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Arizona History

25,000 years ago..or more, indigenous people traveled north through South America, Central America and Mexico into the fertile riverine valleys of today's Salt (Salado), Agua Fria, Gila, Verde and Colorado Rivers. Following the natural corridors created by the Basin and Range, herds of prehistoric animals led them through passable canyons.   Flint spearheads and the scattering of small camps have been found from New Mexico's Sandia Mountains to Clovis to Ventana Cave near today's Mexican border.

The Hohokam settled in the Valley of the Sun evolving into skilled craftsmen, traders, farmers and artisans.  Ballcourts and platform mounds were in abundance when the first explorers came to what is now Phoenix.  Their material culture is evidence of a strong Aztec influence in their architecture and skill sets such as irrigation. Today, their descendants can be found along the Gila River at Sacaton.

Far north,on the Colorado Plateau, another people evolved called the Anasazi or Hisatsinom (Those who came before).  The connection between Chaco Canyon in New Mexico and Casas Grandes, Mexico beginning in about 900 AD is again shown through abrupt changes in their art and dwellings.  Five story pueblos with hundreds of rooms litter the canyon floors. From this center, numerous outliers spread radially from Chaco Canyon to Taos, Mesa Verde, Kayenta and Wupatki.  When the Blue Star, an astronomical signal, appeared, these people moved to  their promised land on Black Mesa. These are the Hopi, Zuni and Puebloans of today.

T shaped doorway Casas Grandes.JPG (45047 bytes)The "mysterious" T-shaped doorways of Paquime

Paquime turkey and macaw pens.JPG (34954 bytes) Paquime walls are a Chaco look alike.  Macaw and turkey pens are on the right

Paquime (Casas Grandes, Mexico) served as a cultural beacon for prehistoric people within a thirty thousand square mile area, which encompassed far west Texas, southern New Mexico, southeastern Arizona, northeastern Sonora and northern Chihuahua. Like Chaco Canyon, roads radiated from it to the surrounding areas. 

The people raised several clusters of multistory terraced buildings and a number of religious monuments. They constructed the building walls of mud, or adobe, applying and smoothing the "cement" a handful at a time. They built the roofs of heavy supporting timbers, or vigas, which they covered with small straight branches, or latigas, and plastered earth. Collectively, the buildings housed perhaps 1600 rooms. The largest building covered nearly a full acre.

The people of Paquime raised corn, beans, squash and other crops; hunted buffalo, antelope, deer and other wild animals; and harvested agave, nuts, prickly pear cactus fruits and other wild plants. They raised domesticated birds, crafted high quality ceramics, wove textiles, created exquisite jewelry, may have manufactured metal products, and apparently developed and sustained a widespread trade network.

Paquime’s terraced building compounds embraced central plazas, large agave roasting pits, a walk-in well and at least one subterranean ceremonial chamber. Rooms featured T-shaped doorways, sleeping platforms and massive structural-post-support disks. Like the famed Chaco Canyon pueblo ruins in northwestern New Mexico, Paquime lay at the hub of radiating roads. Based on oral histories of western New Mexico’s Acoma and Zuni Pueblos, Paquime apparently became a destination for migrants from the San Juan Basin region in northwestern New Mexico.

Paquime looked much like a typical Southwestern pueblo, but it evidently resonated to Mesoamerican ritual, celebration, know-how and commerce.

Mesoamericans introduced an ancient and labyrinthine religion, or belief system, rooted in dark mysteries of storms, clouds, water, earth and night sky. Powerful holy men appeared like apparitions in sacred temples, mountain peaks, springs, caves and secreted natural alcoves to enter into the world of the spirits and communicate with deities with exotic names like Quetzalcoatl, Tlaloc and Tezcatlipoca. They committed the dead into the realm of the supernatural, hoping they would intercede with the deities to deliver rain for crops and prosperity for the people.

Under the influence of the Mesoamericans, Paquime’s people constructed in the easternmost plaza a platform mound, which they paved with stone and probably crowned with a temple building. They built effigy mounds, one in the shape of a serpent, another in the shape of a bird. (The serpent mound, with a feather plume or a curved horn arching over its head, gave honor to the Quetzalcoatl deity.) They built a mound with the shape of a cross, aligned with the cardinal directions. They produced images associated with the Quetzalcoatl and Tlaloc deities on ceramics, ceremonial chamber walls and rock surfaces.

