Archive for the ‘Papers’ Category

San Francisco Peaks from Wupatki Citadel

While many recent theories seeking to explain the widespread aggregation of communities in the late prehistoric Southwest have emphasized economic factors tied to environmental change, there is another way to look at this process. This perspective sees environmental factors as still being important drivers of aggregation, but indirectly, through increased competition for scarce resources leading to an increase in conflict and warfare, which results in aggregation as a defensive measure. Probably the most prominent proponent of this idea is Steven LeBlanc, who has argued that warfare played the main role in driving Pueblo aggregation. LeBlanc’s arguments are based in large part on the (to him) obviously defensive nature of many settlement locations during the period of aggregation, the limited but important direct evidence of violence in the form of destroyed communities during the same period, and the coalescence of the population of the Southwest not only into large, defensible, aggregated communities but also into clusters of such communities with large open areas between them that could have served as buffer zones between enemy groups.

Tuzigoot National Monument, Clarkdale, Arizona

LeBlanc makes what I consider a convincing case for the importance of warfare in driving settlement aggregation in the late prehistoric period, and it adds an important element to Charles Adams’s model explaining the adoption of the kachina cult. Specifically, it adds two earlier stages to the model. The new model is outlined below.

  1. Environmental deterioration resulting in decreased resource base and increased competition for scarce resources.
  2. Increased intercommunity conflict and warfare resulting in some aggregation of formerly dispersed communities into larger and more defensible communities without necessarily involving long-distance migration.
  3. Migration of groups away from resource-poor, war-torn areas into more attractive locations.
  4. Aggregation of communities in target regions into plaza-oriented villages, either by incorporation of immigrants into existing aggregating communities or by immigrant communities migrating together and establishing defensive settlements in hostile territory.
  5. Introduction of the kachina cult to aggregated or aggregating villages, improving integration of formerly distinct groups into united communities.
  6. Continued aggregation and incorporation of new immigrants into successful communities with a strong kachina cult.

The presence of plaza-oriented or inward-facing community layouts is crucial to this model in two ways. For one thing, the plaza-oriented layout is highly defensible; it generally contains few or no external entrances, with all access to the roomblocks that make up the community being from the plaza. This explains why, in a context of widespread warfare, newly aggregating communities would have chosen this layout. Recall that Adams noted in his model that the adoption of plaza-centered layouts tended to come before the adoption of the kachina cult.

Sign Describing Sun Point Pueblo, Mesa Verde

Beyond its defensive nature, however, the plaza-oriented layout is important because it facilitated public performance of kachina ritual. As Adams pointed out, one of the most important attributes of the kachina cult is that it is public and accessible to the whole community, in addition to involving secret, esoteric knowledge that would be attractive to community leaders to enhance their authority. Pueblos that already had open plazas would have an advantage in adopting the cult and taking advantage of its power to integrate diverse communities, while those that consisted of massed roomblocks with no public open spaces would have been at a disadvantage and may have been inspired to add on roomblocks to form an enclosed plaza in which to perform kachina dances. Adams notes that some of the sites at Homol’ovi seem to have started out as single, massed roomblocks and to have added enclosed plaza areas later.

Plaque Showing Layout of Homolovi II, Winslow, Arizona

Whatever the reason for initial adoption of the plaza-oriented community layout, it necessarily led to significant changes in daily life. With all households in the village facing onto the plaza, everyone could potentially see what everyone else was doing, and the resulting lack of privacy could easily lead to interpersonal conflicts, both between individuals and between households, clans, or other segments of the village that may have been autonomous units not long before and not yet be fully integrated into the new, larger community. The potential tensions were both very real and very dangerous to group cohesion, which may explain why so many of the initial aggregated villages did not last very long. The introduction of a community-wide integrative system such as the kachina cult would have been a substantial advantage in addressing these problems.

Kiva and Tower at Sun Point Pueblo, Mesa Verde

Thus, increased warfare led to aggregated communities using a variety of layouts at first, and the introduction of the kachina cult, which itself may or may not have had anything to do with warfare or defense, made those communities that adopted it much more successful at integrating diverse immigrants than other communities using other layouts and/or ritual systems. This led other, non-plaza communities either to join kachina-using communities or to add plazas to their own communities and adopt the cult themselves.

Sign Describing Casa Malpais Pueblo, Springerville, Arizona

This new model, while obviously a drastic simplification of what was surely a very complicated process, can be an effective tool to examine the contexts in which the kachina cult was adopted and its usefulness for the communities that adopted it. It may also shed light on the issue of when and where the cult first arose, by considering the chronology of environmental deterioration and increased warfare as another factor to compare with aggregation and the appearance of kachina imagery.

Casa Malpais, Springerville, Arizona

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Volcano on West Mesa from North Valley, Albuquerque, New Mexico

The terrain around the city of Albuquerque is divided topographically into two major regions: the valley and the mesas.  The valley is the thin strip of land on either side of the Rio Grande, while the mesas rise up from it on either side.  The East Mesa continues to rise gently for several miles until it reaches the foothills of the Sandia Mountains, and the West Mesa rises a smaller amount up to a row of extinct volcanoes.  The Sandias on the east and the volcanoes on the west form the rough boundaries of the metropolitan area in those directions.  The river runs from north to south, so in those directions there are no significant natural barriers to development.  There are barriers to development that form edges of the city, at least for now, but they take the very different, and potentially more malleable, form of Indian reservations: Sandia Pueblo to the north and Isleta Pueblo to the south.

