Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Rock Art’ Category

Atlatl Petroglyph, Atlatl Rock, Valley of Fire State Park

Jim Weller, who has extensive experience with atlatl construction and use, e-mails with some very interesting thoughts.  About the atlatl petroglyph on Atlatl Rock at Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada, which I have used to illustrate some earlier posts, he says:

What I find very interesting . . . is that the atlatl in that petroglyph doesn’t have a hook.  It’s forked at the end, which I assume means it had a string across the fork and the darts had nocks like an arrow.

. . .

This page here is what made me think the atlatl in the petroglyph was fork-and-string.  The business end of the 2nd atlatl shown looks just like the petroglyph, although it lacks finger loops on the other end. http://www.primitiveways.com/loop_cord_atlatl.html
Also, on finger loops:
As to finger loops, in my own tinkering with atlatls, I’ve developed a preference for them.  This is because the human wrist moves a lot more up-and-down than it does left-to-right, and the more wrist movement you can put into the throw, the faster the dart goes.  Without finger loops, throwing is like chopping with a hatchet (or throwing a javelin without an atlatl), limiting you to the left-right wrist motion. With finger loops OTOH, throwing is much like with a baseball, allowing the full up-down wrist snap towards the end of the throwing motion.

I think there’s enough difference in power (and accuracy) with finger loops for them to have been pretty much standard equipment.  Sure, you don’t absolutely need them, and there are many folks today who don’t use them and still achieve excellent results.  However, if my life depended on an atlatl, I’d definitely use them.  They have physics on their side.  And there seem to be more examples of atlatls from all over the world with some sort of finger loop than there are without.  Leather straps, shell crescents, and holes drilled through wide handles.  Thus, I’m not surprised that the loops are emphasized in art.  I prefer the leather straps because they don’t chafe and pinch my fingers as much as the hard types of loop.

. . .

Note in the petroglyph that the atlatl handle is much narrower at the loops than elsewhere.  This is a pretty necessary design feature for using loops on an atlatl that’s more than about 1/2″ in diameter.  So, if you find just the stick and wonder if it ever had loops, look for this narrow place if the rest of the handle is wider than 1/2″.  If there’s no narrow place, then it almost certainly never had loops.  OTOH, if the whole thing is only 1/2″ wide, then there’s no good way to tell.

The reason you need the narrow place on wide handles is because when using loops, the atlatl goes between the index and middle fingers, which still have to wrap back around on top to hold the dart.  The narrow gap between these fingers and their lack of opposability puts a limit on how big an object will fit between them comfortably.  If the atlatl is more than about 1/2″ wide there, you CAN use it, but each throw hurts the inside of your index finger just below the 1st knuckle, and you have to tense up the whole hand and wrist to get a good grip on the dart, which decreases power and accuracy.  Not fun.  But OTOH, if the whole handle is that narrow, you have to tense up your hand anyway to hold it with your thumb and other fingers below the loops.  So the best design is wide enough at the butt for a relaxed grip for the thumb, pinky, and ring fingers, and narrow above for a relaxed grip with the index and middle fingers.

To see how this works, make a peace sign keeping the thumb, pinky, and ring fingers in a comfortable circle so none of them touch the palm.  That’s a good diameter for the lower part of the handle (or the whole handle if you’re not using loops).  Now, keeping your middle and index fingers as far apart as possible at their 1st knuckles, bend them down and in until their tips touch each other and the tip of the middle finger is touching the end of the ring finger.  Look how much smaller the gap between the index and middle finger knuckles is compared to the gap between the other fingers and the palm.
Also, via the interesting Blackwater Draw blog, I see that John Whittaker of Grinnell College has an extensive annotated bibliography on atlatls available on his website.  From it I see that he disagrees with both Calvin Howard and Bob Perkins about the physics of the atlatl.  I don’t know enough about the thing to judge who’s right.  Gaining that kind of knowledge really requires substantial personal experimentation, and while I could do that, I’m mostly interested in the cultural and historical implications of these technologies rather than the details of their operation.  Still, there’s a ton of literature out there for anyone who is interested, and Whittaker’s bibliography would be a great place to start.

Read Full Post »

Atlatl Petroglyph at Atlatl Rock, Valley of Fire State Park

I’ve decided to do a series of posts on the issue of prehistoric weaponry and the spread of the bow and arrow through North America.  This is an important topic, and one that has received a considerable amount of attention from archaeologists and others over the past century.  Despite that long history of research, there are still a lot of unresolved questions about this, and it has been a highly contentious issue in some circles.

Petroglyph Panel at Atlatl Rock, Valley of Fire State Park

To frame the issue, and to demonstrate its importance to Chaco specifically and Southwestern archaeology more generally, I’d like to go back to a topic I haven’t discussed much lately: warfare, and in particular Steven LeBlanc’s book on warfare in the prehistoric Southwest.  This is a controversial issue, although most Southwestern archaeologists seem to be coming around to the view that warfare was important even if they don’t see it as central the way LeBlanc does.  Leaving all that aside for now, however, LeBlanc also provides a useful model for the spread of prehistoric weaponry in the Southwest that clearly shows the importance of the bow and arrow.  He uses weaponry type as one of the defining features of the three periods into which he divides Southwestern prehistory from the perspective of warfare.  Each period is marked by the adoption of a new type of weapon, in each case more effective than the last.  The periods don’t quite line up with the probable dates of adoption of the new weapons, however, which suggests that there was more going on than mere technological developments.  This has to be the case, actually, because LeBlanc’s middle period (AD 900 to 1150, which roughly coincides with the Chacoan era) is marked by a noteworthy decrease in evidence for warfare despite coming not long after the introduction of the bow and arrow to the Southwest.

