restricted access 10. Thoughts on the Southern Zone
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166 10 Thoughts on the Southern Zone Jane Holden Kelley, Joe D. Stewart, Richard D. Garvin, and David A. Phillips Jr. Over two decades, the Proyecto Arqueológico Chihuahua (PAC) accomplished at least one important goal: the first systematic narrative of the prehistory of an almost unknown part of the Casas Grandes world. In this chapter, we review what that narrative contains and how it serves (or fails to serve) as the foundation for future efforts in west-­ central Chihuahua. This is not the final essay in the book, however. In the next chapter, Jane Kelley steps back even further and shares her thoughts on Chihuahuan archaeology. The Timeline Although the PAC found evidence of a Pre­ ceramic (Paleoindian and Archaic) period occupation of west-­central Chihuahua, that evidence is extremely limited. This is due in large part to the project’s focus on the Casas Grandes culture and the contempoarary adjacent cultures. Moreover, we began by focusing on the most obvious sites in the study area — ​namely, Medio period habitation sites with house mounds and polychrome pottery and, to the southeast, Ceramic period sites in the Laguna Bustillos Basin. (Project members often were led to such sites by local residents, for whom the sites were also the most recognizable archaeological features on the landscape.) The project was later able to identify Viejo period sites and expanded its knowledge back in time a few centuries, but given the PAC’s finite resources, a further expansion of the project scope to include the Preceramic period occupation was impractical. The PAC’s extensive radiocarbon data (Stewart et al. 2004, 2005) allow us to date the ­southern zone Casas Grandes sequence as a whole, but not to define variations in that sequence for each valley or basin. In terms of the general sequence, we now suspect that people were farming and living in hamlets before pottery making spread into the region, possibly as a belt of Preceramic period farmers extending up and down the eastern Sierra Madre Occidental. This period of initial farming may date as far back as the first century AD. A. C. MacWilliams (personal communication 2015) has excavated a pit house that may be the first solid evidence for the Preceramic period farming tradition. We do not know when pottery first appeared in the area, but by about AD 800 or 900, the local farmers started using Viejo period pottery types in the Babícora Basin, the upper Santa María Valley, and the Santa Clara Valley.1 By that time, the local farmers were relying heavily on maize and living in settlements of various sizes. We can also see limited social differentiation, perhaps indicating the status accorded to the first lineage on the land; the evidence for this comes from the Calderón site’s superimposed houses and well-­ endowed infant burial. We further assume that the pit house to pueblo transition  — ​ which in the southern zone equates to the Viejo to Medio period transition  — ​ occurred in all three places at roughly the same time. If the transition involved local abandonments or breaks, they are not visible Thoughts on the Southern Zone 167 in the available data. Instead, it looks as if the southern zone had a continuous and successful farming history covering six or more centuries, from perhaps AD 800 or earlier to 1450. Because the Viejo and Medio period occupations of the southern zone are discussed in detail in Chapters 3 and 4, we will not repeat that information here. Suffice it to say that the pattern we found was one of divergence through time. During the Viejo period, the Casas Grandes culture seems to have been fairly uniform. In the Medio period, the northern and southern zones diverged, and the emergence of Paquimé in the north undoubtedly was a factor in that split. We see the southern zone as holding back from the social transforma­ tions going on in and near Paquimé during the Medio period, so that period must now be seen as involving local social diversity as well as local ceramic variability. Beginning in the second half of the 1500s, Spanish incursions encountered native groups in the PAC study area. None of our calibrated radiocarbon dates (at the 2 sigma range) fall convincingly after 1450, so we cannot directly argue that the groups encountered by the Spanish were descended from those studied by the project. Instead , that is one of two possibilities, the other being that the Medio period population left and was replaced...


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