Valle del Norte Community Center, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Most of the development in Albuquerque since the coming of the railroad in 1880, and there has been a lot of it, has taken place on the mesas.  While the grid of streets next to the railroad tracks, known as New Town when it was originally laid out in the late nineteenth century and now known as Downtown, lies in the valley on the east side of the river, and the much older Hispanic settlement known today as Old Town lies to the west of it and even further into the valley, by the early twentieth century it was becoming clear that the mesas were where the action was.  The neighborhood known as Huning Highlands, one of the first additions to the original New Town and one of the most successful, starts at the eastern edge of the tracks and extends up to the western edge of the East Mesa.  Land speculators platted additions in the empty space between Old Town and New Town along Central Avenue, but they filled slowly while other additions heading east from Huning Highlands thrived.

Big, Elaborate House in North Valley, Albuquerque, New Mexico

There are a variety of factors that likely contributed to the growth of the mesas and the stagnation of the area around Old Town.  One was the decision, made by the New Mexico territorial legislature in 1889, to put the campus of the University of New Mexico on the East Mesa.  The site chosen was at the time quite some distance from the developed parts of Albuquerque, but once classes began development started to follow.  Central Avenue extended east from Huning Highlands to form the southern boundary of the campus, and subdivisions began to spring up all along it.  A streetcar line followed, easily linking the new developments to the commercial Downtown.  The streetcar system, originally intended to link New Town to Old Town and to draw the two together into a single city, ultimately had the opposite effect: it connected the mesa developments to Downtown, but was unable to establish any strong linkages further west.  As a result, the mesa boomed while Old Town stagnated.  With car-oriented development accompanying the massive investment in the area by the government during World War II, sprawl continued to rapidly expand over the East Mesa, and similar developments began to occur on the West Mesa as well.  By the 1980s, the east side of town was almost entirely built-out, and development had shifted mainly to the west side, including the new suburb of Rio Rancho to the north.

Valley High School, Albuquerque, New Mexico

The valley, however, experienced a very different trajectory of growth over this same period.  While the mesas had consisted almost entirely of empty rangeland before being subdivided and developed, the valley was home to a string of small Hispanic farming villages.  Most of these had been founded in the nineteenth century, although a few were much older.  Atrisco, on the west side of the Rio Grande, actually predated the founding of Old Town Albuquerque on the east side directly across from it in 1706.  Most of these villages grew up around the large landholdings of individual wealthy families, from which they tended to take their names.  Thus, the string of villages along the river, extending both north and south of what is now the Albuquerque metropolitan area, included such places as Los Griegos, Los Candelarias, Los Duranes, Los Barelas, and Los Lunas.  Not all of the villages were named after families, however, and some had names like Algodones, Los Corrales, Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, Pajarito, and Valencia.  These villages were predominantly agricultural and Hispanic long after the city of Albuquerque began to sprawl onto the mesas with subdivisions composed of suburban-style ranch houses filled with predominantly Anglo white-collar workers.

Sign for Candelaria Village, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Over time, however, development began to reach the valley as well, and here it took a very different form.  Instead of the suburban developments modeled after similar neighborhoods being built throughout the country in the postwar era, developments in the valley were based more on local Hispanic architectural and site-planning principles.  The houses were often made of adobe, or at least designed to look like they did.  Gated communities reminiscent of the old family compounds of the wealthy families after whom the villages were named became much more common than on the mesas, where open subdivisions of tract houses predominated.  The very wealthy built huge houses close to the river and the strip of cottonwood forest next to it known as the Bosque.  The more middle class began to build on the farmland between the old villages.  The city, having already grown accustomed to using its annexation powers to include the mesa developments, began to annex more and more of the valley development too.  Some of the old villages, however, managed to incorporate on their own and avoid being swallowed up by the behemoth that Albuquerque was becoming.  As these processes continued, the valley began to finally become part of the overall city, and the decline of Old Town began to reverse.  Today Old Town is a charming and largely tourist-oriented area with cute shops and several museums, while the residential areas to the north of it have largely become quiet neighborhoods that still retain much of their rural character.  There are still a few agricultural fields sprinkled among the gated communities and odd little businesses, and the old network of irrigation ditches known as acequias stills winds through the area.

Big Houses on Acequia in North Valley, Albuquerque, New Mexico

This increasing development, however, also had the effect of splitting the valley into two very different parts.  Development and annexation was largely confined to the area north of Old Town, which became known as the North Valley.  The old villages in this area either incorporated and established independent identities (Corrales, Los Ranchos) or were swallowed up entirely by the city and lost whatever identity they had once had (Los Candelarias, Los Griegos).

Sign for Los Griegos Neighborhood, Albuquerque, New Mexico

South of Old Town, however, this didn’t happen.  This area, known as the South Valley, saw little development and remained mainly rural, agricultural, Hispanic, poor, and outside the Albuquerque city limits.  It remains so to this day, and has a rather bad reputation as a high-crime, low-income area.  The old villages have seen a bit of new commercial development, and a few housing developments, but nothing like what has happened further north, and most remain individual communities separated by farmland.

