restricted access 9. The Villa Ahumada Region
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153 9 The Villa Ahumada Region Rafael Cruz Antillón and Timothy D. Maxwell The Proyecto Arqueológico Chihuahua (PAC) studied the southern frontier of the Casas Grandes culture. After participating in that project, the senior author of this chapter, Rafael Cruz Antillón, began working in what many saw as the eastern frontier of the same culture while maintaining ties with his PAC colleagues. This chapter on a cultural frontier complements the PAC’s findings and is presented as a tribute to Jane Kelley’s efforts to shed light on Chihuahua prehistory. Research Context Based on topographic features, the Villa Ahumada region’s northern limit is just beyond El Barreal, a dry Pleistocene lakebed near Samalayuca , and includes the Sierra Candelaria and the Laguna de los Patos. The southern boundary is more or less at the Sierra Santa Lucía. To the east, the region includes Laguna las Flores and the Presidio, Aclaparra, San Rafael, and San Ignacio mountain ranges. On the west, the region includes the western Sierra China, including Cerro Nopalera, Cerro del Chile, and the Sierra Ranchería. The region includes wide, gently sloping basins fringed by isolated mountain ranges (Brand 1933; Hawley 1969; Reyes 1992; Schmidt 1992). The basins are sometimes closed, with playas (also known as barreales) at their lowest points. The playas are remnants of Lake Palomas, a former Pleistocene lake that covered almost 8,000 km2. Moving away from the playas, one encounters disconnected mountain ranges and sediment eroded from those ranges. Active sand dunes cover about 2,000 km2 southeast of Ciudad Juárez. Regional vegetation is dominated by creosote bush (Larrea tridentata) and other desert plants. Trees grow in well-­ watered areas and conifer forests are found at higher elevations. Grasses abound in wetter years, especially in low spots within the drainage basins. Annual rainfall in Villa Ahumada averages 405 mm, with an annual mean temperature of 24°C. Estudios del Patrón de Asentamientos Humanos del Este de Chihuahua (EPAHECH), led by Cruz Antillón, mapped, tested, and excavated sites across the Villa Ahumada region. One aspect of the project was a restudy of Alan Phelps’s (1998) survey of the Río Carmen. Phelps examined an area extending from 30 km southeast of Villa Ahumada to the Laguna de los Patos, 10 km northwest of that town, and recorded 44 sites. EPAHECH’s own study area was much larger (slightly more than 1,000 km2), with Villa Ahumada at its center; we recorded 82 sites along the Río Carmen (Cruz Antillón 2011). The Paleoindian Period Paleoindian remains found in the Villa­ Ahumada region are limited to a scraper (LeTourneau 1995) and a reworked Clovis point (Enrique Chacón, personal communication Rafael Cruz Antillón and Timothy D. Maxwell 154 2010). Elsewhere in Chihuahua, finds of isolated Paleoindian points include Clovis (Di Peso 1965; Mallouf 1992; Phelps 1990a), Folsom (Aveleyra 1961; Krone 1978, 1980; Marrs 1949; Phelps 2007), and Plain­ view (MacWilliams et al. 2007; Phelps 1990a, 1990b). The discovery of points but no confirmed sites makes it difficult to characterize the earliest occupation of the Chihuahua region (see Di Peso 1974, Vol. 1; Guevara Sánchez 1985; Mallouf 1992; Márquez-­ Alameda 1992). Were the points left behind by Paleoindians or picked up elsewhere by later residents? Was Paleo­ indian use of the region permanent or episodic? Until further research occurs, these questions will linger. The Archaic Period There is little agreement on when the Archaic lifeway began in Chihuahua; postulated start dates range from 8000 BC (Marrs 1949) to 6000 BC (e.g., MacNeish and Beckett 1987). Traditional models of the Archaic period view local adaptations as fairly static: hunter-­gatherers living in small, dispersed groups with high seasonal mobility (Di Peso 1974; Guevara Sánchez 1985; MacNeish 1989; MacNeish and Beckett 1987; Márquez-­ Alameda 1992; Miller and Kenmotsu 2004). Recent discoveries of early farming communities have challenged this picture (Hard and Roney 1998; Roney and Hard 2000, 2002). By the end of the Archaic period, production of crops through simple agricultural techniques was well established. Alan Phelps (1998) recorded seven pre-­Viejo (Archaic period) sites around El Barreal. These are mostly camps between dunes at the edge of the playa. Phelps also found five pre-­ Viejo sites along the Río Carmen, including roasting pits, mounds of fire-­ cracked and burned rock, hammerstones , choppers, manos, metates, grinding slicks, and mortar fragments. Flaked stone­artifacts included side scrapers, corner-­ notched projectile points, and flaking...