Arrowheads at Chaco Visitor Center Museum

LeBlanc’s early period, which runs from the first settlement of the Southwest up to around AD 900, was marked by endemic warfare among small groups using atlatls.  The atlatl, known by various other names such as “spear-thrower” but in this context usually called by its Nahuatl name, is a tool used to launch spears (often called “atlatl darts”) with greater force and to a greater distance than is possible with the unaided hand.  It is found in every inhabited part of the world starting in very early times, and probably dates far back into the Paleolithic Era, before the spread of modern humans throughout the world.  It was thus presumably known to the earliest inhabitants of both the Americas in general and the Southwest in particular.  Most archaeologists generally think of the atlatl in a hunting context, and it would certainly have been used for hunting.  LeBlanc, however, points out that any weapon used for hunting would also be useful in war, and since he proposes that war was going on constantly during his early period, it stands to reason that the main weapon would have been the atlatl.  He also argues that the large wooden club-like artifacts found in sites of this era, often known as “rabbit sticks” and associated with hunting of small game, were instead “fending sticks” used to deflect atlatl darts.  I’m not sure I buy this, but it does make sense that people fighting with atlatls would want to do something to defend themselves against darts coming at them and the sticks would work.  Support for the idea that the atlatl was a weapon of war in addition to a hunting tool comes from Mesoamerica, where military use of the atlatl came to be a major feature of the very warlike societies there.

"Rush to the Rockies" Sign, Trinidad, Colorado

At some point near the end of LeBlanc’s early period, a new weapon system appeared in the Southwest: the bow and arrow.  The spread of the bow and arrow is fascinating, since unlike almost all other examples of diffusion of ideas and technologies through North America it came not from the south but from the north.  It originated somewhere in Eurasia very early on, and then spread very slowly to the Bering Strait, and from there on down the continent.  The most interesting part, and something that I’ll be addressing in more detail in subsequent posts in this series, is that it’s possible to track the movement of the bow and arrow south from the Arctic by looking at the first appearance of it in rock art and artifact assemblages at sites in various areas.  It reached the Southwest sometime around the Pueblo I period and immediately replaced the atlatl as the preferred weapon for both hunting and (presumably) war.  It then continued to spread to the south, but for some reason it didn’t really catch on in Mesoamerica the way it had in most of the areas to the north.  This may have been because of the cultural importance of the atlatl, but it could also have been because it had just barely reached central Mexico when the Spanish arrived and threw everything into chaos.  In fact, I’m not entirely sure it got as far as central Mexico at all; I haven’t found any sources that discuss this precise issue, although there’s been so much attention paid to Aztec warfare that I’m sure it’s discussed somewhere.  It definitely never reached the Maya.  All these Mesoamerican groups were still using the atlatl as their primary weapon when the Spanish showed up with guns.

Sign for Atlatl Rock, Valley of Fire State Park

LeBlanc’s late period, from AD 1250 until Spanish contact, is associated with the use of the recurved bow, which is a more powerful weapon than the self bow that had been used before and may have had something to do with the immense amount of violence that is evident in the Southwest during this period.  This is an interesting topic in its own right, but I’m not really going to go into it in this series, which is more focused on the initial adoption of the (self) bow and arrow in various parts of North America.

Stairs to Atlatl Petroglyph at Atlatl Rock, Valley of Fire State Park

Okay, so, that seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it?  If there is clear evidence for the spread of the bow from Asia into North America and then south, where’s the controversy?  Well, I was a bit too glib above in saying that the spread of the bow and arrow can be easily tracked by looking at its first appearance in the archaeological record in various areas.  The general picture still holds, I think, but the details are muddled, and there is considerable disagreement among archaeologists about what counts as evidence for the introduction of the bow and arrow in some regions.  The main reason for this is that in most areas, the actual bows and arrowshafts don’t survive, since they’re made of perishable materials.  Nor, for that matter, do atlatls, at least in their entirety.  The main remains of both types of weapons are the projectile points, which are usually made of hard stone.  Atlatls also can have parts attached to them (known as “spurs” and “weights”) which are made of harder materials like stone or bone, and these can survive even when the wooden body of the atlatl doesn’t, although they can be hard to recognize on their own.  In general, then, dating the replacement of the atlatl by the bow and arrow requires the ability to differentiate between dart points and arrowheads.  Since atlatl darts are spears, it is generally thought that they should have bigger, heavier points than arrows, and size is indeed one criterion used to differentiate between the two types of point.  This is controversial, however, for reasons that I’ll go into in future posts.

Hollow Mountain Gas Station, Hanksville, Utah

The entry of the bow and arrow into the Southwest, by the way, is dated much more precisely than is the case in other reasons, primarily because the much better preservation conditions in many Southwestern contexts mean that actual atlatls, darts, bows, and arrows do often survive, which allows a much better understanding of what they were like than is possible elsewhere.  This has been very helpful in getting a sense of the situation elsewhere, although other factors mean that it can’t answer all the questions about those other places.  This importance of the Southwest to understanding the spread of the bow and arrow, despite not being the area where that spread either began or ended, makes this blog a good place for an examination of the issue, as does the importance of that spread to understanding cultural developments in the Southwest.  Those developments seem to have something to do with changes in weaponry, although the precise connection is difficult to discern.

Parking Lot for Atlatl Rock, Valley of Fire State Park

Read Full Post »

Pipe Shrine House, Mesa Verde

When I visited Mesa Verde this summer, I noticed a rather odd sandstone block at Pipe Shrine House, one of the mesa-top sites known collectively as the Far View Group.  These sites, like many others in the park, were excavated by Jesse Walter Fewkes in the early twentieth century, and documentation of the work done on them is correspondingly sparse.

Sandstone Block with Spiral Petroglyph at Pipe Shrine House, Mesa Verde

The block in question has a spiral pecked into it.  Not a whole spiral, though; rather, the middle of a spiral, with the upper and lower parts missing, as if the block were cut from a cliff face where a spiral petroglyph had been pecked.  Indeed, the only really plausible way to explain the block is that it was indeed cut from such a cliff face.

Block Incised with Zigzag Lines at Coyote Village, Mesa Verde

This is very odd.  I’ve never seen anything quite like it elsewhere.  There are a few other sites in the Far View Group that have blocks with designs on them, mostly parallel lines, but those are generally incised and they don’t bear much resemblance to common petroglyph designs.  They don’t show any particular evidence of the designs having been present on the stones before they were cut, either.  The spiral, though, is a very common type of petroglyph, and the Pipe Shrine block remains very puzzling.  Who cut that block?  Where?  Why?

