Pottery Mound

a reconstruction of one of the wall murals found in a kiva in Pottery Mound
Mural found in Kiva 16, Layer 1, East Wall

Pottery Mound got its name from all the pot sherds littering the place. Pottery Mound has the largest variety of prehistoric pottery styles found in any one place in all of New Mexico. But the most amazing thing found at Pottery Mound was in the buried kivas: layers of well-preserved painted wall murals in more than a dozen different kivas and more than a dozen different styles of design.

As a pueblo, construction of the pueblo began around 1320. The site was just above the flood plain of the Rio Puerco in central New Mexico. Located on the boundary between the Mogollon and Ancestral Puebloans, Isleta was to the east, Laguna to the northwest, Acoma and Zuni to the west.

The time was a period of great movement in the southwest. The weather was changing and the people were undergoing a series of migrations and cultural contractions. Large areas of countryside were being vacated by the sedentary puebloans and nomadic Utes, Paiutes, Apaches and Navajos came in almost right behind them.

During its ~230-year lifetime, Pottery Mound would see migrations from Acoma and Zuni overlapped by migrations from the Hopi mesas. There was some pottery imported from those locales but most pottery found at Pottery Mound was produced locally. A lot of Pottery Mound pottery has been found at locations all across the southwest, too. But in the excavations at Pottery Mound, one section of the pueblo had significantly more Acoma and Zuni design vocabulary than any other while at another section of the pueblo, that was true about Hopi (Jeddito black-on-yellow) design vocabulary. There was also a significant amount of Rio Grande Valley pot sherds around the village.

The wall murals were distinctly different. My trail led me to Pottery Mound because of a specific set of wall murals. Those wall murals make it look like what we now call "Sikyatki-style" was developed at Pottery Mound and made its way to Kawaika'a, Awatovi and Sikyatki in the mid-to-late-1400's. The same style was also produced at Zuni and on the Little Colorado about the same time. By 1500 it had died out pretty much everywhere except Sikyatki, and even there there wasn't a lot produced.

One remarkable thing about the wall murals at Pottery Mound is they showed the garments worn by the ritual specialists involved in whatever rite was being pictured. The distinctly Sikyatki styles were part of the designs on the textiles and on carpets and other cloth shown. Some of that artwork was transported back to Sikyatki on pottery and it survived on that media. Some of it made the journey painted on textiles and while the designs may have been transferred to kiva walls, they did not survive long. Whatever ritual was involved, the last Sikyatki-style wall mural was painted at Kawaika'a around 1450 and that kiva was closed before 1500. The painted works at Pottery Mound were much better but Pottery Mound was also in serious decline by 1500. As an art colony, some of the work done at Pottery Mound is still being replicated more than 500 years later.

Sites of the Ancients and approximate dates of occupation: