restricted access 3. The Viejo Period
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29 3 The Viejo Period Jane Holden Kelley Charles Di Peso defined the Viejo period in his massive report on the Casas Grandes culture (Di Peso 1974; Di Peso et al. 1974), and today, four decades later, any discussion of that period begins with his views. Before his work there was little more than an expectation that someone had been on the landscape before construction of the highly visible sites we now assign to the Medio period (see Brand 1933; Lister 1946, 1958; Sayles 1936). After Di Peso’s work we had both a type site for the pre-­ pueblo Ceramic period and a theoretical framework for interpreting changes from the pre-­pueblo Viejo period to the pueblos of the Medio period. Like others of his time, Di Peso favored the direct historical approach, in which sequences are built backward from documented societies, and we owe his first encounter with the Viejo period to this approach. He was actually on a quest to find charred timbers for tree-­ ring­ dating at the church of San Antonio de Padua de Casas Grandes, burned during the revolt of 1684; during that dig the crew found pit houses lacking Medio period polychromes, leading him to investigate the prehistoric component at the Convento site (Di Peso 1974:1:40–41). The project also studied Viejo period components at Reyes Sites 1 and 2, as well as possible pre-­Medio pit features under one of the room blocks at Paquimé. Di Peso (1974:1:155) noted the existence of additional Viejo period sites on the ­ eastern flanks of the Sierra Madre as well as along the Río Casas Grandes. Thus, for the first time, the early Ceramic period occupation of Chihuahua emerged from the shadows. Di Peso and his colleagues found and excavated Viejo period components rather than concentrating all their efforts on the prize of Paquimé (as other archaeologists might have done) because his theoretical framework compelled him to pay attention to the entire regional sequence, not just its most glamorous site. Roots of the Viejo Period In Chihuahua, maize agriculture predates the Viejo period by more than 1,500 years (Hard et al. 2006), so the arrival of maize cannot be equated with the start of the Viejo period. We still do not know whether maize farming diffused from group to group or arrived with Uto-­ Aztecan speakers (Hill 2002; Matson 2002). John Carpenter and his colleagues (2002) argue that Uto-­ Aztecan farmers spread out of Sierra Madre refuges at the end of the Alti­ thermal period, but if so, that spread would be too early to correlate with the start of the Viejo period. Di Peso (1974:1:72) pondered similar issues, wondering about the relationship of the older Hokaltecan speakers to the intrusive Uto-­Aztecans — ​­ peoples he saw as coming into the Gran Chichimeca from the north, perhaps during the Archaic period. It is not clear whether Cerro Juanaqueña’s early agriculture (Hard et al. 2006) is analogous to what was then happening in the Tucson Basin (Diehl 2005), where farming took root, Jane Holden Kelley 30 so to speak. In Chihuahua, Cerro Juanaqueña is unique, as far as we can tell from present knowledge . John Roney (the first to recognize Juana­ queña for what it is) now suggests that the site was like a spark that flew off a fire, burned for a bit, and went out (personal communication 2012). It is thus premature to see Juanaqueña as ancestral to the Viejo period. Instead, we are left with a murky period before the Viejo that­ Whalen and Pitezel (2015) postulate included farming and pit houses but not pottery. A single pit house from south of the Casas Grandes culture area recently provided calibrated radiocarbon dates on Zea mays samples of ca. AD 100 (A. C. MacWilliams, personal communication 2012), supporting Whalen and Pite­ zel’s notion. Robert Lister’s (1958) work in Swallow Cave (in the Sierra Madre Occidental) also supports that notion in that maize cobs were found below the levels containing pottery. I suspect that as more work is done, we will see preceramic pit house occupations up and down the entire eastern flank of the Sierra Madre Occidental , not just in the area where the Casas Grandes culture later emerged. Di Peso’s Views of the Viejo Period Di Peso (1974:1:95) argued that the Viejo period ran from AD 700 ± 50 to 1060. The beginning date was a guess and...


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