Lock on Acequia in North Valley, Albuquerque, New Mexico

It’s not clear why the North Valley saw so much investment and so many changes while the South Valley, which started out more or less the same, was allowed to stagnate.  One possible answer has to do with topography.  It just so happens that the North Valley is mostly on the east side of the river, directly adjacent to Old Town and convenient to Downtown, while the South Valley is mostly on the west side, which has seen a lot of recent residential and commercial development but has always been relatively peripheral to the major activities of the city.  All the main government functions are concentrated on the east side, as are the major banks and other high-level commercial functions.  This topographical oddity occurs because the river happens to run directly along the bluffs forming the eastern edge of the West Mesa for most of the North Valley, then curves to the east (forming the curve in which Old Town lies) to run approximately halfway between the two mesas through the South Valley.  Because of the shape of the mesas themselves and the way it interacts with the river channel, there ends up being more land available on the west bank for this stretch.  Thus, the South Valley villages were considerably more isolated, especially in the early days when the river could only be crossed by ferry or unreliable pontoon bridge, which may have made it less of an option for developers looking to make a quick buck off of rich people’s desire to combine the charm of old New Mexico country life with the convenience of proximity to the big city.

Bridge over Acequia in North Valley, Albuquerque, New Mexico

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Albuquerque: The Term Paper

Central Avenue in Downtown Albuquerque, New Mexico

As promised, here is the paper I wrote on the history and geography of Albuquerque.  Due to the constraints of the assignment, I wasn’t able to go into nearly as much detail about the history as I would have liked, and I may do some more posts on the subject in the future.  Anyway, enjoy!

Statues at Albuquerque Plaza Building, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Albuquerque is the largest city in New Mexico, with a municipal population estimated at approximately 500,000 people and a metropolitan area population estimated at approximately 800,000. Since the whole state of New Mexico has slightly less than two million people, this gives the Albuquerque area nearly half of the state population.

The Library Bar & Grill, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Albuquerque thus has a very prominent place within the local hierarchy of cities and serves as the main economic and cultural center for the state of New Mexico. It is, however, one of the smaller cities in the southwestern US, and many highly specialized goods and services associated with large cities are not available in Albuquerque and must be sought in Denver or Phoenix, both of which are much larger.

Sign for Rio Grande Nature Center, Albuquerque, New Mexico

A strategic location has been one factor in Albuquerque’s rise to prominence. It lies in the valley of the Rio Grande, which flows south through the center of New Mexico to El Paso, Texas, where it curves to the southeast and continues to the Gulf of Mexico. The Middle Rio Grande Valley, as the portion of the river in central New Mexico is called, is a fertile agricultural area that has been used for irrigated farming for hundreds of years. On both sides of the valley rise flat mesas, which on the east side gradually slope up to the foothills of the Sandia and Manzano Mountains.

Sandia Mountains from Tent Rocks National Monument

The Rio Grande Valley forms a natural transportation corridor from north to south. The Middle Valley in particular is centrally located within the state and is conveniently close to many basins and mountain ranges which contain significant mineral resources. Albuquerque sits directly west of a major pass through the Sandia Mountains, known as Tijeras Canyon, which provides a connection between the Rio Grande and the Great Plains to the east and makes it a key node in the regional transportation system. Many theories of city location based on transportation networks and proximity to resources would easily predict the development of a major city in the Middle Valley.

Main Library, Albuquerque, New Mexico

The specific location of Albuquerque within the valley, however, is harder to account for by reference to theoretical considerations. To explain the details of the history of Albuquerque it is necessary to appeal to a series of contingent historical factors that ended up directing economic growth to Albuquerque rather than to other communities in the state or region.

Rio Grande Boulevard, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Albuquerque was founded in 1706 by the Spanish colonial governor of New Mexico, Francisco Cuervo y Valdés. Governor Cuervo named his new town Alburquerque (note the extra r) in honor of the viceroy of New Spain, Francisco Fernández de la Cueva, Duke of Alburquerque, the top Spanish official in the Viceroyalty of New Spain. The viceroy’s title came from the small village of Alburquerque, in western Spain very close to the Portuguese border. Several of the dukes of Alburquerque played important roles in both the Spanish and Portuguese empires. The name of the village came originally from the Latin albus quercus, meaning “white oak.”

Cottonwood on Griegos Lateral Irrigation Ditch, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Governor Cuervo likely chose the name to ingratiate himself with the viceroy. He had been appointed by the viceroy after the death of the previous governor in 1704, but he had not been confirmed in that position by the king. While he awaited confirmation as governor, Cuervo worked hard to do as much as he could to burnish his credentials and ensure his position. (This was ultimately unsuccessful, as it turned out that the king had already sold the governorship to a wealthy nobleman, and Cuervo returned to Mexico City in 1707.)

Agricultural Field in North Valley, Albuquerque, New Mexico

When Governor Cuervo established the villa or chartered town of Alburquerque in 1706, it was only the third in the whole colony. Farmers in New Mexico tended to spread out along the rivers rather than congregating in towns or villages. The colonial government, however, preferred a more concentrated settlement pattern, both for defensive purposes and to keep an eye on the colonists.

"Horse Crossing Ahead" Sign on Rio Grande Boulevard, Albuquerque, New Mexico

In his official dispatches to the viceroy and king, Governor Cuervo was claimed that he had followed all the regulations in establishing the new town. He said that he collected thirty-five families, representing 252 people, and gathered them together around a newly marked out plaza and streets, where they soon constructed houses and a church and began construction of government offices. He also reported that he had ordered ten soldiers from the Santa Fe presidio to be stationed at the new town, which was vulnerable to raids by the Navajos and Apaches.

Los Candelarias Chapel, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Little of this was true. It is clear that something happened at the site of what is now Old Town Albuquerque in 1706, but evidence from later investigations shows that it bore little resemblance to what the governor described. Interviews with area residents just a few years later indicated that there were no more than nineteen families involved, totaling about 100 people, and that far from building new houses along streets radiating out from a marked and surveyed plaza, they were simply granted lots in the general area. Cuervo did send the ten soldiers, and they may have been the main factor in inducing the new settlers to come to the fertile but relatively vulnerable Middle Valley. There was some sort of ceremony and swearing of oaths on the part of the new settlers, and construction of a new church probably did begin, but there is no evidence that any surveying of a plaza, streets, or town boundaries was done. The town was established on paper, and given a name, but the actual settlement pattern was still rural and agricultural, as was standard throughout New Mexico. Alburquerque only developed into a relatively aggregated town around a central plaza very slowly over the course of the eighteenth century.

Sheep Grazing in North Valley, Albuquerque, New Mexico

In the early nineteenth century Alburquerque remained overwhelmingly agricultural, with an economy based on irrigated subsistence farming in the valley and grazing of livestock, especially sheep, on the mesas. It was located within a bend where the river curves to the west before curving back east and continuing on its southerly path. It was also along the Camino Real, the main road through the Rio Grande Valley connecting Santa Fe to Mexico City. As a result, everything and everyone that traveled between Mexico and northern New Mexico passed through Alburquerque. The plaza and church gradually acquired the set of streets and surrounding houses called for in the official plan for a villa.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Under Spanish rule New Mexico was very poor and isolated, as royal policy forbade any trade with rival colonial empires and required New Mexican farmers to sell their products only in Mexico, which had to be reached by the long and arduous journey down the Camino Real. Manufactured goods were very expensive. Alburquerque’s strategic position on the river and on the Camino Real did it little good, since the volume of trade was so small.

Sandia Mountains from North Valley, Albuquerque, New Mexico

That changed in 1821, when the Viceroyalty of New Spain declared independence and became the Republic of Mexico. The new republic immediately repealed the old restrictions on trade. This led to the opening of the Santa Fe Trail by American traders who led mule trains from St. Louis to Santa Fe, where they found a huge pent-up demand for manufactured goods and were able to make large profits, first within New Mexico itself, then in the much larger and wealthier markets of Mexico proper, which they could reach from Santa Fe by following the Camino Real. Alburquerque finally got to take advantage of its strategic position and soon began to prosper, although it remained a very small town. A census conducted in 1822 showed 2,302 inhabitants for the whole Alburquerque district, consisting of most of the Middle Valley in addition to the town itself.

Civic Plaza, Albuquerque, New Mexico

In the 1840s came war between the US and Mexico. New Mexico was conquered without significant resistance by the US Army in 1846. More and more Anglos from other parts of the US began to migrate into the territory, but they were still vastly outnumbered by the local Hispanic population.

Adobe Wall around House in North Valley, Albuquerque, New Mexico

The major turning point in the history of Albuquerque came in 1880 when the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad arrived. The small but ambitious Anglo population in the territory had long been pushing for the railroad to come, seeing it as a path to growth and prosperity.

Viaduct on Coal Avenue over Railroad Tracks, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Once the tracks reached the Middle Valley the plan was to split into two branches. One would continue down the valley to El Paso, and the other would cross the river and head west across western New Mexico and Arizona to California. The decision of where to put the junction depended on the best location for a bridge. The best physical location for a bridge was at Bernalillo, a few miles upstream from Alburquerque, but the railroad was unable to negotiate an acceptable price for the land it needed. The next best location was a few miles south of Alburquerque. The main choice was whether to put the facilities there or to put them in the vicinity of Alburquerque. The civic boosters in Alburquerque managed to persuade the AT&SF to put its depot and yards at a location about two miles east of the plaza. The railroad was unwilling to run tracks to the existing town, preferring the straighter path along the eastern side of the valley, but the town was willing to go along with this in the expectation that the new town that developed near the tracks would develop in tandem with the older area around the plaza, with subsequent development soon filling in the space in between and the ultimate result being a sort of “bi-polar” city. With all these arrangements made, the tracks arrived at the depot site on April 5, 1880.

Victorian House in Downtown Albuquerque, New Mexico

Once the railroad arrived and what soon became known as “New Town” (in contrast to “Old Town” around the plaza) was platted, Albuquerque, now consistently spelled with only one r as a result of the Anglo population’s trouble pronouncing it, grew rapidly. New Town was laid out in a grid pattern and the massive influx of Anglos from the East and Midwest soon resulted in a boom in commercial and residential development which mimicked the styles of architecture common elsewhere in the country rather than the traditional adobe style found in Old Town. Prominent local businessmen soon began to speculate in land, which resulted in numerous additions to the original townsite around the depot.

Insurance Building, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Meanwhile, Old Town stagnated. The bi-polar city never really materialized; all the growth went to New Town, and the area in between Old and New Towns along Railroad (later renamed Central) Avenue filled in very slowly. The two parts of town were connected by a streetcar system, initially mule-drawn, later drawn by horses, and starting in 1904 electrified. The owners of the streetcar company tried to capitalize on the rising land values from proximity to new streetcar lines to speculate in real estate, but they were not very successful at this, and by the 1920s the company was struggling to compete with the newly popular automobile. The city government refused to either subsidize it or take it over, so it went out of business in 1928.

Central Avenue near UNM Campus, Albuquerque, New Mexico

One of the most important factors in the growth of Albuquerque was the US government’s decision during World War II to build an air force base and many other facilities in the area. In the post-1945 era sprawling middle-class auto-oriented subdivisions spread out across the East Mesa all the way to the foothills of the mountains, and began to spread over the West Mesa as well. The land occupied by these subdivisions had been totally uninhabited rangeland, which the city annexed as development spread, so the vast majority of the metropolitan area now lies within the city limits.

Post-War Suburban-Style House, Albuquerque, New Mexico

By the late twentieth century, the building of Interstates 25 and 40 right through the center of the city further encouraged the sprawl of residential subdivisions and contributed to the decline of Downtown (as the original New Town came to be known). Misguided urban renewal projects that put up big concrete plazas and towers did not help. In recent years, however, an aggressive effort at Downtown revitalization has been successful in attracting new development. A state effort to establish a commuter rail system on the old AT&SF tracks has been quite successful as well.

Bas-Relief Mural at Main Fire Station, Albuquerque, New Mexico

The internal development of Albuquerque mostly occurred very rapidly, and it does not closely fit the predictions of any of the varies theories of urban development based on older industrial cities in the East and Midwest. Concentric zone theory does in a general way apply in the sense that development generally proceeded out from the Downtown area, especially to the east but to some extent to the west as well, with the wealthiest moving the furthest. Sectoral theories have more limited relevance, although patterns of development on the East Mesa have tended to take after New Town while development in the valley has been more like Old Town. Overall, while some theories of urban structure and location do shed light on the history of Albuquerque, contingent historical factors have had more influence on the development of the city’s built environment over its long history.

San Ignacio Church in Martineztown, Albuquerque, New Mexico

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Skyscrapers in Downtown Albuquerque, New Mexico

One of my papers this semester was on the history of Albuquerque, specifically in relation to theories of city location and form drawn from urban geography.  I’ll post the full paper later, but for now I just want to say a bit about the main source I used, which was Marc Simmons’s book Albuquerque: A Narrative History.  Simmons is one of the most prominent historians of New Mexico, and the book is a very good summary of the whole sweep of Albuquerque’s long history.  As the subtitle implies, the focus is narrative, and rather than a long, dry list of decisions made by developers and politicians the book is mainly a series of interesting stories that shed light on what life was really like in Albuquerque during various periods.  Simmons is something of an old-fashioned historian, not given to theorizing, so there is very little attempt to put any of this into an explicit explanatory framework.  That’s okay, though, because the information is presented clearly enough that it could easily be used to evaluate its fit with a variety of theoretical approaches.

House near University of New Mexico Campus, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Simmons is a specialist in the Spanish colonial period, and his coverage of Albuquerque’s history is therefore more detailed and focused for the early period, from the establishment of the city in 1706 to the coming of the railroad in 1880.  The documentation of this period is pretty scanty, but Simmons makes excellent use of it.  One of his major claims to fame as a New Mexico historian is his discovery that Governor Francisco Cuervo y Valdés cut a lot of corners when he founded Albuquerque, though he claimed to have followed all the applicable laws to the letter when he wrote his dispatches to his superiors.  Before Simmons, historians had generally taken him at his word, since his letters were pretty much the only source available on the matter.  Simmons, however, discovered records of an investigation into Governor Cuervo’s various claims about his accomplishments that shed new light on this and other issues.  Conducted just a few years after he left office, the investigation involved extensive interviews with Albuquerque residents who said that the founding of the town basically consistent of a few families being granted land in the area and ten soldiers being sent to protect them.  This is in stark contrast to the way a town was supposed to be founded, and the way Cuervo claimed to have founded this one.  A plaza, streets, and boundaries were supposed to be surveyed, and the people were supposed to build and live in houses along those streets, near a church facing on the plaza.  The church does seem to have been built, but aside from that not much else happened to change the Albuquerque area from a rural agricultural valley to a town of any sort.

Fruit Basket, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Simmons describes these events in great detail, and this is probably the most interesting part of the book.  As he gets to the later periods, he seems to rely very heavily on newspapers as primary sources, which gives him a lot of interesting stories to tell but doesn’t do much to place them in context.  He kind of rushes through the whole twentieth century at breakneck speed after lingering for a while on the period between 1880 and 1900, when the new Anglo railroad town around the train station began to outshine the old town around the plaza.  For my specific purposes in writing this paper it would perhaps have been better for the book to have paid more detailed attention to the period after World War II, when the city grew enormously and changed into the sprawling monstrosity it is today, but it’s not like I’m the only potential audience.  One issue is that the book was written in 1982, and while not a whole lot has changed since then in the grand scheme of things, it would be interesting to see an updated account putting more recent events into perspective.

Intersection of Central Avenue and Fourth Street, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Anyway, despite those small quibbles, this is a very good introduction to the history of Albuquerque, and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone interested in the subject.

