed. This chapter is a start, but a lot more work needs to be done to convince me of the value of this approach.