Incised Parallel Lines in Building Block at Far View Tower, Mesa Verde

It’s very hard to say.  The fact that the block is at the top of the current wall strongly suggests that it was not originally part of the site.  In sites like this the top stones are generally modern capping put on with cement to protect the original walls beneath.  The spiral block, then, was almost certainly put on in the twentieth century.  It may have been put on by Fewkes himself after he excavated the site; recent dendrochronological research at the Sun Temple, which Fewkes also excavated and stabilized, has shown that he did a substantial amount of rebuilding there, and it’s quite plausible that he did the same at Pipe Shrine House.  If it wasn’t Fewkes, it was probably some later Park Service stabilization crew.

Plaque Describing Work by J. Walter Fewkes at Far View House, Mesa Verde

Regardless of who put the stone where it is now, though, the bigger question is where they got it, and how.  The mystery is amplified by the fact that Mesa Verde is known for having relatively few petroglyphs compared to many other areas with comparable ancient populations.  The stone looks like the same Cliff House Sandstone (Mesa Verde Formation) as the other stones in the wall, although its patina seems to be a slightly different color, which may or may not be relevant to its origin.  There’s no reason to think it comes from anywhere other than Mesa Verde, but that makes it all the more inexplicable that Fewkes or anyone else would have cut into one of the few petroglyph panels on the mesa for building stone when there are few things in the area more plentiful than sandstone.  I’m no expert on Mesa Verde, of course, so it’s quite possible that the story of this stone is well-known or at least published somewhere in the voluminous literature on the archaeology of the area, but if so I haven’t seen any reference to it.  It’s just very puzzling, and I don’t have a clue what the answer is.

Vent at Sun Temple, Mesa Verde

Read Full Post »

Little Colorado River from Homol'ovi Ruins State Park

Some of the most important work on the origins of the kachina cult is that done by E. Charles Adams of the Arizona State Museum, particularly his 1991 book focusing specifically on the subject. In this book he summarizes the available evidence for the origin and early development of the kachina cult, and based on the distribution of the archaeological manifestations of the cult that he identifies he concludes that it originated in the Upper Little Colorado River area of east-central Arizona in the period between AD 1275 and 1325.

Wall at Casa Malpais, Springerville, Arizona

Adams’s reasoning for this conclusion is based on his comparison of the distribution of four types of evidence that he presents as reflecting the presence of the cult: rock art, pottery, plaza-oriented village layout, and rectangular kivas. His summaries of the distribution of all these features in space and time are very useful, but his conclusions about the origins of the kachina cult go well beyond the evidence he presents and are not very convincing. His method for determining the origin of the cult is to look at the distribution of the four features he identifies and find where they first overlap. This seems reasonable enough.

Petroglyphs at Puerco Pueblo, Petrified Forest National Park

Unfortunately, there does not turn out to be any place where the features all overlap sufficiently early to be associated with the initial development of the cult, so Adams has to resort to finding a place where three of the elements overlap. The three elements he uses are pottery style, plaza-facing village layout, and rectangular kivas, which he finds present together earliest in the Upper Little Colorado River area in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth century. He therefore concludes that this is when and where the cult originated and proceeds to describe its rapid spread to the north and east over the course of the fourteenth century. Unlike many other researchers, including Polly Schaafsma, he considers the cult to be fundamentally indigenous rather than Mesoamerican in origin, although he concedes that some elements of it were probably subject to influence from groups to the south such as the Hohokam and Salado.

Sign at Puerco Pueblo Showing Plaza-Oriented Layout

Adams theorizes that after its initial spread the cult was greatly elaborated at Hopi, where it acquired its strong association with rainmaking and began to be reflected in elaborate kiva murals, and that it subsequently spread in modified form from Hopi to areas that had already adopted the initial cult directly from the Upper Little Colorado, such as Zuni and the Albuquerque area of the Rio Grande valley. It is only at that point, after AD 1400, that Adams sees any influence from the Jornada Mogollon coming up the Rio Grande, and he sees this influence, reflected in the Jornada rock art style and a similar style in some kiva murals, as secondary to the Upper Little Colorado and Hopi kachina cult influence already present in the Rio Grande valley. He even speculates that the Jornada influence may not have affected the kachina cult itself at all, and that it may have had more to do with other societies present among the Eastern Pueblos having more to do with war.

Warning Sign at Edge of Little Colorado River, Homol'ovi Ruins State Park

This theory is problematic for a number of reasons. For one thing, Adams relies very heavily on the distribution of pottery styles as evidence for the spread of the kachina cult, but he never establishes the association between the cult and the styles he mentions. He focuses on the so-called “Fourmile style” (named after Fourmile Ruin in the Upper Little Colorado area), a style of polychrome decoration that affected pottery types throughout the Southwest in the fourteenth century. Among the features of Fourmile style that Adams emphasizes are its use of asymmetrical decoration on the interiors of bowls, its extensive use of bird and feather imagery, and its occasional use of obvious kachina cult symbolism, particularly masks or whole anthropomorphic masked figures. It is the last aspect of the style that is clearly most associated with the kachina cult, and the presence of this sort of imagery on ceramics is certainly as clear a sign of the presence of the cult in a given area as the presence of similar motifs in rock art, but Adams goes beyond this observation to associate any use of the Fourmile style with the spread of the cult. This is not something that can just be assumed, however. It is important to note that the Fourmile style was very widespread, including in areas without any other evidence of kachina cult imagery, and it is quite possible that the distribution of the style is completely independent of the distribution of the cult. That is, the Fourmile style may just have been the style of decoration that was popular at the time that the kachina cult happened to be spreading throughout the northern Southwest, so that groups that adopted the cult may have used its imagery on their Fourmile-style ceramics without there being any particular association between the style in general and the cult. Thus, while Fourmile ceramics with kachina imagery would clearly be evidence of the distribution and spread of the cult, Fourmile ceramics without it would not necessarily be, and Adams’s extensive use of them undermines his conclusions significantly.

Petroglyph Panel Showing Mask at Puerco Pueblo, Petrified Forest

Another major problem with Adams’s approach is the way he largely disregards the rock art evidence. When he realizes that there is no place where all four of his lines of evidence come together at the proper time, it is the rock art evidence that he ignores. This is why he is able to conclude that the cult originated in the Upper Little Colorado area, where rock art evidence for the presence of the cult is very slim (probably due largely to the limited study of rock art in this area). Rock art, however, is the most straightforward and obvious evidence there is for the presence of the cult. Unlike Fourmile style ceramics, Rio Grande style rock art is full of kachina imagery, and it is very different from earlier rock art styles in the area where it appears. Schaafsma’s theory linking the cult to the Jornada Mogollon depended largely on the rock art evidence. Recall that her argument for transmission of the cult up the Rio Grande via the Jornada depended largely on the lack of rock art evidence for the presence of the cult in the Mogollon Rim and Upper Little Colorado area. Adams, although he argues for the transmission (and, indeed, the origin) of the cult in this area merely assumes that the Rio Grande style originated in the Upper Little Colorado area along with the cult and that it is unrelated to the Jornada style, which he sees as a late introduction to the Eastern Pueblos after the Rio Grande style was firmly established.

Petroglyphs at Casa Malpais, Springerville, Arizona

It is not hard to see why Adams puts so much emphasis on pottery and so little on rock art. He is trying to determine the time as well as the place of origin of the kachina cult, and to do that he needs evidence that can be securely dated. In the Southwest pottery styles are very well dated by association with tree-ring-dated contexts where they appear, and they therefore give quite precise dates even for sites that have note been excavated or dated in any other way. Rock art, on the other hand, is notoriously difficult to date. Pictographs, which are painted onto the rock surface often using some sort of organic paint, can sometimes be carbon-dated by samples of the paint or other associated organic artifacts, but this technique has rarely been used in the Southwest, and the much more common petroglyphs, which are pecked or incised into the rock surface, cannot be directly dated at all and can only be assigned very general dates based on their style and/or proximity to dated sites. Thus, associating the spread of the kachina cult with the spread of the Fourmile style, which does seem to have occurred around the same time, gives Adams much more chronological control than Schaafsma has with her rock art styles, and it even allows him to argue, in direct opposition to Schaafsma’s interpretation, that the Jornada style in the Rio Grande valley is later than the Rio Grande style rather than ancestral to it. His justification for doing so is very shaky, being based on similarities between the Jornada style and the style of kiva mural found at sites such as Kuaua, north of Albuquerque, but it is not possible to prove that he is wrong. Nor, for that matter, is it possible to prove that he is wrong to associate the Fourmile ceramic style with the cult, although he does so on similarly shaky grounds.

Casa Malpais from Above

Nevertheless, despite all these problems with Adams’s theory for the origin and spread of the cult, his model for why the cult was adopted so quickly and easily throughout the Pueblo world is quite convincing and useful. The explanation is basically the same as Schaafsma’s: the kachina cult, being a non-kin-based system with the potential to integrate whole communities easily, was very attractive to the rapidly aggregating villages developing throughout the Southwest at this time, and it was therefore adopted as a way of dealing with and resolving the many conflicts that inevitably develop within diverse and rapidly growing communities. He defines the model more rigorously and in more detail than Schaafsma, however, and presents a four-stage process for adoption of the cult, with corresponding correlates that should be identifiable in the archaeological record:

  1. Immigration: Starting around AD 1275, when major environmental changes occurred throughout the Southwest, locations that either maintained their attractiveness for settlement or became newly attractive as a result of the changes saw massive influxes of population from the many areas being abandoned at this time.
  2. Aggregation: In the locations seeing large-scale immigration, the new immigrants coalesced into large, aggregated villages, either joining previously existing populations or, in sparsely populated or previously unattractive locations, developing their own aggregated villages. These villages are often but not always plaza-oriented.
  3. Appearance of kachina cult imagery: Shortly after initial aggregation, the plaza-oriented villages begin to show signs of kachina cult imagery, either in nearby rock art or on locally produced pottery. This demonstrates the adoption of the cult by the village, perhaps in part to deal with the problems caused by rapid aggregation.
  4. Continued aggregation: As a result of the usefulness of the kachina cult in integrating the new communities, new immigrants continue to join them and are able to be successfully integrated. This part is important; previous attempts at forming large, aggregated communities in the Southwest had not lasted for long, probably because existing religious and social systems were not able to successfully integrate populations on that scale.

Adams applies this model to the cluster of sites at Homol’ovi Ruins State Park near Winslow, Arizona, where he has conducted extensive research as part of a long-term project by the Arizona State Museum. He finds that the model fits the history of the sites there quite well. Adams’s model can also be used to evaluate the impact of the kachina cult and the development of plaza-oriented village layouts on aggregation in other parts of the Southwest during this time period, and perhaps during others. Adams sets the beginning for his model at AD 1275 to correspond to the environmental changes in the northern Southwest associated with the so-called “Great Drought” of AD 1276 to 1299, and this does correspond to the onset of major aggregation in many areas, but in other areas aggregation began either earlier or later than this, and the adoption (or, perhaps, development) of the kachina cult may have played a role in these contexts as well.

Masonry at Homol'ovi I

Adams’s model may be an effective way to address the relationship between aggregation and the spread of the kachina cult, but it still leaves open the question of why people were aggregating in the first place. This has been a matter of much dispute and argument over nearly the whole history of southwestern archaeology, and many theories have been proposed. Many of the recent theories revolve around changing environmental conditions and the need for changes in subsistence systems, and they address this idea from varying perspectives, often focusing on the need for more centralized decision-making and/or more efficient land use as the result of less reliable or more difficult conditions for agriculture. In his discussion of this issue, particularly in relation to the case study of Homol’ovi, Adams seems to endorse some version of this idea, with a particular focus on the decisions of community leaders. Unlike many archaeologists who study the ancient Southwest, Adams does not present prehistoric Pueblo society as egalitarian, and he assumes throughout his discussion the presence of a two-tiered society with a small priestly class making decisions at a community level and deriving their authority from their control of ritual knowledge. Importantly, however, he notes that this elite never managed to amass the sort of surplus wealth necessary to transform Pueblo society into a truly stratified society with significant economic inequality. Adams attributes this mainly to the marginal nature of the Southwest for agriculture, but it is likely that another major factor is the communal ideology of the Pueblos, which strongly discourages individual gain and encourages leaders to put the needs of the community above their own desires.

