Casas Grandes

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UNESCO World Heritage Site
Archaeological Zone of Paquimé, Casas Grandes
Name as inscribed on the World Heritage List
Paquime0002.jpg
Type Cultural
Criteria iii, iv
Reference 560
UNESCO region Latin America and the Caribbean
Inscription history
Inscription 1998 (22nd Session)

Casas Grandes (Spanish for Great Houses; also known as Paquimé) is the contemporary name given to a pre-Columbian archaeological zone and its central site, located in northwestern Mexico in the modern-day Mexican state of Chihuahua. It is one of the largest and most complex sites in the region. Developed as multi-storied dwellings about 1350 CE after earlier settlement beginning after 1130 CE, the community was abandoned approximately 1450 CE. Regarded as one of the most significant archaeological zones in the northwestern region,[1] Casas Grandes is located in a wide, fertile valley on the Casas Grandes or San Miguel River, 35 miles (56 km) south of Janos and 150 miles (240 km) northwest of the state capital, the city of Chihuahua. The settlement relied on irrigation to support its agriculture. Casas Grandes has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The archaeological zone is contained within the eponymous modern municipio (municipality) of Casas Grandes.[2] The valley and region have been inhabited by indigenous groups for thousands of years.

Pre-Columbian culture[edit]

Map of major prehistoric Archaeological Cultures
Casas Grandes pot found in the ruins of Paquimé; held at Stanford University
Casas Grandes jar found in the ruins of Paquimé; now at Stanford University
Paquimé artifact
Casas Grandes artifact

Between CE 1130 and 1300, the area's inhabitants began to congregate in small settlements in this wide fertile valley. The largest identified settlement is known today as Paquimé or Casas Grandes. It began as a group of 20 or more house clusters, each with a plaza and enclosing wall. These single-story adobe dwellings shared a common water system. Evidence shows that Paquimé had a complex water control system that included underground drain systems, reservoirs, channels for water to get to the homes, and a sewage system.[3]

After being burned about 1340, Casas Grandes was rebuilt with multi-story apartment buildings to replace the small buildings. Casas Grandes consisted of about 2,000 adjoining rooms built of adobe, I-shaped Mesoamerican ballcourts, stone-faced platforms, effigy mounds, and a market area. About 350 other, smaller settlement sites have been found in the Casas Grandes area, some as far as 70 kilometers (39 miles) away. Archaeologists believe that the area directly controlled by Casas Grandes was relatively small, extending out about 30 km (18 miles) from the city.[4] The population may have been about 2,500 in Casas Grandes with perhaps 10,000 people living within its area of control.[5]

Specialized craft activities included the production of copper bells and ornaments, extensive pottery, and beads from marine molluscs. These crafts were probably distributed by an extensive trading network. Casas Grandes pottery has a white or reddish surface, with ornamentation in blue, red, brown, or black. It is sometimes considered of better manufacture than the modern pottery in the area. Effigy bowls and vessels were often formed in the shape of a painted human figure. Casas Grandes pottery was traded among prehistoric peoples as far north as present-day New Mexico and Arizona and throughout northern Mexico.

The archeologist Stephen Lekson has noted that Paquimé is aligned on roughly the same longitudinal axis as Chaco Canyon and Aztec, with an error of only a few miles. Chaco reached its cultural peak first, then Aztec and Paquimé. The similarities among these sites may indicate that their ruling elites also had a ceremonial connection. They may have moved from one site to the next.[6]

Archeological ruins[edit]

At the time of the Spanish Conquest, the district of Casas Grandes was studded with artificial mounds, from which looters took numerous stone axes, metates or corn-grinders, and earthenware pottery vessels of various kinds.

Before significant archaeological investigation, sizable portions of buildings from pre-Columbian times were extant about half a mile from the modern community. The ruins were built of sun-dried blocks of mud and gravel, about 22 inches thick, and of irregular length, generally about 3 feet (0.91 m), probably formed and dried in place. The thick walls seem to have been plastered both inside and outside. A principal structure extended 800 feet (240 m) from north to south, and 250 feet (76 m) east to west. It was generally rectangular, and appears to have consisted of three separate units joined by galleries or lines of lower buildings.

The eastern and western halves of the city are divided by a stone wall and reservoirs. The monuments on the east are rectilinear, puddled adobe structures used primarily for domestic and manufacturing purposes. The buildings on the west, on the other hand, are open earth mounds lined in stone for public displays. This visual structure defines the eastern side as lending toward the Puebloan peoples of North America and the west as referencing the cultures to the south in Mesoamerica. This visual motif is prevalent throughout the other sites sharing the same longitudinal line, indicating that they were built by a common group.[7]

The homes at Paquimé were circular and semi-circular pit houses and coursed-adobe room blocks built around plazas. The living spaces varied in size from closet-sized to extensive courtyards. Walls at many of the angles stand 40 to 50 feet (15 m) high, and indicate an original elevation of up to six or seven stories. Ruins about 450 feet (140 m) from the main grouping consist of a series of rooms ranged round a square court, seven rooms to each side with a larger apartment at each corner.

The settlement featured T-shaped doorways and stone disks at the bottom of ceiling support columns, both distinctive of Pueblan architecture. Casas Grandes had ballcourts, though they were relatively small compared to other major sites.[8]

A 5000-pound iron meteorite was found in one of the rooms, carefully wrapped in linen. The meteorite is displayed in the Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.[9]

Excavations in one compound produced eggshell fragments, bird skeletons, and traces of wooden perches. Archeologists concluded that the community raised scarlet macaws, the feathers of which were sacred and important in Mesoamerican rituals.

A major collection of Casas Grandes pottery is currently held by the Museum of Peoples and Cultures at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. Stanford University in California also holds pottery artifacts from here.

Ruins similar to those of Casas Grandes exist near Gila and Salinas in New Mexico, and in Colorado. They may each represent cultural groups related to the Mogollon culture. The early ethnologist Hubert Howe Bancroft, in his The Native Races of the Pacific States of North America (1874), related them to the modern-day Hopi, sometimes known as Moqui during his period. Contemporary scholars have not identified the descendants of the Casas Grandes people.

Iconography in Casas Grandes[edit]

Iconography can be simply defined as pictorial or material relating to or illustrating a subject, the traditional or conventional images or symbols associated with a subject and especially a religious or legendary subject, including art.[10] In the case with the ruins found at Casas Grandes, iconography has proven to be particularly important in understanding gender differences, especially in regards to trade, daily tasks, and religious rituals. Effigies (small figurines) were found through excavation of the site, thus the effigies show definite gender and sex differences between males and females in society. The similar characteristics of the effigies such as body positions, body proportions, activities, and facial decorations allow archaeologist to make assumptions of how gender differences were portrayed.[11] Artisans of Casas Grandes depicted a wide range of behaviors and beliefs from rules about social behavior (sitting positions) to ritual activities (smoking) and the supernatural (horned/plumed serpents).[12] Based on archaeologists' studies of the effigies found, the activities of women and men were both valued, and social differentiation was based more on individual status and class membership than sex and gender.[13] Contrasting specific pictorial representations of the effigies include masculine identified features and activities such as sitting with their legs flexed to their bodies, decorated with pound signs and horned serpent imagery, smoking, and their penis.[14] Females in contrast have large midsections sitting with their legs extended, decorated with modified pound signs and bird imagery, holding children and pots, and occasionally nursing.[15] The effigies depicted the way in which the Casas Grandes people thought social life should be implemented based on gender differences and provide insight on the simple aspects of society.

Birth and Death of Casas Grandes[edit]

Casas Grandes was located hundreds of miles from the nearest city state of comparable size. Three theories compete to explain its existence. The archaeologist Charles C. Di Peso advanced the theory that Casas Grandes was a backwater until about 1200 CE when pochteca (traders) from the Aztec empire or other Mesoamerican states to the south turned it into a major trading center. A diametrically opposed theory is that Casas Grandes was established by the elites of the Anasazi from the north who were fleeing their homeland during its decline. The third theory is that Casas Grandes is purely a local creation, a community that grew over time to dominate its region and adopted some religious and social customs from the civilizations of Mesoamerica.[16]

Casas Grandes was abandoned in about 1450. It is unclear whether it was abandoned slowly over a period of years or quickly. The Spanish explorer Francisco de Ibarra found the site of Casa Grandes in 1565. The Indians nearby, non-agricultural nomads, probably Suma or Jano, told him that a war with village dwellers, the Opata, four days journey west had caused the abandonment of Casas Grandes and that the inhabitants had moved six days journey north. That suggests the people of Casas Grandes joined the Pueblos on the Rio Grande in New Mexico.[17]

Other theories are that the Casas Grandes people migrated west to Sonora and joined or became the Opata whom the Spaniards found in the mid 16th century living in “statelets,” small but well-organized city states. It is also possible that Casas Grandes was abandoned because opportunities were greater elsewhere. Other communities in the Southwest are known to have been abandoned in favor of a new home.[18]

