Prehistory of El Rito de los Frijoles, Bandelier National Monument


The word cliff-dweller or cave-dweller immediately brings to mind primitive man of great antiquity. This is more or less correct for the Old World, but cannot be generally applied to the aboriginal Americans of this continent.

There has always been heated discussion as to the time at which the ancestors of the American Indian first reached the New World. Conservative scientists like Dr. Ales Hrdlicka and Dr. Herbert Spinden contend that about 5,000 years ago would be the maximum, while most others triple or quadruple this figure on the basis of lithic material (projectile points, etc.) found with extinct types of animals or in geological strata of considerable age.

It is generally agreed, however, that these first Americans came in from Asia, by way of Bering Strait. Hundreds or even thousands of years passed while various groups of people were spreading out over the North American continent, down the river valleys, plains and coasts into whatever lands seemed the most conducive to successful life. The famous Folsom points represent one early people, bison hunters on the plains, who did not come into the Southwest to any great extent.

It is difficult to say exactly just when the Southwest was first settled, but the study of tree-rings has enabled the archaeologist to learn when most of the later settlements, and some of the early sites, were occupied. Two thousand years would approximate a rough estimate of the age of the earliest known sites.

About 1500 years ago the technique of making pottery was learned or discovered by the primitive people of the northern Southwest, and as the years passed various ceramic methods and designs were developed, along with changes in building styles, types of weapons and dress, and other traits until great communities of sedentary people were developed, like Mesa Verde in southwestern Colorado, Aztec in northwestern New Mexico, and Pueblo Bonito and the other ruins of the Chaco Canyon. It is known from tree-ring dates that these great towns were occupied mainly in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

Drought seems to have always been one of the main controlling factors in the migration of southwestern people. Dendrochronologists (tree ring students) know that one of the worst dry spells was from 1276 to 1299, which approximates the time when evacuation of the Mesa Verde cliff-dwellings occurred. People left magnificent homes in search of more suitable living conditions, stopping at various places, probably building crude shelter homes and using the local clays along the river and arroyo banks for the development of new pottery styles with new and different designs. They pushed southward and eastward, crossing desert wastes rivers, mountains, braving hardships and struggles with the fierce nomadic Indians as well as with other Pueblo groups striving for existence. I sometimes think of these cultural developments and regressions as "crippled cultures" because of the degeneration seen in so many culture traits when compared with the preceding cultures.

During these migrations which lasted for nearly 400 years some of these people stopped on the Pajarito Plateau, some 20 miles west of the present city of Santa Fe, in their journeys which finally resulted in the modern Rio Grande settlements. The Pajarito Plateau extends from the Rio Chama on the north to the Canada de Cochiti on the south, and from the Jemez Mountains on the west to the Rio Grande on the east (Fig. 1).

FIG. 1. MAP OF PAJARITO PLATEAU AND VICINITY. (Courtesy Museum of New Mexico) (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

Archaeologists attempting to distinguish various culture groups and the elements involved in the study of Southwestern archaeology, have divided it into two groups,1 the plateau group and the desert dwellers, or the Basket Maker-Pueblo (or Anasazi, Navajo meaning "Old People") and the Hohokam respectively. The subject matter of this report is confined to the plateau group or the Basket Maker-Pueblo (Anasazi) classification and is not directly concerned with the Hohokam culture which, mostly in southern Arizona, extends south and west from the pueblo area.

1. Ed. note: Designation of two additional basic cultures, discussion of which lies beyond the scope of this paper, was recently proposed.

For description of the "Mogollon" in southern New Mexico see E. W. Haury "The Mogollon Culture of Southwestern New Mexico". Medallion Papers, No. XX. Gila Pueblo Globe, Arizona. 1936.

The "Patayan" in western Arizona is discussed in R. S. Colton "Names of the Four Culture Roots in the Southwest". Science, June 17, 1918. Vol. 87, No. 2268, pp. 551-112, and in subsequent publications by the Museum of Northern Arizona.