Walls at Homol'ovi II

Read Full Post »

3riversridge

Ridge at Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

The idea that the kachina cult was not an indigenous development among the Pueblos but was instead introduced from the south seems to have originated with a 1974 article by Polly and Curtis Schaafsma.  As they note, while some previous scholars had noted some elements of the cult that suggested Mesoamerican influence, the general consensus had been that it developed in the western Pueblo area, probably among the Zunis, and spread at some point in prehistory to the Rio Grande Pueblos further east, perhaps through a migration of Keres speakers.  This model was based largely on ethnographic evidence, particularly the way the cult is highly elaborated among the Hopis, Zunis, and Keres (as well as at Towa-speaking Jemez) but much more rudimentary among the Tewas and apparently absent entirely among the Tiwas.  Archaeologists hadn’t paid much attention to it, probably because of its abstract nature and the difficulty of identifying specific material correlates of religious cults.  Another likely reason for archaeological neglect could be that so much attention throughout the history of Southwestern archaeology has been focused on the Four Corners region, which shows no evidence of adoption of the kachina cult before its total abandonment around AD 1300.

3quadrupedpanel

Petroglyph Panel Showing Three Quadrupeds

This all changed with Polly Schaafsma’s pioneering studies of rock art throughout New Mexico.  This is the main concern of the paper, which shows quite convincingly that the “Rio Grande style” of rock art that spread throughout the Pueblo area in late prehistoric times contains many elements that seem to clearly reference the kachina cult, particularly the masks that are worn by kachina impersonators.  This is in stark contrast to the earlier rock art tradition centered on the Colorado Plateau, which since Basketmaker times had maintained a fairly stable mix of abstract forms such as spirals, simple anthropomorphs, and images of certain animals, especially quadrupeds and lizards.  This is the style of rock art found at Chaco, and it’s quite widespread at pre-1300 sites throughout the northern Southwest.

3riversearringmask

Mask with Earrings at Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

Another style that bears much more resemblance to the Rio Grande Style, though in use at the same time as the Colorado Plateau style, is what the Schaafsmas call the Jornada style.  This is named after the Jornada Mogollon who inhabited what is now south-central New Mexico, but the style actually spreads over a larger area of southern New Mexico and West Texas.  It appears around AD 1000 in the Mimbres region of southwestern New Mexico, at a time when that region began to develop its distinctive culture, best known for figurative black-on-white pottery with designs that sometimes echo the rock art motifs.  By AD 1150 the style had spread east to the Jornada proper, where it developed a high level of elaboration seen especially in painted mask designs at places like Hueco Tanks near El Paso, as well as in petroglyphs at sites like Three Rivers.  The imagery in this style is strikingly similar to what would be seen in the Rio Grande style beginning around the time the Jornada people seem to disappear in the fourteenth century, which the Schaafsmas interpret as evidence for the kachina cult and its symbolism developing in the Jornada area and then spreading north up the Rio Grande.  They point to some similarities between the Jornada style and some of the rock art in the Tompiro area just to the north as evidence for the early stages in this process.

3riverscomplexpanels

Complex Panels at Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

That’s all well and good, and fairly convincing, although the broad application of the term “Jornada style” could be a bit problematic.  They define it to include the Mimbres as well as the Jornada proper, which suggests that the route of transmission of the style and the cult could have been to the northwest from the Mimbres to the western Pueblos rather than to the north from the Jornada to the eastern Pueblos.  It’s clear from their discussion, however, that they see the eastern origin and transmission as more likely, and they point to a relative lack of attestation of the style in the mountainous region between the Mimbres and the western Pueblos as evidence against that route.  This isn’t all that convincing, though, and my understanding is that more recently some people have indeed argued for a Mimbres origin and/or western route of transmission.

puercopanel

Petroglyph Panel at Puerco Pueblo, Petrified Forest National Park

All of this leaves out an important issue, though: What about the ethnographic evidence pointing to the western Pueblos as having developed the cult? If the cult came up the Rio Grande from the Jornada Mogollon, why don’t the modern Southern Tiwa Pueblos of Isleta and Sandia seem to have it at all, and why is it so much more developed among the Hopis and Zunis, further from the alleged source, than among the closer Tewas?

homolovipeakssign

Sign at Homol'ovi Ruins State Park Describing San Francisco Peaks

The Schaafsmas have a response to this concern that I think is pretty convincing.  It’s important to keep in mind that the ethnographic Pueblos are the result of hundreds of years of close and often hostile relations with the Spanish and other groups, and especially early in the colonial period the Spanish missionaries were particularly aggressive in trying to stamp out the kachina cult.  This effort was not ultimately successful as a general matter, but among some groups, especially the Southern Tiwa, it may have succeeded in extinguishing the cult entirely.  Elsewhere, as among the Tewa, it may only have succeeded in encouraging the Pueblos to cut back on outward display of the kachina rites.  Among the western Pueblos, less troubled by the Spanish, the cult was able to flourish and likely to change in various ways, and many of these changes may have filtered back to the eastern Pueblos once Spanish pressure declined, creating the illusion of the whole cult being introduced from the west.

homolovipeaks

San Francisco Peaks from Homol'ovi Ruins State Park

The final issue the Schaafsmas address, and it’s an important one, is why the Pueblos adopted the cult.  They note earlier explanations for the adoption of the kachina cult and other social integrative systems that cross-cut kinship connections tying them to the process of aggregation into ever-larger communities starting around 1200.  The creation of these large communities out of previously autonomous groups, probably organized along kinship lines, resulted in social stresses that could be smoothed over by the adoption of organizational systems not related to kinship.  The kachina cult, which is not at all connected to kinship, would have been a useful solution to this problem.  Earlier proposals along these lines had posited an indigenous development of the cult as a response to the pressures of aggregation, but the Schaafsmas propose instead that it was introduced from the south around the same time that the process of aggregation was really taking off (the early fourteenth century), and that its popularity was due to the recognition that it offered a solution to the organizational problems communities were facing.  It therefore spread throughout the region very quickly.

