The stories of the Ancestral Puebloans are still told by their descendants in their native tongues. But it wouldn't be understandable to the ancestors because of the passage of time. Languages are living, evolving things. People and their clans migrate. Intermarriage happens. Among the Rio Grande Pueblos, the pueblo a couple miles downstream might speak a very different language, based on where their forefathers might have migrated from so many hundred years ago and who has merged into their society since.
Today, we trace the evolution of the Puebloans through their migrations: pottery styles, decorations, clan symbols, translations from oral histories and archaeological findings. I find the migration stories really interesting, especially how they are usually supported by following the migration of designs on wall murals, pottery and textiles.
The evolution of languages is a bit harder to sort out. The landscape where this story plays out is mostly desert and sharp mountains. It's relatively isolated, even from parts of itself.
An "original" Amerind language has been speculated, going back several thousand years, perhaps to the time of the Clovis culture. Speculation (and some supporting evidence) has said proto-Amerind made its way to the furthest end of Tierra de Fuego and then headed back north again. As the carriers of newer and newer versions of that language traveled north, they carried new ideas, new technologies and new religious stories and symbolism with them. Uto-Aztecan is speculated to have become a divergent branch of Amerind somewhere on the Pacific coast of Mexico and influenced everyone north from there in the 500s CE. There is evidence of regular trade routes being in use from the earliest days of Chaco Canyon in the 600s to the arrival of the Spanish in 1520.
The language of the Zuni people is considered a complete isolate because researchers can't find a nearby language with referents, going back several thousand years. Hopi, considered to be of Uto-Aztecan origin, is comprised of a mix of things as it has been influenced by migrations of the various clans over the last couple thousand years. The language of Oraibi is almost unintelligible to the people of Walpi as Walpi has actively absorbed new clans, concepts and words while Oraibi has enforced a strict isolation for several hundred years now.
Tiwa is possibly a descendant of the language spoken among the pueblos that stretched from Taos to Isleta in the mountains east of the Rio Grande. Because of their location against the western edge of the Great Plains, they were profoundly influenced by the people of the Plains tribes. The people of Isleta also say they are descended from migrants moving north from Aztec centers while the people of Taos say they came south, from a village in the bottom of a lake in the San Luis Valley. However it was, their societies show less influence from the Four Corners/Mesa Verde pueblos and more from the Plains nomads.
There is evidence of a migration out of the Four Corners area, through Zuni and into the Acoma and Laguna areas in the late 900s and early 1000s CE. Their native language we now call "Western Keres." What we now call "Eastern Keres" likely came with migrants who left the Mesa Verde area in the mid-to-late 1200s and made their way to the Pajarito Plateau and the valley of the Jemez River before coming to the Rio Grande and claiming farmland in the river bottom. There were also migrant pushes (of other language) southeast from the Four Corners, past Acoma and into the northern Gila Mountains. They built seperately from previous pueblos in the area and maintained their previous rituals and ceremonies. Over a couple generations the differences softened and the communities banded together.
A friend from Acoma told me she could converse relatively easily in her native Western Keres with people from Laguna, Zia and Santo Domingo. But the further people were from Acoma, the more the language diverged and became unintelligible for her. The sounds are all similar, they just don't mean the same. Each group has also absorbed different new words from the newcomers over the years.
Tiwa, Tewa and Towa have been classified as Kiowa-Tanoan, a language group mostly associated with Plains tribes. The Tanoan source might be found in the indigenous people who lived in the Rio Grande Valley prior to 1250 CE, before the arrival of the migrants from the Four Corners. Further research has proposed to include the Kiowa-Tanoan group of languages in the older Uto-Aztecan family.
It seems the original source of Towa was the Fremont people. When they were forced out of Utah by the bad weather a thousand years ago, some went to the Four Corners/Mesa Verde area, then southwest to the Hopi mesas and while others went southeast to the Jemez Mountains. Others merged into the Utes and Paiutes coming in from the west but most seem to have gone north to the valleys of the Yellowstone and Clark Rivers in Montana. From there, some decided to go to the Black Hills and claim some land but that failed after a couple generations. In the process they banded with some nearby Apache survivors and together, they became the Kiowa-Apache. They were then pushed south and west to where they rejoined with the Kiowa themselves, until they came up against the Comanche in the southern Plains. They fought a war with the Comanches, lost, and then formed an alliance with them against almost everyone else (although the Kiowa have always had a soft spot for the Crows of southern Montana and northern Wyoming). There were originally 3 major bands of Kiowa and 1 of Kiowa-Apache. The Kiowa-Apache seem to have disappeared since then.