Frontier Restaurant, Albuquerque, New Mexico

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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

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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.


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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


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.


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.
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

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Kachina Fast Tax, Winslow, Arizona

Kachina Fast Tax, Winslow, Arizona

This is the proposal I submitted for a term paper I am writing for a seminar on land use.  While much more obviously relevant to what I talk about on this blog than the other paper I mentioned, it’s a bit far afield for the subject matter of the course.  The professor liked it, though, and he suggested I try to link it to the “collapse” literature (Jared Diamond, etc.) as an example of a sort of “post-collapse” series of events and processes.  I like that idea, and I’m going to try to see how to tie the specific evidence I’ll be looking at into that broader context.  It should be an interesting project, and I’m pretty excited about it.

In the late prehistoric period, ca. AD 1200 to 1540, the indigenous societies of the American Southwest underwent a series of drastic changes that ultimately transformed them into the Pueblo societies encountered by the first Spanish entradas in the sixteenth century.  While the existence of these changes is well-established, the causes and mechanisms involved remain obscure, and heated debates within Southwestern archaeology over these matters have been going on for decades.  While the general outline of events is a matter of near consensus, the specific details are by no means settled.

Among the most important of the changes in the late prehistoric period was the aggregation of the regional population into a small number of large, compact, and extremely dense nucleated settlements typically consisting of one or two massive roomblocks containing up to a thousand rooms, replacing the previous community pattern of loosely clustered but detached dwellings of a few rooms each associated with community-level integrative public architecture.  This transition occurred in all parts of the Southwest, though at different times and rates in different areas, and by AD 1350 virtually the entire regional population was living in aggregated villages.  These villages took various forms, but one of the most common was the so-called “plaza pueblo” with connected roomblocks facing on and enclosing one or more internal plazas (these are also sometimes called “inward-facing pueblos”).  This type of settlement has been proposed by some researchers as associated with another major change sweeping the Southwest at this time: the rise of the kachina cult.

The kachina cult is a religious tradition involving a variety of deities called kachinas that are worshipped through ritual dances in which masked dancers impersonate the various kachinas.  It is best known today in its manifestation among the Hopi villages in Arizona, which have historically been more open to outside observation than the New Mexico pueblos, but it is thought to have been present in all the pueblos at the time of Spanish contact, and most of the modern pueblos, both eastern and western, still retain it in some form (although a few have apparently abandoned it under Spanish missionary pressure).

Many of the kachina dances at Hopi take place in the public plazas of the pueblos and in square subterranean ritual chambers known as “kivas,” and some researchers have proposed that the widespread adoption of the plaza-centered pueblo form with square kivas accompanied the spread of the kachina religion, which is generally thought to have originated somewhere in the southern Southwest under the influence of Mesoamerican religious ideas.  Unlike some other forms of social organization found in the modern pueblos, such as matrilineal clans, the societies that organize kachina rituals are not kin-based, and they potentially offered a useful way to easily integrate an influx of people from previously separate communities into rapidly aggregating nucleated villages.  Thus, the theory goes, during a period of confusion and change in Southwestern society the kachina religion offered an attractive means of organizing the new communities that were being hastily thrown together under new social conditions (possibly including deteriorating environmental conditions and increased warfare).  The benefits of the kachina societies were such that most or all communities ended up giving them a prominent or even predominant place in community organization, and in many cases orienting the physical layout of the new communities around the needs of the kachina rituals, resulting in the widespread (though not universal) use of the plaza-oriented or inward-facing layout.

In this paper, I propose to test these theories by examining the spatial layouts of communities in the Southwest before, during, and after the spread of the kachina religion.  Using data on both excavated and unexcavated aggregated villages, I will compare the presence or absence of plaza-oriented layouts and square kivas to various other attributes, including date, location, and other evidence of kachina symbolism.  If the theory of plaza-oriented layouts with square kivas being associated with kachina ritual is accurate, this type of layout should correlate strongly with the spread of other types of evidence associated with the cult, such as rock art, beginning in the southern Southwest and spreading north over time.  If this correlation does not hold, however, the importance of the kachina religion to other major changes in the region may be less significant than is often claimed, and other factors may have been more important in determining community layouts.  I will examine alternative explanations and compare their explanatory power to that of the kachina theory given the evidence available.

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Carrizozo Gas Company, Carrizozo, New Mexico

Carrizozo Gas Company, Carrizozo, New Mexico

Today is apparently something called Blog Action Day, which this year is focused on climate change.  I’m not sure exactly how blogging about climate change is supposed to affect anything, but I’m willing to do my part.

Merrion Oil & Gas, Farmington, New Mexico

Merrion Oil & Gas, Farmington, New Mexico

I’ve noticed a number of articles in the mainstream press about the natural gas industry in the past few days.  While none of these is directly relevant to my particular focus on coalbed methane, most of them address what I find the most interesting aspect of gas as a fossil fuel: its ambiguous nature as both a source of greenhouse gas emissions and an alternative to other fossil fuels that produce more emissions.  This makes understanding the ultimate effects, both economic and environmental, of changes in price and quantity of natural gas very complicated.  That’s what I’m going to be exploring in my paper.

Oil Tanks, Artesia, New Mexico

Oil Tanks, Artesia, New Mexico

There are a lot of factors involved here.  One, pointed out by a recent New York Times article and a blog post by one of the article’s authors, is that natural gas itself is composed mainly (80% to 99%) of methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas with a considerably higher Global Warming Potential than carbon dioxide (25 times as high over 100 years).  In addition, it is present in the atmosphere for a much shorter time than carbon dioxide.  This means that patching up leaks in the natural gas production and distribution system is a cheap and easy way to cut back quickly on emissions and the potential for severe impacts from warming.  (The optimal amount and timing of the cutbacks, however, depends on the overall reduction strategy being used.)  Since gas is a fuel with substantial market value, moreover, patching leaks makes economic sense as well, and can easily pay for itself.  The history of coalbed methane development, with its origins in concerns about the safety of coal miners and ideas about what to do with the gas released by coal mining, shows this as well: during the energy crisis of the 1970s, people began to realize that the gas being vented from mines as a safety hazard could be captured and sold as a profitable sideline to coal mining, which eventually led oil and gas companies to begin drilling directly for it in coal seams with low potential for mining.

Drake Well Service, Farmington, New Mexico

Drake Well Service, Farmington, New Mexico

One of the major challenges in combating climate change is shifting away from reliance on coal for generating electricity.  The US currently gets a little less than half of its electricity from coal-fired power plants.  The main reason for this is that coal is really cheap.  Unfortunately, it’s also really dirty; burning coal releases both huge amounts of carbon dioxide and smaller but still dangerous amounts of an astonishing range of pollutants with more direct and deleterious effects on human health.  Perhaps the most serious of these is sulfur dioxide, one of the main sources of acid rain (remember acid rain?).  In one of the major success stories of American environmental protection, sulfur dioxide levels have been drastically reduced by an innovative and very effective cap-and-trade system begun in 1995.  (It’s a little surprising that this system doesn’t get mentioned more in the context of efforts to establish a cap-and-trade system for carbon dioxide emissions in the US, since it’s basically the exact same policy and it’s worked really well.)  There’s lots of other nasty stuff in coal, though, and efforts to control it have been much less effective.  Another New York Times story points to one problem, which is that aggressive attempts to control air pollution from smokestacks by installing scrubbers to trap pollutants have had the unanticipated side effect of the plants dumping the waste from the scrubbers into local waterways, taking advantage of much laxer regulations on water pollution.  Because of issues like this, and the looming threat of carbon pricing making coal potentially much more expensive, there has been a trend toward gas-fired power plants and a move away from coal.  In some cases this is a matter of designing new plants to run on either fuel, while in others it has been a total switch to gas.  The price of gas has been relatively low lately, which has been a factor in this decision-making process, although the effect of an increase in demand for gas on the price is another thing to consider.

Farmington Daily Times Office, Farmington, New Mexico

Farmington Daily Times Office, Farmington, New Mexico

The current low prices for gas are an immediate concern for gas producers, however, and a recent story in the Farmington Daily Times points out that a lot of wells in the San Juan Basin have been taken out of production.  Seasonal restrictions on gas production on federal lands during the winter to protect deer and elk play a role, but the general economic slowdown and resulting low gas prices are important as well.  Note the wide variety of opinions voiced on what will happen to prices in the spring; this points to the considerable amount of uncertainty in these matters even before adding things like climate change legislation into the equation.  A switch from coal to gas on a large scale would certainly increase gas prices, but how much?  And how would the increase in prices feed back into decisions by power plants on what fuel to burn?  These are complicated issues, and I hope this collection of (admittedly rather random) links has illustrated that.

Oilfield Signs, Mentone, Texas

Oilfield Signs, Mentone, Texas

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Natural Gas Pipeline, Farmington, New Mexico

Natural Gas Pipeline, Farmington, New Mexico

This is a slightly edited version of the proposal I wrote up for the term paper I am writing for my environmental economics class this semester.  While this may seem rather disconnected from archaeology, I think it’s important to note that Chaco Canyon is located right in the middle of the San Juan Basin, which as noted below is the main area of coalbed methane production in the US.  While most of the attention Chaco gets has to do with its past, I think the present is important too.  Oil and gas production has been the mainstay of the economy of northwestern New Mexico for decades, and coal and uranium mining have also played key roles.  This has shaped the area in a variety of ways relevant to its substantial archaeological resources, perhaps most obviously in spurring numerous salvage projects in advance of energy development.  The artifacts and data recovered by these projects have made the San Juan Basin one of the best-documented archaeological regions in the country, which has set the ongoing arguments over its prehistory on a much firmer empirical base than is often the case.  In addition, of course, energy development is directly and obviously relevant to climate change and other environmental issues which are both of grave importance for current policymaking and of increasing interest to me personally, as shown by the trend in that direction evident in my recent posts.

Natural gas occupies an odd and ambiguous place in the public discussion of anthropogenic climate change and the evaluation of policy options for addressing it. On the one hand, natural gas, which is composed primarily of methane combined with small amounts of other hydrocarbons and varying amounts of carbon dioxide, is unquestionably a fossil fuel with many similarities to petroleum and coal. The supply of natural gas is finite, although the exact amount of reserves is not known, which makes it a nonrenewable source of energy, in contrast to renewable sources such as wind and solar. Burning natural gas releases carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas and main contributor to global warming that has been the focus of most policies intended to combat climate change.

