restricted access 8. Central Chihuahua and the Southern Limits of the Casas Grandes Culture Area
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143 8 Central Chihuahua and the Southern Limits of the Casas Grandes Culture Area A. C. MacWilliams Before the mid-­ 1900s the southern limits of the Casas Grandes culture area were known (Brand 1933; Hewett 1908; Lumholtz 1902; Sayles 1936a), but there was almost no information about who lived immediately to the south or why the Casas Grandes culture tapered out in the upper Santa María Valley. There was not yet a basis for discussing how southern Casas Grandes people interacted with their southern neighbors, or what influence these groups had on each other. Repeatedly, discussions of the Casas Grandes culture’s southward connections skipped over southern Chihuahua (Di Peso 1974; Mason 1938; McGuire et al. 1994). There were two reasons for this situation: the extreme scarcity of information and the shared impression that there was not much there anyway. As Phillips (1989:381) stated, south of the Casas Grandes culture lies an area “where people used only plainware pottery and left no obvious architectural remains,” and therefore it was not likely to draw archaeologists trained in Mesoamerica or the Puebloan Southwest. This “area of disinterest” includes the Laguna Bustillos Basin, located south of the Santa María Valley, which contains some of the southernmost Casas Grandes culture sites. The Bustillos Basin lacks such sites, so it seemed an obvious place to investigate what lay just beyond the south edge of Casas Grandes culture. The results of several seasons of survey and excavation there and in the adjacent Laguna San Rafael Basin justified the choice. We know now that the Bustillos Basin was appreciably occupied during the Archaic period. During the first millennium AD, up to roughly AD 1250, small groups of ranchería-­ based farmers inhabited the basin, the Sierra Azul to the north, and the adjacent San Rafael Basin. (In the ranchería pattern, a community’s households are widely spaced.) We refer to this distinctive set of Ceramic period sites in this area as La Cruz culture sites. Near-­ abandonment of at least the Bustillos Basin portion of the area by about AD 1250 coincides with the emergence of the Medio period to the north. The South End of the Casas Grandes Culture as a Frontier Sullivan and Bayman (2007) point out that a glut of terminology exists for referring to the spatial structure of archaeological groups in the southwest United States and northwest Mexico. Terms such as frontier, periphery, and borderland have been applied to a plethora of circumstances. Frontier is a term often used in the asymmetrical context of colonial expansion (Kutsche 1983; Waselkov and Paul 1981:311; Wendl and Rösler 1999:8) but also in many noncolonial archaeological contexts. Referring to northwest ­Mexico, the term frontier has appeared frequently, most often as a general term and occasionally as a consilience of geography and anthropology (Armillas 1969; Brand 1933). In this chapter, fron­ tier primarily refers to the zone where the Casas Figure 8.1. Map of the Laguna Bustillos area and sites located by the PAC. Central Chihuahua and the Southern Limits of the Casas Grandes Culture Area 145 Grandes culture gave way to its southern neighbors . The term also refers to whatever inter­ actions took place among these groups, though there is little evidence that the Casas Grandes people and their southern neighbors had much to do with each other. Igor Kopytoff (1999:32–33) developed the idea of internal frontiers to describe areas between small polities in West Africa (each more or less the size of the Casas Grandes culture area). The Cameroonian polities that he describes are directly controlled by the central leaders only in core areas; outside those areas, subpolities are mostly autonomous. Does this sound ­ familiar? Whalen and Minnis (2001b) describe the Casas Grandes area of northwest Chihuahua in strikingly similar terms; Kelley et al. (1999) have made much the same point from the ­perspective of the south end of the Casas Grandes culture, and similar thoughts have been advanced for the northern reaches of that culture (in the United States, the Animas phase) (DeAtley 1980; Kidder et al. 1949; Skibo and Walker 2002). Kopytoff (1999) describes the outer edges of the Cameroonian polities as tending to be vague and shading into no-­ man’s-lands, which he defines as ­ internal frontiers. These lands typically were open to immigration from all sides. African regions ­ usually had ­ extensive networks of such no-­man’s-lands (Kopytoff 1999:​33). Sullivan and Bayman (2007:8) draw on Haas et al...


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