All that I've said above is a really simplified telling of a foggy archaeological tale. There are elements of the tale that have been injected but not properly fitted. One thing that struck me in my research was data about the trade routes connecting Cicuyé directly with Paquimé. The remains of scarlet macaws (from southern Mexico) have been found in many pueblos but the remains of white-fronted parrots (which come from south of Sonora) have been found in only three places: Paquimé, Cicuyé and Grasshopper Pueblo on the Mogollon Rim in Arizona. And turquoise mined in the Villa Grove area in the northern San Luis Valley of Colorado has been found in Chichen Itza, in the Yucatan. We haven't yet decided if that was the result of traders moving short distances and handing things on or were long distance traders involved. There is also the possibility that (and some supporting evidence has been found) travel between the far north and the far south was an act of pilgrimage. The Salado culture had a religious focus and some of their materials have been found south of Paquimé. The Jemez have traced their people back to the Four Corners area in the mid 1200s but recent evidence seems to have tied them to the Fremont culture as far back as 200 CE. All the oral histories tell of people moving back and forth across the countryside many times over the centuries. At Walpi they even tell stories recounting the eruption of Sunset Crater around 1060 CE.
So the question on my end is: How far back do I go? In this section of Eyesofthepot, I've so far opted to go back about 2,000 years. If you want to go a bit further back, take a look at Where did Everybody Come From?
There seems to have been two large migration movements into the Four Corners area about 2,000 years ago. One came from the east and north, the other from the south. This is where some of my story begins.
Archaeologists excavating Cowboy and Walters caves in southeastern Utah found unfired clay figurines and small, thimble-like objects in strata dated to between 5600 to 5000 BCE. Considering all the other dates I've found in my research, that's probably an outlier where the ceramics somehow got washed into the ancient detritus. The raw clay figurines look very much like images characteristic of the Barrier Canyon rock art style of the northern Colorado Plateau (and the Fremont people). That indicates a possible ritual and symbolic connection between early clay artifacts and rock art. Further to the south that was suggested by early incised pottery and ceramic figurines.
The folks who came from the east and north were of the Shoshonean branch of the human DNA tree and they first settled in the forests and mountains east of Mesa Verde between 1,500 and 2,000 years ago. For the most part, they abandoned the area a thousand years ago and migrated north and northwest.
Some of the folks who came from the south started coming north about 3,000 years ago from central and western Mexico. The earliest ceramic figures found in the desert Southwest were found near Tucson and dated to 1200-800 BCE. The earliest jar fragments were found in the Santa Cruz River valley and dated to 800-400 BCE. They were very simple, designed more for ritual or ceremonial functions, not for household use. The first real containers found have been dated to around 150 CE. It wasn't until the 500s that potters were producing the full range of domestic, ritual and ceremonial wares that have been found. Early ceramics seem to have reached the Mogollon region around 300 CE and the Ancestral Puebloan region in the 400s. Crude, unfired clay bowls have been recovered from Early and Late Basketmaker (200-700 CE) cave sites along the San Juan River drainage in the Kayenta area of northeastern Arizona and southern Utah.
Each wave of migrants brought new seeds, new technologies and new ideologies with them. They maintained trade relations with the people down south, sending turquoise as far south as the Yucatan and Guatemala. It was along those trade routes that major evolutions in their societies traveled. Those societal changes seem to have arrived in the north in discrete waves, the more prominent of which can be defined loosely as: Hohokam, Mogollon and Ancestral Puebloan, and they most likely came in compressed increments as migratory events. Each society found different sources of turquoise and traded that with different centers in Mexico. Each society grew a cotton that was first grown in northern Peru. They each grew varieties of maize, squash, melons and beans that came north from central Mexico, also in waves as the seeds improved. The Hohokam built platform mounds, the Mogollon built square and rectangular kivas above ground and the Puebloans built round kivas below ground. They all built multi-story cities using stacked stone and adobe mud. Most of my story here concerns the migrants and trade caravans that went to the lands of the Ancestral Puebloans and camped out. The descendants of many are still there. The Hohokam and Mogollon faded out during the extended bad weather events in the mid 1400s.