3rivers3dmask

Three-Dimensional Mask at Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

There’s much more to say about this proposal, of course, and I’ll get more into it later.  This initial paper, though, makes a good case for it, and my impression is that while the details are disputed, there’s a general consensus that the overall model is more or less correct.  One potential issue is that this particular paper rests entirely on rock art evidence, without considering other possible correlates of the cult such as pottery style and architecture.  But that’s a matter for later.
ResearchBlogging.org
Schaafsma, P., & Schaafsma, C. (1974). Evidence for the Origins of the Pueblo Katchina Cult as Suggested by Southwestern Rock Art American Antiquity, 39 (4) DOI: 10.2307/278903

Read Full Post »

Three Rivers Tap and Game Room, Farmington, New Mexico

Three Rivers Tap and Game Room, Farmington, New Mexico

Farmington, New Mexico is the closest major town to Chaco Canyon.  With a population of around 40,000, Farmington is by far the largest community in San Juan County, and the sixth largest in the state.  As a result, it dominates the northwestern part of New Mexico, which is otherwise very rural.  Farmington is where the staff at Chaco go when they go to town.  It’s not the most pleasant place, at least in my opinion, but that’s a story for another post.  It’s also where I was born, which is yet another story for later.

Front of Three Rivers Restaurant and Brewery, Farmington, New Mexico

Front of Three Rivers Restaurant and Brewery, Farmington, New Mexico

One thing that’s notable about Farmington is that a lot of things there are called “Three Rivers.”  There’s the Three Rivers Restaurant and Brewery downtown, which has good beer and decent food, as well as other businesses of various types.  The reason for this is nicely explained in a plaque downtown, which notes that the Navajo name for this area is Tóta’, which is commonly interpreted as derived from the words for “water” and “three,” hence “three rivers.”  This interpretation is helped by the fact that there are in fact three rivers that come together in Farmington: the Animas and the La Plata flow into the San Juan within a few miles of each other right where Farmington is now.

"Footloose in Farmington" Plaque, Farmington, New Mexico

"Footloose in Farmington" Plaque, Farmington, New Mexico

The problem with this interpretation, logical as it is, however, is that it’s simply wrong.  The Navajo word for “water” is indeed , and the word for “three” is táá (the accent marks indicate high tone).  The first part of Tóta’, then, does mean “water,” a common element in Navajo placenames, as is evident from looking at a map of the Navajo Reservation.  The second part, however, is not táá, with a high-toned long vowel, but ta’, with a low-toned short vowel and a glottal stop, which is a verb form meaning something like “coming together.”  Tóta’, then, means something more like “waters coming together,” which does refer to the rivers joining, but it doesn’t specify three of them at all.

Back of Three Rivers Restaurant and Brewery, Farmington, New Mexico

Back of Three Rivers Restaurant and Brewery, Farmington, New Mexico

This is a good example of a little knowledge being a dangerous thing.  Anglos have a very hard time learning Navajo, which is a very different sort of language from English, so many people in the Farmington area know a few words of Navajo but don’t really speak the language in any meaningful sense.  This lack of fluency doesn’t keep many of them from trying to interpret Navajo placenames and other words, so spurious translations like this are pretty common in the area.  Nevertheless, despite its inaccuracy, the “three rivers” idea has by now become firmly entrenched, and it’s not going anywhere.

Complex Panels at Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

Complex Panels at Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

There is, however, another place in New Mexico that actually is called Three Rivers, and it’s a very interesting place.  It’s way across the state, in the southeastern part, near White Sands and the Tularosa Basin.  This Three Rivers is best known for having the most spectacular collection of petroglyphs in the state.  Mark Hinton’s recent post showing pictures from his recent trip there inspires me to put up some of the pictures from my own recent visit.

Ridge at Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

Ridge at Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

The Three Rivers Petroglyph Site is a BLM recreation site, with a few limited facilities but otherwise pretty basic.  It’s basically just a ridge covered in igneous boulders which are themselves covered with thousands upon thousands of petroglyphs.  It’s hard to date petroglyphs, but from the iconography and the association with a nearby village site it seems they were made in the late prehistoric period by the Jornada Mogollon people, who inhabited southeastern New Mexico and west Texas and are known for their many spectacular rock art sites.

Rock Covered in Petroglyphs at Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

Rock Covered in Petroglyphs at Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

The Jornada Mogollon were definitely on the fringes of the prehistoric southwest.  They didn’t settle down into permanent agricultural villages until quite late, after AD 1100, and didn’t keep up that lifeway for very long either.  By the time the Spanish arrived in the 1500s they were gone, and it’s not at all clear what happened to them or what connection there might be between them and the hunter-gatherer groups the Spanish did find in the area.

Two Male Figures and a Possible Spear, Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

Two Male Figures and a Possible Spear, Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

In Chacoan times, then, the Jornada people were hunter-gatherers who perhaps practiced a bit of small-scale horticulture and moved seasonally from place to place.  Their land was a definite backwater compared to the major cultural centers to both the north, in the core areas of the southwest, and the south, in Mesoamerica.

Mask with Earrings at Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

Mask with Earrings at Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

By the time the Jornada began to aggregate into villages and rely on a more agricultural subsistence system, after the fall of Chaco and at a time of major changes and disruptions throughout the southwest, they were no longer so peripheral.  The major regional center at Casas Grandes, or Paquimé, in northern Chihuahua seems to have rather suddenly risen to prominence around this time, and while it’s hard to figure out what, if any, connection there may have been between the rise of Casas Grandes and other developments in the southern southwest, the Jornada and other nearby groups were presumably at least aware of developments at Casas Grandes.

Three-Dimensional Mask at Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

Three-Dimensional Mask at Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

Casas Grandes is odd in a southwestern context because it shows much more direct and obvious Mesoamerican influence than any other southwestern center.  There have been various proposals for Mesoamerican influence on Chaco, the Hohokam, and other southwestern societies, but the signs of contact and influence in these cases are pretty subtle, though in some cases (such as the chocolate at Chaco) of obvious importance.  At Casas Grandes, however, all the elements of Mesoamerican civilization are right there: ballcourts, macaw breeding, and much more.

Quartered Circle at Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

Quartered Circle at Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

Given their position between Casas Grandes, with its strong Mesoamerican connections, and the apparently rather chaotic Pueblo world to the north, the Jornada Mogollon were in a prime position to transmit new ideas of Mexican origin to the northern people, who given their problems were probably particularly open to ideological influence at this time.  And indeed, the petroglyphs at Three Rivers show a lot of Mesoamerican symbols and influences.  The most common single symbol at Three Rivers, in fact, is a cross in a circle surrounded by dots, which is a well-known Mesoamerican symbol often interpreted as a cosmogram representing the division of the world into the cardinal directions.  Interesting, this sign is very rare at petroglyph sites other than Three Rivers, even other Jornada Mogollon sites, while at Three Rivers it makes up about 10% of all the known petroglyphs.  Perhaps Three Rivers specifically, even more than other Jornada villages, was a center for Mexican influence and ideology.

Simple Mask Petroglyph at Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

Simple Mask Petroglyph at Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

The Jornada Mogollon may also have played a key role in the transmission of the kachina religion to the Pueblos.  This cult, which is now present in all the Pueblos and of extreme importance at some of them (especially at Hopi), is generally agreed to be ultimately of Mesoamerican origin and to have reached the Pueblos sometime in the Pueblo IV period, probably after around AD 1300.  It is most obvious in rock art, where kachina masks become very common rather suddenly at Pueblo IV sites after being totally absent at earlier sites.  The symbolism seems to move from south to north, having been found in the upper Little Colorado River area relatively early and later spreading to the Rio Puerco of the West and ultimately to Hopi, Zuni, and the Rio Grande.

Abstract Panels at Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

Abstract Panels at Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

While the Mexican origin of the kachina cult is widely accepted, the exact route of transmission it took to reach the Pueblos is a matter of more dispute.  The two main candidates for having initially introduced it are the Mimbres people of southwestern New Mexico and the Jornada Mogollon.  The Mimbres connection seems to be based largely on some iconography on the famous Mimbres pictorial pottery that is reminiscent of both Mexican ideology and later kachina symbolism.  The Jornada connection, on the other hand, rests on the identification at sites like Three Rivers of mask petroglyphs very similar to those found later at Pueblo sites further north.

Highly Elaborated Quartered Circle at Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

Highly Elaborated Quartered Circle at Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

It’s quite possible that both routes of transmission were active, of course, and I certainly don’t have anywhere near enough knowledge of this area to judge.  I will say, though, that the Jornada connection makes a lot of sense to me given both the timing and the really striking imagery at Three Rivers.

Valley of Fires Recreation Area, Carrizozo, New Mexico

Valley of Fires Recreation Area, Carrizozo, New Mexico

In any case, Three Rivers is definitely worth a visit for anyone passing through the area, as is the nearby Valley of Fires lava flow.  That site, which Mark Hinton also seems to have visited recently, used to be a New Mexico state park but is now a BLM recreation area like Three Rivers.  That whole area is really interesting, although certainly pretty hard to get to.  Worth the trip, I would say.

Three Rivers Petroglyph Site Parking Lot from Ridge

Three Rivers Petroglyph Site Parking Lot from Ridge

Read Full Post »

Una Vida Sign

Una Vida Sign

One of the questions we get most often at Chaco from visitors who have just arrived is whether it’s a walking or a driving thing.  It’s both, really.  For most of the sites, especially the really impressive ones, you drive a few miles from the Visitor Center then walk a few hundred yards and do a self-guided tour (or, if there is one available, a guided tour).  This is how it works for Pueblo Bonito, Chetro Ketl, Pueblo del Arroyo, and the other sites in the “Downtown Chaco” area, which is about 4 miles down the loop road from the Visitor Center.

Una Vida from a Distance

Una Vida from a Distance

There is one site, however, which is accessible by a short walking trail directly from the Visitor Center parking lot.  It isn’t the most impressive of the sites, but it has a certain charm to those who are willing to seek it out.  This site is the great house known as Una Vida.

Una Vida in the Snow

Una Vida in the Snow

Like most of the other major great houses in Chaco Canyon, Una Vida was first documented and named by the Lt. James Simpson of the Washington Expedition in 1849.  Simpson relied heavily on one of the expedition’s guides, a Hispanic man from the nearby village of San Ysidro named Carravahal, and as a result most of the names he wrote down for the sites were Spanish.  “Una Vida” (meaning “One Life”) is one of these; the reason for the rather odd name is obscure.

Walls at Una Vida

Walls at Una Vida

Unlike most of the other great houses, Una Vida looks today much as it did when Simpson first saw it.  We often describe it as “unexcavated,” but this isn’t strictly true.  A few rooms in Una Vida were excavated at various times during the twentieth century, but they have all since been backfilled, so while there has been a bit of excavation it isn’t apparent from looking at the site.  As a result, Una Vida is one of the best places to see what the sites looked like before being excavated.  Basically, it looks like a huge mound of sand, covered with shrubby vegetation, with significant standing walls sticking out at various points.  It’s clear that there is a building there, and it’s clear what its overall size and shape is, but it isn’t clear how many rooms it contains or where the divisions between them are.

View from Plaza of Una Vida

View from Plaza of Una Vida

Moving up to Una Vida from the parking lot and entering the plaza, one is surrounded by high mounds of sand, which obscure most of the building and the ridge upon which it is built.  It is hard to tell from here quite what the building would have looked like when it was in use, but it’s quite obvious that it was very impressive in scale.

Navajo Corral at Una Vida

Navajo Corral at Una Vida

Looking around the plaza, there are a few enclosures of varying sizes made out of the same sort of stone found in the walls of the great houses but with very different masonry, dry-laid without any mortar.  These were actually not present when Simpson came by in 1849, but were built later by the Navajo inhabitants of the canyon.  They weren’t here in 1849 because the Washington Expedition had been sent to fight the Navajos, who weren’t about to wait around to be attacked.  After the conclusion of the tumultuous wars between the US government and the Navajos with the return of the Navajos from the ill-fated reservation at Bosque Redondo in southeastern New Mexico in 1868, however, the canyon was reoccupied and the Navajos built a variety of structures, many of which are still standing in some form.

Navajo Hogan at Una Vida

Navajo Hogan at Una Vida

In general the Navajos avoid ruined sites like Una Vida.  Navajo tradition involves a lot of taboos about death and places associated with it, and sites associated with the Anasazi are particularly problematic.  There is very little trace of Navajo occupation in the Downtown Chaco area around South Gap and Pueblo Bonito, for example.  In some other parts of the canyon, including the Fajada Gap area where Una Vida is, certain Navajos seem to have been less concerned about the taboos and, perhaps, more inspired by the abundant building stone from the fallen walls.  In any case, they built a few hogans (traditional Navajo dwellings) and a large corral in the plaza of Una Vida, and the remnants of these can still be seen today. In general there is little trace of the Navajo presence at Chaco within the park today, due in no small part to deliberate Park Service policy in the mid-twentieth century that involved kicking out the Navajos living in the park.  Here at Una Vida, however, some of that history is still visible in a subtle way.