On the other hand, however, the amount of carbon dioxide released by burning natural gas is vastly smaller than the amount released by coal and oil, which makes gas a much cleaner fuel than either. Since it is still a hydrocarbon, natural gas nonetheless stores a large amount of energy, which makes it much more cost-effective than solar or wind power, both of which require enormous amounts of land to produce significant amounts of energy. A gas-burning power plant, on the other hand, takes up no more land than a coal plant, and many recently constructed coal plants are in fact designed to also be able to burn gas if necessary. Many environmental advocates and policymakers have therefore applauded the increased use of gas as a crucial step in reducing (though not eliminating) carbon emissions.

At the same time that gas has gained this popularity, however, known reserves of conventional gas have been declining in productivity, and discoveries of new reserves have not kept pace with increasing demand. This has stirred interest in so-called “unconventional” gas sources the extraction of which involves technological challenges beyond those posed by conventional gas, which is usually trapped in easily accessible underground rock reservoirs often associated with petroleum deposits. There are various types of unconventional natural gas sources, but one of the most promising is known as coalbed methane.

As its name implies, coalbed methane is associated with coal rather than oil deposits. There are two main ways coalbed methane is produced.  Certain bacteria that feed on coal produce methane, which adheres to the surface of coal molecules and is held in place by pressure from water percolating through fractures in coalbeds.  This is known as “biogenic” methane.  Methane can also be produced by high temperatures in coalbeds, generally caused by intrusions of igneous rock, stimulating similar reactions in the coal.  This is known as “thermogenic” methane, and it is held in place by the same water pressure.  In either case, coal mining disturbs this delicate balance and releases the gas, which historically has been viewed primarily as a safety risk to coal miners due to its combustibility. For a long time the gas was simply vented from the mines and left to dissipate in the atmosphere, which is not only economically wasteful but environmentally disastrous, since methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. In recent decades, however, coal companies have begun to capture the gas from their mines and feed it into the conventional natural gas distribution system, turning a safety crisis into an economic opportunity.

Along the same lines, the natural gas industry has itself begun to notice the potential for directly mining the coalbed methane deposits in coalbeds not being mined for coal. This helps to supplement declining supplies of conventional gas, and unlike extracting many other alternative sources is also easy to do. Coalbed methane deposits tend to be much closer to the surface than conventional natural gas reservoirs, so the wells required to reach them are shallower and can be drilled more easily and rapidly. Coalbed methane deposits are present in coal-bearing sedimentary basins all around the world; most US deposits are in the western states. As of 2002, coalbed methane accounted for 7% of US gas production, and 80% of the coalbed methane produced in the US came from the San Juan Basin of northwestern New Mexico and southwestern Colorado, although there has recently been more development further north, in the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana.

The effects of increased production and use of natural gas on greenhouse gas emissions are complicated and not predictable by theory alone. Bills under discussion in the US Congress to establish a cap-and-trade system for the abatement of greenhouse gas emissions in the US add another complication both economically and environmentally. I propose an analysis of the probable effects of these attempts to put a market price on carbon dioxide and other gases (including methane) on the production of coalbed methane, focusing on the San Juan Basin. Areas of policy concern include the economic effects of pricing carbon on the supply of and demand for both gas and other fuels for which it is a substitute (especially coal), the effect on total emissions of the substitution of gas for other fuels, the effect on emissions of methane leaks in the gas production and distribution system, and the possible use of coalbed methane extraction as a method of carbon sequestration through the injection of carbon dioxide into deposits to ease the release of methane. Other environmental concerns include local air quality concerns from the drilling process and the effect on water quality and quantity. Coalbed methane production generally involves the extraction of large amounts of the water that holds the methane in the coal aquifer. This water is of varying quality, and while in some areas it can be used for watering livestock or other productive uses, in the San Juan Basin it is usually injected back underground.

Methodology will be along the lines of a literature review, evaluating recent studies of the effects of cap-and-trade systems such as the European ETS on the production and prices of fossil fuels along with studies of issues more directly relevant to gas production and distribution to determine what, if any, conclusions can be drawn about the likely effects of a cap-and-trade system on coalbed methane production. When appropriate and feasible I will attempt to evaluate the applicability of previous studies through comparison of the data used in those studies with EPA emissions data and EIA data on US fossil fuel production and pricing, with a focus where possible on data specific to San Juan Basin coalbed methane production.

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Adapting to Circumstances

Pictograph of a Kachina Painted by One of Neil Judd's Zuni Workers

Pictograph of a Kachina Painted by One of Neil Judd's Zuni Workers

I’ve been pretty busy with school lately, and I haven’t had much time to spend writing for the blog.  I do want to keep it up, though, and I think I’ve figured out a way to.  I’ll be writing term papers for some of my classes, and I’ve deliberately chosen topics that are at least somewhat relevant to what I talk about here, so I’ll be doing occasional posts discussing the research I do for the papers, and at the end I’ll put the final papers up as posts themselves.  I think this will give me the opportunity to both keep up the blog and organize my thoughts as I read things and reflect on how to incorporate them into the papers.  Anyway, stay tuned for exciting posts on coalbed methane and the kachina cult.  (Those are two separate papers, but wouldn’t it be cool if I could somehow combine them into one?)

Fajada Butte with Green Vegetation

Fajada Butte Showing Coal Seams

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