Most of the precursors of the Ancestral Puebloans seem to have settled in the area south and east of the Colorado River, what we might now refer to as "Kayenta-Tusayan." There they displaced and/or merged with hunter/gatherer clans that had been in the area for hundreds of years. The indigenous culture was part of the Pueblo-Plateau tradition, a shared cultural complex spanning from the Rio Grande valley to the Mojave Desert. Many of the archaeological sites found in the Grand Gulch and Cedar Mesa areas of southern Utah were left by them. They were the people of the Late Archaic, the Basketmaker and the Pithouse time periods. It wasn't until the mindset that turned pithouses into kivas and built with stone-and-mud stack architecture arrived that the Hohokam, Mogollon and Ancestral Puebloan can be said to have formed.
That was in the latter 500s CE. It was in 536 CE that the sun disappeared globally, for several years. One of the largest volcanic eruptions of the last 2,000 years put so much ash into the sky that global temperatures dropped and there was no summer. There were torrential rains instead. Then everything went dry. Crops failed, people starved and there were major upheavals in organized societies around the world. The New World was no exception. People were on the move, looking for a place where they could continue living. In Mesoamerica, many went north, traveling through the mountains and across the deserts, hoping to find better weather and better land with room to grow. In the oral histories, it is known as the search for the "Middle Place."
The more westerly flow of southern people first went through the Tucson basin, then traveled down the Santa Cruz River to the Gila River, to where the Gila met the Salt River, then down to where the Salt opened out into the Valley of the Sun. In the Valley of the Sun the society we call "Hohokam" came into its own. Over the next several hundred years they multiplied, spread out and built massive irrigation systems to feed their people. Then the sun disappeared, again, several times. Each time they retracted from their settlement frontiers and reorganized their society. They essentially disappeared in the mid 1400s, their pueblos and valleys completely depopulated. The Pima and the Tohono O'odham of southern Arizona may be their direct descendants but they occupy more elevated and more rugged landscapes than the Hohokam did.
The Mogollon appear to have filled the region between the Sea of Cortez, Casas Grandes in the Chihuahuan Desert east of the Sierra Madre, and the Mogollon Rim in New Mexico and Arizona. That gave them the most direct connection to central and southern Mexico. They, too, were a distinct culture spread across a large swath of countryside that essentially disappeared about the same time the sun disappeared in the mid 1400s.
The ideology that became the Ancestral Puebloans passed across Mogollon territory and extended to the north and northwest from there. They stayed around the Virgin River and south of the Colorado River but they got close to both (the Fremont culture was being birthed on the other side of those rivers). Many of them settled in the Four Corners area while others preferred to live along the Little Colorado River. Some liked living around the mesas in between. Over the next several hundred years the people moved around on the land, building and rebuilding stone villages as they went. Being more northerly, their countryside tended to be cooler and drier so minor variations in the weather had more effect on them. The disappearance of the sun, to a society that absolutely needed and worshiped the sun, was a disaster. Several years with no sun (indicating a complete failure of their religious practices), beginning around 1258 CE, and then a major drought, is what most likely caused the abandonment of the Mesa Verde/Four Corners area. But some folks had already been leaving the area.
Some of the migrants from the far south went to the area east of the San Francisco Peaks around 600 CE. They built homes and raised crops for several hundred years, then left around 1060 CE when Sunset Crater erupted. Many of them went south to Sinagua pueblos just above and below the Mogollon Rim for the next few decades (Tuzigoot, Montezuma Castle and Well, Walnut Canyon and others). Then they returned and rebuilt the pueblos at Wupatki and Wukoki and took advantage of the renewed soil.
Beginning around 1258 CE, the sun again disappeared behind the clouds for several years. The weather got colder, it rained and snowed a lot more and their crops failed. Then it got really dry from about 1265 to about 1290. However, the entire region was being abandoned in waves before the Great Drought even got started. Archaeologists have been able to follow the trails of two migrations of Kayenta potters and traders as they went south, first into the Tonto Basin, then to the Safford area and then the Upper San Pedro River area and Paquimé. Some went as far as the Pacific coast of central Mexico. There is evidence of a trade in turquoise headed south and macaws, seashells, copper bells and religious symbols headed north (ancient MesoAmerican missionaries or maybe traders hawking the "newest High Society fashions"?). The migrations seem to have ended around 1450 CE, coinciding with the abandonment of Paquimé and Casas Grandes. After about 1450 there were no distinct Hohokam or Mogollon societies any more. That made travel and trade across Mexico's northern deserts problematic.
The sun disappeared again in 1536. Again, the weather turned cooler and torrential rains came down for several years. Crops were washed away, people starved, and then it got dry for a few years. It was around that time when most of the descendants of the migrants from the Four Corners area finally settled into the places where they are now (the valleys of the Jemez River and the Rio Grande). There has been movement among and around those settlements since but that's when most of today's centers of population came into being: when the Spanish arrived a few years later they essentially froze the Puebloans in place.
It was around the time of the out-migration from the Four Corners to the Northern Rio Grande that the Kachina, Warrior and Sacred Clown societies seem to have emerged. The changeover in religious symbolism was relatively fast as rock art throughout the area seems to have changed dramatically in a single generation. The previous Pueblo-Plateau tradition was a form of rock art found from the Rio Grande across the Southwest to the Mojave Desert. The new, Rio Grande style, was used to place villages and societies on the surface of the planet. The designs were more complex and were imbued with spiritual powers, personalities and functions to perform. They were indicative of the cosmological overview of the pueblo central to their geographical distribution. Similarly to the Diné and the four Sacred Mountains defining the bounds of their ancestral homeland (even though the Diné are relative newcomers), each pueblo is situated within a similar framework of hilltops, rock outcroppings and hidden alcoves given agency by generations of spiritual leaders of the pueblo. In the old days, that was a way for them to establish and advertise their presence and stake new claims to the land. In most cases (among the Tewa anyway), one or more of the Sacred Mountains is shared with one or more central villages. For instance, the crater at Valle Grande is the western Sacred Mountain for all Northern Tewa pueblos: it is easily seen from all of them. Likewise, Sandia Mountain is their common southern Sacred Mountain. Their eastern and northern Sacred Mountains vary some but are sometimes shared with their immediate neighbors.
Before and during this time period, there were indigenous Tanoan people living throughout the Rio Grande valley but the region was a bit of a backwater and new ideas and technologies arrived later. Things started to change when a trickle of migrants began arriving in the 1000s. When that trickle turned into a flood in the 1200s, the local societies were severely impacted. New clans, new languages, new politics and new technologies arrived in bits and pieces with families, small bands of individuals and groups of ritual specialists (Note: ritual specialists are at the heart of every clan). The Puebloan languages we see spoken today really began diverging at that point as some of the disparate peoples in each pueblo melted together and merged, taking on characteristics of each, while others were turned away and forced to settle elsewhere, more than likely on more marginal land.
The people already living in the northern Rio Grande area felt the effects of the same drought as the Four Corners region but it most likely wasn't any drought that caused them to move their populations into better agricultural and more defensive positions. They also increased their ability to store food for longer periods of time and each family had become more solely responsible for taking care of their own, even in a pueblo setting. The pueblos built in the Tsegi Canyons (northern Arizona east of the Grand Canyon) in the 1200s had more storage room than living space. It wasn't enough: when the sun disappeared and their crops failed, the pressure on them to move became unbearable and they migrated away to the south.
There were so many people on the move south and east that each pueblo accepted newcomers to a point, then there was pushback. Society, as a whole, was forced to evolve almost overnight in order to accommodate all the people in movement. Previously, the people of a pueblo only ate together during times of religious ceremony. Suddenly, feasting as a group was promoted everywhere. It was possibly a means of newcomers and old-timers alike to meet-and-greet and share with each other. It worked well in some places, not so well in others. Many newcomers were forced to spread out more and they moved onto more marginal lands. In some cases they merged with the indigenous communities over several generations, and in some cases they didn't. By 1350 there were pueblos built and abandoned all through the Jemez Mountains, the Upper San Juan Valley, Gallina and Gobernador Canyons, and the Santa Fe River and Galisteo Creek drainages. There were also pueblos built and abandoned all through the valley of the Rio Chama and on the eastern side of the Sangre de Cristos. There were pueblos down the eastern side of the Manzano Mountains and all down through desert of the Jornada del Muerto. To the west and south were the pueblos of the Jornada Mogollon.
The Tewa and Eastern Keres people living on the Pajarito Plateau were forced down into the Rio Grande valley when the sun disappeared again in 1536. The Rio Chama area was abandoned around that time, too, some of those folks moving down to the Rio Grande while others (the Asa people) went to the Hopi mesas.
Archaeologists determined that 1319 CE was when the southern structure of Pot Creek Pueblo burned and was abandoned. To the northeast of Pot Creek, Taos Pueblo was invaded and expanded shortly after. Picuris was founded about the same time to the southwest of Pot Creek. Others of the group moved further south, perhaps influencing the "Tiguex" pueblos in the Middle Rio Grande. The Tompiro people were building in the Estancia Valley (east of the Manzano Mountains) and the Piro people were living around the Socorro/Magdalena area. Pottery Mound was being built among other pueblos along the banks of the Rio Puerco.
The first Athabascans in the area migrated down the eastern flanks of the Rocky Mountains to eastern Colorado/western Kansas and Nebraska, where they settled and spread out for several hundred years. Archaeologists have put "phases" on their evolution and the most important ones for my story concern the Diné (Navajos)and the Apaches. For my story, I'll focus on the Apishapa culture (1000 CE-1400 CE), the Sopris phase (1000 CE-1250 CE) and the Antelope Creek phase (1200 CE-1450 CE).
The settlements in eastern Colorado and western Kansas and Nebraska are referred to as the Dismal River culture or complex. Dismal River artifacts have been found from the Continental Divide eastward to the Mississippi River Valley. Among those found eastern artifacts are bits and pieces of pottery that were made in the area of Taos Pueblo.
The Diné have said the less-warlike of the Athabascan people headed west over the mountains and settled in to the nearly empty forests of the Four Corners area. They have always known themselves as Diné (the People). Eventually they were named "Navajo" (a pejorative term) by the Spanish. Most of the Athabascans who stayed east of the mountains were slowly pushed south around the southern end of the Puebloan settlements to where they could finally go west and get away from the Comanches on the east. They flowed into the depopulated Mimbres Mogollon areas around the Gila Mountains, then pushed into the depopulated areas in southern and eastern Arizona. They sorted out into certain areas and became known as various tribes of Apaches: Mescalero, Lipan, Chiricahua, San Carlos, White Mountain.
That got easier for the Apaches after the first Spanish expeditions came through and inadvertently spread European diseases that wiped out whole communities and depopulated the countryside of southern New Mexico between 1540 and 1780. The further south the Apache tribes moved, the fewer native people they found to oppose them. By the early 1700s they had occupied a large part of eastern and southern New Mexico and southern and eastern Arizona. By the early 1800s, the Puebloans were almost completely encircled by the Diné and Apache.
The Jicarilla Apache seem to have developed out of the Antelope Creek, Apishapa and Sopris phases of the Dismal River culture. The Apishapa phase is named after settlements found in the valley of the Apishapa River in south-central Colorado. Just over the plateau to the south is the valley of the Purgatoire, where the Purgatoire Complex and Sopris phase were found. It was on the hills around Trinidad Lake that the skeletal remains of an Athabaskan person were found in the company of micaceous pottery from the area of Pot Creek Pueblo. The big deal here is that the closer these settlements got to the location of Pot Creek Pueblo, the more influence the Rio Grande pueblos had on them.
Antelope Creek, on the other hand, was a Plains culture that built their homes with rock and stone slabs, like the Puebloans. They were also more sedentery, settling in to the area around the Alibates Flint Quarries in the Texas panhandle to raise corn, squash and beans and chip flint into arrowheads, knives, axeheads and other sharp tools. As the weather was changing, the great herds of American bison slowly moved southward and were flooding across the area by the early 1200s. Their villages spread out further as there was ample food "on the hoof." Then a couple hundred years later they came up against other, more warlike tribes (the Comanche and the Kiowa) who were moving into the area from the north. That caused them to retreat westward, back toward their brothers in the northern mountains of New Mexico.
I say all three of these developmental phases had impact on the early Athabascans as there developed Plains Jicarilla and Mountain Jicarilla branches of the tribe. The Mountain Jicarillas occupied relatively depopulated areas around Pot Creek Pueblo, the Tusas Mountains and the upper Rio Chama valley. The Plains Jicarillas lived east of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and downstream through the drainage of the Canadian River. Both groups regularly got together for trade with Taos, Picuris and Cicuyé.
At first the major trade fairs were at Pot Creek Pueblo and that pueblo became perhaps the largest pueblo ever built in the American Southwest. Then a schism developed and at least part of the pueblo burned. That led to abandonment of the village and the founding of Taos Pueblo to the northeast and Picuris Pueblo to the southwest. When Coronado first came to New Mexico, he spent the winter of 1540-41 warring on and stealing food from 12 or 13 "Tiguex" pueblos in the Middle Rio Grande area. When Don Juan de Oñaté came back in 1598 he found only the Tiguex pueblos at Alameda and Isleta still inhabited, the rest having been decimated by European diseases.
The people who would sort out into the Jicarilla Apaches were those who lived outside the main settlements in the Taos-Picuris area. Their society was a bit more nomadic, a bit more hunter-gatherer, until the Spanish tried to force them to settle in one place in the 1700s.
The term Xicharilla was first used by the Spanish to refer to them around 1694. Their warriors were acknowledged to be in the forefront of the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 and that brought them special attention from the Spanish. They occupied the hills and valleys around Taos and Picuris, some even on the eastern slopes of the Sangre de Cristos in the Cimarron River drainage. The Spanish slowly forced them to settle until finally, there was an enclave of Jicarillas at Taos from about 1730 to about 1880. Where they had previously been a loose knit society of families and clans they began to form a formal tribe with a governmental structure. In the 1880s they were finally granted a reservation of their own by the US Government and the tribal offices moved there. From their earliest days, the Jicarilla people have been known for their micaceous pottery.
The "Picosa Culture" is an encapsulation of three separate instances of similar lifestyles, housing and burial practices spread across the Southwestern states and northern Mexico. These three instances: Pinto Basin (Pi), Cochise Tradition (co), and San Pedro (sa), make up the word "Picosa."
Pinto Basin seems to be incorporated within the boundaries of Joshua Tree National Park in southern California. If that's the correct Pinto Basin, that would indicate the model includes projectile points found at a Pinto Culture site in the central Mojave Desert dated to be between 4,000 and 8,000 years old. The older the actual time frame, the wetter the local climate. Artifacts found indicate that these were most likely from a Paiute offshoot of Shoshonean ancestry, possibly precursors of today's Chemehuevi and Mohave people.
The Cochise Tradition is tied to the area of now-dry Lake Cochise, in the Willcox Playa of southern Arizona. The Tradition lasted from about 7,000 years ago to about 2,200 years ago. Archaeologists have broken the Tradition further into three phases, based on discernable changes in projectile point and food processing technology: the Sulphur Spring (7,000 to 5,500 years ago), the Chiricahua (5,500 to 3,500 years ago) and the San Pedro (3,500 to 2,200 years ago).
The San Pedro area is in the San Pedro River basin of southern Arizona. Indications are that the first settlers in the area were infused with migrants headed north from central and/or southern Mexico. This is the area where ceramics first appeared in western North America.
The following sequence of events, first proposed by archaeologist Cynthia Irwin-Williams, defines no fewer than six phases of occupation of Ancient Puebloan sites in the Four Corners area, each identified by projectile point forms and other less well defined artifacts. These, more northern incarnations of the Picosa culture are encapsulated in the Oshara Tradition.