The Pecos conference of 1920 segregated periods of development of Pueblo cultures in the plateau, each period representing various definite developments in architectural styles, pottery types, footwear, weapons, etc. They are: Basket Maker I, Basket Maker II, Basket Maker III, followed by Pueblo I, Pueblo II, Pueblo III, Pueblo IV and Pueblo V. The Basket Maker periods refer to a group of long-headed non-Mongoloid peoples who occupied the northern Southwest from some very early time, the Pueblo periods to broad-headed people of Mongoloid type who entered the Southwest around 700 A.D. and mixed with the earlier occupants; hence the term Basket-Maker-Pueblo. Cultural changes during Basket Maker III include gradual replacement of the atlatl (throwing stick) by the bow and arrow, development of various types of pottery, advance in agriculture, and development of the semi-subterranean lodge, or pit-house. The earlier Basket Makers (period II) had no pottery and no permanent houses. In Basket Maker I, agriculture had not yet been learned. The apparently peaceful fusion of the two peoples resulted in a preponderantly round-headed type for the Pueblo Indians of later generations, but the arrival of the broad-headed Mongoloids apparently entailed no immediate important cultural changes or increments except possibly the introduction of cotton cloth. Development continued through four Pueblo periods, and on into the fifth which embraces the culture of the modern Pueblo Indian.

Dr. Frank H. H. Roberts, Jr., in an attempt to attain simplicity, offered the following classification modifying Kidder's Basket Maker-Pueblo sequence. Basket Maker, Modified Basket-Maker, Developmental Pueblo, Great Pueblo, Regressive Pueblo and Historic Pueblo approximate the same time limits as the Pecos classification, Developmental Pueblo combining Pueblo I and Pueblo II. Basket Maker I is more or less postulated, little known from actual evidence. Modified Basket-Maker might well have begun as early as 450 A.D., and was followed by the Developmental Pueblo Period of about 700 to 1000 A.D. Developmental Pueblo was somewhat evolutionary but with the coming in of Great Pueblo there were definite changes in architectural styles and pottery manufacture. The family house idea was abandoned and the pueblo people took to great multi-storied communal houses. Pottery acquired various new designs and forms through both local and outside influences. New paints came into existence and designs became detailed and elaborate. Regressive Pueblo, which began about 1300 A A.D., was a continuance of Great Pueblo but showed a degeneration in some traits of culture. It was in this period when the Spanish first entered the Southwest. The use of metals and firearms came to the Pueblo Indian during this period along with sheep, the horse, and the cow. Christianity was also introduced with some degree of success as is evidenced by the many mission churches in the Southwest which had their beginnings in the seventeenth century.

Historic Pueblo began about 1700 A.D., following the Pueblo Rebellion of 1680 against the Spanish. The ceramic art degenerated. Migrations took place and there was a general upheaval in Pueblo culture. The early eighteenth century brought more peaceful changes and a settling down of the modern pueblos. Low houses were constructed of mud, now with very few second story rooms. Screen doors, glass windows, sewing machines, and radios were added along with other modern conveniences and the Pueblo Indian again became a peaceful farmer.

Scientists fully realize that those individuals who have not had opportunity to study carefully the various archeological classifications have much difficulty appreciating their significance. As a comparison, our own American history and culture and its development might break down into the time classifications, including in each time limit the development of certain items of culture and historical facts which were important to the period. To each an arbitrary name could be given which was characteristic of the age. It might well go like this:

1930-1940 DEPRESSIVE 30's. Jitterbugs, swing music, bank holiday, CCC, more football, WPA, FERA, NRA, repeal of prohibition, depression.
1915-1930 THE ROARING 20's. Charleston and black-bottom, boyish bobs, short skirts, talkies, football, high powered autos, gang wars, booze, jazz, speakeasies.
1890-1915 THE GAY 90's. Baseball, first automobiles, skyscrapers, vaudeville, celluloid collars, derby hats, hour glass figures, fire engines with big white horses.
1780-1890 PERIOD OF INVENTION. Prince Albert coats, mustaches, hourglass figures, wire nails, telephones, bustles, concrete, hoop skirts, telegraph, six-shooters, steam engines, cotton gins, invention of electricity.
1620-1780 DEVELOPMENT PERIOD. Grandmother's spindle beds, colonial architecture, knee breeches, shoes with buckles, English architecture, iron kettles, Pilgrims land at Plymouth Rock, muskets and log houses.
1492-1620 PERIOD OF EXPLORATION. Columbus discovers America. European explorations; colonies at St. Augustine and Jamestown.

In this same manner the evolution and development of Southwestern culture traits extending over a much longer period of time have been classified.

J. W. H.

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Last Updated: 01-May-2007
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