The language the inhabitants of Casas Grandes spoke is unknown. Given the Mesoamerican influence on Casas Grandes Nahuatl was probably widely spoken but it was not the primary language of the people.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Phillips and Bagwell (2001)
  2. ^ Not to be confused with the adjoining, separate Chihuahan municipality, Nuevo Casas Grandes.
  3. ^ Deeds (2000), p. 49
  4. ^ "The Casas Grandes Community." Archaeology Southwest, Vol. 17, No. 2 (Spring 2003), p. 2
  5. ^ "Archaeological Zone of Paquime, Casas Grandes" UNESCO.http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/560, accessed 24 May 2012
  6. ^ Ferguson, 2007
  7. ^ "Complementary Dualities: The Significance of East/West Architectural Difference in Paquimé", Hughes, Delain, 2005
  8. ^ Ferguson, 2007
  9. ^ "Rocks from Heaven", Curious Expeditions, March 4th, 2009
  10. ^ "Iconography." Merriam-Webster. Web. 29 Oct 2012. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/iconography>
  11. ^ VanPool, Christine S., and Todd L. VanPool. "Society for American Archaeology: American Antiquity." Society for American Archaeology: American Antiquity. 71.1 (2006): 65. Web. 29 Oct. 2012. <http://www.jstor.org.prox.lib.ncsu.edu/stable/pdfplus/40035321.pdf?acceptTC=true>
  12. ^ VanPool, Christine S., and Todd L. VanPool. "Society for American Archaeology: American Antiquity." Society for American Archaeology: American Antiquity. 71.1 (2006): 69. Web. 29 Oct. 2012. <http://www.jstor.org.prox.lib.ncsu.edu/stable/pdfplus/40035321.pdf?acceptTC=true>
  13. ^ VanPool, Christine S., and Todd L. VanPool. "Society for American Archaeology: American Antiquity." Society for American Archaeology: American Antiquity. 71.1 (2006): 71. Web. 29 Oct. 2012. <http://www.jstor.org.prox.lib.ncsu.edu/stable/pdfplus/40035321.pdf?acceptTC=true>
  14. ^ VanPool, Christine S., and Todd L. VanPool. "Society for American Archaeology: American Antiquity." Society for American Archaeology: American Antiquity. 71.1 (2006): 65. Web. 29 Oct. 2012. <http://www.jstor.org.prox.lib.ncsu.edu/stable/pdfplus/40035321.pdf?acceptTC=true>
  15. ^ VanPool, Christine S., and Todd L. VanPool. "Society for American Archaeology: American Antiquity." Society for American Archaeology: American Antiquity. 71.1 (2006): 65. Web. 29 Oct. 2012. <http://www.jstor.org.prox.lib.ncsu.edu/stable/pdfplus/40035321.pdf?acceptTC=true>
  16. ^ ”The Casas Grandes Community.” Archaeology Southwest. Vol 17, No 2. (Spring 2003), p.2
  17. ^ Phillips, Jr., David A. “The End of Casas Grandes.” pp. 6-7 http://www.unm.edu/~dap/End-of-Casas-Grandes.pdf, accessed 24 May 2012
  18. ^ Phillips, p. 7

References[edit]

Boyd, Carolyn E. (June 1996). "Shamanic Journeys into the Otherworld of the Archaic Chichimec" (PDF reprinted online). Latin American Antiquity (Washington, DC: Society for American Archaeology) 7 (2): 152–164. doi:10.2307/971615. ISSN 1045-6635. JSTOR 971615. OCLC 54395676. 
Cordell, Linda S. (1994). Ancient Pueblo Peoples. Washington, D.C./Montreal: Smithsonian Books/St. Remy Press. ISBN 0-89599-038-5. 
Deeds, Susan M. (2000). "Legacies of Resistance, Adaptation and Tenacity: History of the Native Peoples of Northwest Mexico". In Richard E.W. Adams and Murdo J. Macleod (eds.). The Cambridge History of the Native Peoples of the Americas, Vol. II: Mesoamerica, part 2. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. pp. 44–88. ISBN 0-521-65204-9. OCLC 33359444. 
Di Peso, Charles C. (1974). Casas Grandes: A Fallen Trading Center of the Gran Chichimeca (8 vols.). Amerind Foundation, Inc. Archaeology Series, № 9. John B. Rinaldo and Gloria J. Fenner (coauthors vols. 4–8), Gloria J. Fenner (ed.), Alice Wesche (illus.). Dragoon, AZ: Amerind Foundation, with Northland Press (Flagstaff, AZ). ISBN 0-87358-056-7. OCLC 1243721. 
Fagan, Brian M. (1995). Ancient North America: The Archaeology of a Continent (Revised and expanded ed.). London and New York: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0-500-05075-9. OCLC 32256661. 
Hughes, Delain (2005). Complementary Dualities: The Significance of East/West Architectural Difference in Paquimé. Denton, TX: University of North Texas Press. OCLC 68193779. 
Phillips, David A., Jr.; and Elizabeth Arwen Bagwell (2001). "How Big Was Paquimé?". Poster presentation. 66th Annual Meeting, Society for American Archaeology, New Orleans, April 19, 2001 (online reproduction by author ed.). Retrieved 2008-08-11. 
Whalen, Michael E.; and Paul E. Minnis (2001). Casas Grandes and Its Hinterland: Prehistoric Regional Organization in Northwest Mexico. Tucson: University of Arizona Press. ISBN 0-8165-2097-6. OCLC 44632899. 
Ferguson, Richard. "Paquime - Casas Grandes, Chihuahua". Mexconnect. Retrieved 24 March 2012. 
Stephen Lekson, The Chaco Meridian, Altamira Press, 1999.
Snow, Dean. Archaeology of Native North America, 2010. Pearson, pp. 118-119

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 30°21′58.67″N 107°56′50.74″W / 30.3662972°N 107.9474278°W / 30.3662972; -107.9474278