Third-Story Walls with Type I Masonry at Una Vida

Third-Story Walls with Type I Masonry at Una Vida

Moving on from the plaza to the west wing, one can see the typical row of blocked-in round rooms fronting the plaza and backed by higher stories of rectangular rooms.  This is pretty standard for Chacoan great houses, but here it’s interesting on account of the fact that this room block is made largely of early masonry.  This part of the building seems to have been constructed sometime in the 900s using Type I simple masonry.  It goes up three stories at the south end, and this seems to be the only part of Una Vida that was ever three stories.  The immense height of some other parts of the building is due largely to its being built on a natural ridge.  There’s no evidence for any other construction above two stories.  It’s pretty striking that the three-story rooms are among the best-preserved despite their early masonry.

Petroglyphs above Una Vida

Petroglyphs above Una Vida

Moving along the west side, one comes to the place where a spur trail leads partway up the cliff to an area of quite remarkable petroglyphs.  These are among the most impressive in publicly accessible parts of the park, and are also among the easiest to get to.  As usual with rock art, they are difficult to interpret, but some clearly seem to show animal figures which may be either highly stylized representations of real animals or images of mythical or legendary beasts.  There is also an anthropomorphic figure with two horns which has been identified by Hopi consultants as a symbol of the Two-Horn Society.

Una Vida from Petroglyph Area

Una Vida from Petroglyph Area

From the petroglyph site, one can get a very good view of Una Vida and finally get some sense of its overall size and shape, which is particularly difficult to get a sense of from ground level because of its unexcavated nature.  It’s basically L-shaped, with an arc of plaza-enclosing rooms linking the ends of the L.  Fajada Butte, Fajada Gap, and the Visitor Center are also clearly visible from up here.

Visitor Center and Fajada Butte from Una Vida Petroglyphs

Visitor Center and Fajada Butte from Una Vida Petroglyphs

Coming back down from the petroglyphs and continuing along the trail, next comes the earliest part of Una Vida, a small block of rooms built in the 800s and later shored up with what looks like McElmo-style masonry (typical of the early 1100s).  This block is similar to the oldest part of Pueblo Bonito, which was built around the same time, and it’s likely that Peñasco Blanco, which has tree-ring dates from the same period, has a similar early block somewhere, although given its unexcavated state it’s impossible to identify it.  These three early great houses, the earliest in Chaco Canyon, are located at the three main entrance points to the canyon: Fajada Gap, South Gap, and the end of the canyon where the Escavada Wash and the Chaco Wash join together.  This is likely not a coincidence.

Earliest Part of Una Vida

Earliest Part of Una Vida

Continuing along the trail, the next notable part of the site is a single room with particularly well-preserved standing walls and an intact doorway.  This part of the site, the east wing, is a later addition using Type IV core-and-veneer masonry, which is quite apparent in this room.

Doorway at Una Vida

Doorway at Una Vida

Finally, the trail comes back to the Navajo corral and completes the loop, heading back toward the Visitor Center.  Although there is less to see at Una Vida than at, say, Pueblo Bonito, its mostly unexcavated state and unusual features offer a window into some aspects of Chaco that don’t get that much attention, and it’s definitely worth a visit.

Lizard on Type I Masonry at Una Vida

Lizard on Type I Masonry at Una Vida

Read Full Post »

Petroglyph Panel Showing Three Quadrupeds

Petroglyph Panel Showing Three Quadrupeds

There’s a lot of rock art at Chaco.  It’s present in varying densities the whole way along the cliff face, from one end of the canyon to the other.  There are a few places within the park with rock art that is particularly noteworthy, either for being very numerous, very spectacular, or otherwise distinctive.  These areas are marked on the maps we give out and indicated with signs.

Petroglyphs above Una Vida

Petroglyphs above Una Vida

One thing visitors often notice, and ask about, is that there are two different but similar terms used to denote these rock art sites: “petroglyph” and “pictograph.”  These are terms used to distinguish two types of rock art by the way they are made.

Petroglyph Panel with Complex Imagery

Petroglyph Panel with Complex Imagery

A petroglyph is pecked, carved, or incised into the rock surface, and can be considered a type of very-low-relief sculpture.  Most Anasazi petroglyphs are pecked, but some are incised or even raised in bas-relief.  Navajo petrolyphs are typically incised, and tend to be shallower in relief and therefore less obvious than Ansazi ones.  Petroglyphs of various sorts are quite numerous, and most of the rock art in the park and elsewhere is of this type.

"Supernova" Pictograph

"Supernova" Pictograph

Pictographs, on the other hand, are painted onto the rock surface using a variety of pigments and fixatives.  This means that they are very vulnerable to weathering, and they typically only survive in sheltered locations such as in caves and under rock overhangs.  As a result, they are much rarer today than petroglyphs.  There’s no way to know how common they were originally.

Pictographs behind Wijiji

Pictographs behind Wijiji

One way the two do not differ is in the ease of interpreting them.  It’s very difficult, in practice usually impossible, to tell what, if any, meaning a given petroglyph or pictograph had for its maker.  Many of the petroglyphs at Chaco have been examined by modern Pueblo consultants, who often identify clan symbols in them.  They are not, however, able to assign meanings to all of the signs, and most remain very mysterious.  Some seem to have astronomical alignments, the Fajada Butte “Sun Dagger” being the most famous, but most don’t seem to have any detectable alignments.

Navajo Petroglyph of a Horse and Rider

Navajo Petroglyph of a Horse and Rider

In the end, it’s probably best not to worry too much about the meaning of rock art.  It’s nicer just to appreciate it on an aesthetic level.  It is important, however, not to touch it or damage it in any way.  While pictographs are obviously extremely fragile, petroglyphs are quite vulnerable as well, and both can easily be destroyed by too much attention.  It’s best to keep a safe distance and quietly admire these beautiful but mysterious artworks.

Petroglyph Panel Showing People

Petroglyph Panel Showing People

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts