The South House at Taos Pueblo
Taos Pueblo South House, still occupied after about 1,000 years

About 6,000 years ago, various civilizations began to build in the desert of Peru. They left behind ruins of mud-and-stone cities with platform mounds, residential complexes and excavated amphitheaters. The societies evolved with new technologies (the first corn, squash, bean and cotton agriculture) and new religions. Some left imagery around that reflected peaceful lifestyles while others were decorated with imagery suggestive of warfare and human sacrifice. One of their chief cities seems to have been Caral but there maybe 20 smaller cities built in a 50-kilometer radius around Caral. Caral seems to have been peaceful, with a significant number of musical instruments found in the ruins. The people of Caral also built monumental irrigation and water management works. Their trade routes extended to the local coast but also up the coast to Ecuador (evidenced by seashells that only come from the warm coastal waters of Ecuador) and over the Andes into the Amazon basin (evidenced by bird and vegetal remains). Their society seems to have been organized around a religion with priests in charge but there is no evidence of a warrior class yet.

An earlier society built the city of Bandurria, about 33 kilometers southwest of Caral. Carbon-dated to about 3,200 BCE, Bandurria is the oldest site where evidences of monumental architecture have been found. It was a coastal, fishing city where Caral was an inland city with trade from the coast but a generally more agrarian society. The architectiure of both cities reflects a class-distinction in their societies with an elite class and a commoner class, each separated from the other by man-made constructions and natural obstacles (like rivers).

Caral was built about the same time the pyramids in Egypt were built but, at the time, the Caral Complex could well have been the site of the largest and densest concentration of humans on Earth (except maybe in China). These societies were pre-ceramic, but only by a couple hundred years. Ceramics have been found in the upper layers of some, those areas where the people lived last before final abandonment (although many such ruins were occupied again by later cultures and some were used as burial grounds).

Those cities were multi-story in nature, built of rocks stacked and bonded together with adobe mud. In a surprising twist, the structures of the Caral/Supé complex were constructed using large, woven reed bags holding together the rocks and adobe mud. The way in which they were put together made their monumental cities essentially earthquake-proof, in an area known to be unstable and prone to earthquakes. Where the ancient pueblos in the American Southwest are mostly mounds of dirt and rubble after several hundred years, the constructions in Peru have survived relatively well for more than 5,500 years.

Huaca Prieta is an even older site in the Zaña Valley on the coast of Peru, dated to have been begun around 14,000 years ago. The Zaña Valley holds the sites of early irrigation canals, built to carry water from the Andes to agricultural fields below. The canals were constructed between 4,500 and 6,700 years ago, built in U-shapes and lined with stones. Their construction, placement and gradient show evidence of advanced engineering knowledge and planning. Their construction and maintenance show evidence of societal organization. However, it is believed there was not yet a rise of elites among the general population: everyone was equal to everyone else, and everyone contributed equally to their society. The ruins of Huaca Prieta itself were found to contain many examples of complex textiles made with twining techniques which incorporated intricate designs of mythological monsters, humans, condors, snakes and crabs. Being a coastal city, the people fished and gathered shellfish. They also grew gourds, squash, peppers, beans, tubers, fruits and cotton. Archaeologists also found many stone artifacts: fish net weights, uni-facial stone flakes for cutting, and simple pebble tools. They also found burial structures made of cobblestones cemented with an ash-water mortar. They found no projectile points and no other recognizable weapons nor any evidence of human or animal sacrifice. Civilization had to "advance" for that... but by about 2,000 BCE, elite social classes, warfare and ritual human sacrifice were becoming common in South America.

There are similar constructions found in Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia and Chile, many with very similar rock art and similar agricultural residue. In all of them, the production of ceramics seems to have appeared about the same time as the rise of weapon technology and the rise of elite and middle classes.

Back to the More Recent Past

"Pueblo" is the Spanish word for "village." Village covers more than just the multi-story building blocks we see in so many places. And even to call a ruin a village may not be quite right. There's ample evidence that many of the largest stone constructions were more for religious purposes than for day-to-day living for large numbers of people. It was usually only in the later stages of occupation that they became apartment buildings. Then the people shortly migrated to places with better water, better soil, better hunting, less aggressive neighbors...

Another thing: the Ancestral Puebloans built up, the Mogollon built out. They were contemporary cultures who shared a lot of elements but there are some elements that are specific to each. Pueblo kivas are round and built in the ground. Mogollon kivas are square or rectangular and built above ground. Both groups migrated around the countryside for hundreds of years, until both essentially faded out between about 1200 and 1500 CE. After 1539 came a time of near-genocide caused by Spanish-borne diseases.

When de Oñaté arrived in 1598, one of the first things he ordered was to lock the tribes in place where they were and allow no movement among them. Further Spanish practices toward the people led to the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 and another time of upheaval and migration. Most of the pueblos remaining today are in the same locations they were in around 1750. Some have been in the same place much longer.

In this section of the site I'm covering 18 pueblos in central and northern New Mexico and the Hopi pueblos in northeastern Arizona. Some pueblos have a lot of potters, some very few.

The ruin of Kin Kletso in Chaco Canyon
Kin Kletso, Chaco Canyon, abandoned in the early 1100's
Upper photo courtesy of Andreas Borchert, CCA-by-SA 3.0 License
Lower photo courtesy of EyesofthePot, CCA-by-SA 4.0 license