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Mogollon Culture

Mogollon is one of four major cultural areas archaeologists recognize in the American Southwest. The others are Ancestral Puebloan, Hohokam, and Patayan, each of which has subregional variations (see Ancestral Puebloan for a discussion of archaeological designations). The Mogollon people resided in the mountainous areas of western and southern New Mexico and eastern Arizona. Their neighbors to the north, the Ancestral Pueblos, resided on the Colorado Plateau and along the Rio Grande River and its tributaries, and their neighbors to the south and west, the Hohokam, resided in the lowland desert regions. The Mogollon peoples lived primarily at higher elevations, but some groups also resided in the adjacent lower desert regions to the south and east. The Mogollon region is generally bounded by the Little Colorado River on the north, the Verde River on the west, and the Pecos River on the east. Mogollon peoples also lived in the Mexican states of Sonora and Chihuahua, but few surveys have been undertaken to establish how far south the culture area extended. Some researchers have suggested that the Mogollon peoples are the ancestors of the Tarahumara (Ramamuri).

The Mogollon as a cultural, temporal, and regional concept was introduced by archaeologist Emil W. Haury in 1936 based on work he and others conducted at the Mogollon Village and Harris Village sites and from extensive survey in the region. The idea was initially met with great skepticism by archaeologists who did not want to distinguish the region from the Ancestral Puebloan cultural sphere or question the sweeping Pecos classification (see Ancestral Puebloan Culture), but by the mid-1950s it had become accepted.

Archaeologists today consider the Mogollon cultural traditions to have flourished from the end of the Archaic phase (1,800 BP/200 CE) until the arrival of the Spanish about 1540 CE. Some archaeologists, however, think that the Mogollon lost their distinctive identity as a regional culture around 1,000 BP/1000 CE and that the people amalgamated into the Ancestral Puebloan cultures, especially in the Cibola region (near Zuni); others feel they remained distinct until peoples migrated from the region in large numbers around 600 BP/1400 CE. The differences probably reflect regional variation between northern and southern peoples. There are still extensive scholarly debates as to the direct descents of the group. Some communities are definitely ancestral to the Hopi and Zuni, as documented in clan migration stories; other groups probably merged with O'odham and Sobaipuri communities, western Apache bands, and peoples in northern Chihuahua.

Culturally, Mogollon is characterized by pit-houses, distinctive burial patterns, head deformation, and coil-and-scraped brown pottery that changed over time and had regional variations. The brown wares were generally corrugated with incised or painted designs, although some types were polished redwares or decorated red-on-brown ceramics. In terms of settlements, Mogollon communities are characterized by Pueblo villages that focused inward on a plaza and rectangular kivas found within the room blocks. Archaeologists distinguish six basic regional variations that express long, continuous occupation: San Francisco Valley (Pine Lawn and Cibola) and Mimbres in New Mexico, Point of Pines, San Simon Valley and Forestdale in Arizona, and Jornado near present-day El Paso, Texas. There is also evidence of extensive intermingling of peoples in these groups so that the branches are not as distinct as those noted for the Ancestral Puebloans.

Archaeologists divide Mogollon history into three basic time periods: Early Pithouse, Late Pit-house, and Mogollon Pueblo (some others conceptualize five phases of continuity and graduate change). These are further subdivided by regional variation. The Early Pithouse period dates from 1,800 BP/200 CE), growing out of the late Archaic in the desert areas, and is marked by the introduction of plain brown pottery followed later by red-slipped wares with simple geometric designs. Lifeways exhibit great continuity from earlier times as well as evidence of seasonal mobility of households. Most easily recognized are small, circular or bean-shaped pit-house villages sited on hilltops and ridges, which were occupied for only part of the year since the people moved often to gather wild foods. A few villages were larger, with up to fifty houses. This settlement pattern would reflect an adaptation to life in the mountains and its seasonal and scattered food resources as well as the need for communities to come together for social and religious activities. There is also evidence of limited agriculture at lower elevations reflecting a longer growing season.

The Late Pithouse phase begins around 1,400–1,350 BP/600–650 CE, marked by the appearance of red-on-brown pottery and an increase in population. There is also more regional variation, reflecting greater trade and communication with different Hohokam and Ancestral Puebloan peoples. All groups began to use their local environments more intensely, including the valley floors adjacent to lands they were cultivating, especially in areas with rivers. Peoples still needed hunting and gathering, but the greater reliance on horticulture may explain the larger population size. Seasonal mobility is still evident in the range of settlement types. All communities reflect a change in pithouse styles seen in the development of rectangular rooms with lateral ramp entrances and interior hearths. Special pottery types were also developed. The people in the Mimbres Valley, for example, began to use a cream slip with red decorations and increasingly complex designs; later in the period they experimented with oxidizing firing and produced black-on-red or white designs.

The Pueblo period began with the construction of aboveground, masonry villages, first seen in the Mimbres Valley of New Mexico about 1,000 BP/1000 CE and in communities in the Arizona (Point of Pines and Grasshopper) mountains a hundred to three hundred years later. Continued contact with outside groups is reflected in regional variations in settlement, housing, and pottery styles. In general, villages are larger and suggest greater aggregation of peoples. Villages of 100 to 250 rooms were built over the ruins of older pithouse villages. Around 700 BP/1300 CE communities of up to 800 to 1,000 rooms are seen. These consist of several blocks of contiguous, surface roomblocks built of unshaped masonry stone around plazas. Large subterranean ceremonial rooms are located between roomblocks or on the edges of the pueblos while surface ceremonial chambers are incorporated into the roomblocks. Point of Pines Village, for example, had 800 rooms, a large rectangular great kiva, two plazas, and a surrounding wall set in a grassland plain in the mountains. There is evidence of a great deal of building, rebuilding, and remodeling, suggesting changes in uses for rooms and common areas. Interspersed in some areas are smaller sites, which may have been seasonal farm hamlets for extended families. There is also an influx of population, probably a result of clan migrations of Ancestral Puebloan peoples into the area. The migrants lived in Mogollon villages and established their own communities. For example, at Point of Pines Village, Kayenta Ancestral Puebloan migrants built a small, seventy-room addition to the main pueblo with a D-shaped kiva. The same subsistence patterns of seasonal hunting and plant gathering and dry-farming horticulture in the mountains and irrigation farming in the valleys continued but with evidence of more intensive agriculture and deforestation as farmers cleared the land.

This pattern continued with significant regional variation in periods of smaller and larger sites, as well as the introduction of cliff dwellings and adobe structures, until around 500 BP/1400–1450 CE. At this time, some groups moved from the central Arizona mountains to look for better farmlands elsewhere, and others established a lifestyle less dependent on farming. Some groups merged with the widespread Salado peoples (700–650 BP/1300–1450 CE) and lived in cliff dwellings with adobe structures, large rooms, and formally walled plaza areas. Some of these communities were very short-lived, with people moving often. At the end of this period, Apachean groups moved into the area and established it as their homeland.

Of all the Mogollon subregions, the Mimbres branch stands out because of its significant artistic achievement: decorated black-on-white pottery that was traded extensively throughout the Southwest, Texas, and northern Mexico. Unfortunately, it is also distinguished because Mimbres sites have been the most looted and all but obliterated as pothunters search for the Classic styles (1,000–820 BP/1000–1180 CE), which fetch large sums in the antiquity and fine art markets. Classic Mimbres pottery dates from the Pueblo period and has stylized animals and humans in black designs painted on a white slip before the pottery is fired in an oxidizing atmosphere. In addition to the figurative designs, Mimbres potters produced nonfigurative ware noted for its symmetry and use of negative and positive space. Archaeologists speculate that this reflects an ideological statement about life and death. The pottery is so specialized that archaeologists suspect that some potters were specialists. Some pottery was ceremonially "killed" during funerals; the bowls were placed over the head of the deceased as they were buried beneath the floors of habitation rooms or in the plazas. The pottery ceased being produced by 800 years ago, most likely a result of the collapse of the economic system due to overpopulation and worsening climatic conditions. Smaller groups remained and reorganized themselves into more flexible and mobile groups. New trading centers like Casas Grandes formed in northern Chihuahua.

Nancy J. Parezo

Further Reading
Anyon, Roger, and Steven A. LeBlanc. 1984. The Galaz Ruin: A Mimbres Village in Southwestern New Mexico. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.; Brody, J. J. 1977. Mimbres Painted Pottery. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.; Cordell, Linda S. 1984. Prehistory of the Southwest. Orlando, FL: Academic Press.; Haury, Emil W. 1985. Mogollon Culture in the Forestdale Valley, East-Central Arizona. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.; Kabotie, Fred. 1982. Designs from the Ancient Mimbreños: With a Hopi Interpretation. Flagstaff, AZ: Northland Press.; LeBlanc, Steven A. 1983. The Mimbres People: Ancient Pueblo Painters of the American Southwest. New York: Thames and Hudson.; Reid, J. Jefferson, and Stephanie M. Whittlesey. 1999. Grasshopper Pueblo: A Story of Archaeology and Ancient Life. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.; Reid, J. Jefferson, and Stephanie Whittlesey. 1997. The Archaeology of Ancient Arizona. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

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