During religious ceremonies in the night at Paquime, you could have heard the chanting of the priests, the throb of drums, the pounding steps of dancers, the tinkle of sacred copper bells.

The Paquime people excavated from the earth within the plaza areas at least three Mesoamerican-style ball courts, including one with the classic Mesoamerican "I" shape immediately adjacent to the temple mound. Ball games, played for more than two thousand years in prehistoric America, served not only as metaphors for competition for supremacy between communities in a region. They also held central roles in ritual and politics.

Structures and symbols spoke of Mesoamerican religion and game. Other evidence pointed to Mesoamerican technology and trade.

Paquime builders constructed channels to conduct fresh water into the community and waste water away from the living areas. Paquime keepers somehow managed to breed and raise scarlet macaws, icons in Mesoamerican ritual, in the Chihuahuan desert, far from the birds’ native tropical habitats. Paquime craftsmen fashioned elaborate pendants from Mesoamerican copper and shells and Southwestern turquoise.

In the ruins of their community, the people of Paquime left abundant evidence of extensive commerce with Mesoamerica: copper bells, copper armlets, copper ceremonial axes, Pacific Coast seashells, spindle whorls, ceramic drums, ceramic shards.

The community apparently marched to the cadences of both puebloan and Mesoamerican drummers.

Paquime’s Sphere of Influence


Paquime’s influence evidently spread like ripples in a pond, stronger at the epicenter, weaker at the margins. Within a day’s march from Paquime, other pueblo communities built similar mud walls, raised similar ritual architecture, constructed ball courts, raised macaws and imported similar trade goods. Within two to three days’ march, still other communities built similar mud walls and some ritual architecture and imported the trade goods, but they evidently constructed few ball courts and raised few, if any, macaws. Farther away, hamlets and villages followed their own patterns of life, but they seem to have connected to Paquime through trade goods.

Even at the far reaches, the prehistoric people felt the mystic winds of Mesoamerican religious beliefs, ritual and icons, validated by Paquime, and they apparently fused them with their own supernatural traditions. Across the region touched by Paquime, puebloan peoples created a vast gallery of religious art, connections to the spirit world: plumed or horned serpent Quetzalcoatl figures, strange goggle-eyed Tlaloc figures, step sided rain pyramids, zigzag lightning symbols, sacred macaws.

The Collapse

The fall of Paquime began in the fifteenth century, possibly because a warlike Mesoamerican empire called Tarascans cut trade routes. Commerce would have dwindled. Alternatively, drought may have set in. Cultural alliances in the Southwestern United States and northern Mexico may have realigned. Paquime’s influence would have waned. Finally, someone, possibly nomadic warriors from the north, sacked and burned Paquime. The end had come.

The Mysteries

Up to now, the architectural and artifactual remains at Paquime and the surrounding region have presented a mosaic of mysteries.

Who energized Paquime early in the thirteenth century, building it into a cultural beacon? Some archaeologists have pointed to Mesoamerican missionary traders – pochtecas, they were called. Others have suggested elite groups who must have migrated south, to the Paquime area, in the wake of failing pueblo cultures in the San Juan Basin. Still others have credited puebloan people from southwestern New Mexico, or leaders from the immediate Paquime region, or some combination of puebloans and Mesoamericans.

How much political power did Paquime wield in the region? Some scholars have said that the archaeological evidence suggests very little political control by Paquime. Others have thought that Paquime priests may have imposed significant power, at least in their immediate area, by controlling supernatural secrets and sacred objects.

Did Paquime serve primarily as a center for manufacturing exotic goods? A trading center for imported exotic goods? A major consumer of imported exotic goods? A cultural and religious inspiration for the people of the surrounding region? Many archaeologists have suggested that Paquime served as a major trade and manufacturing center, a commercial link between the pueblo and the Mesoamerican areas. Others have pointed to evidence that Paquime may have been more of a consumer and religious center, perhaps a regional equivalent to Mecca or a Vatican.

What finally brought Paquime to its knees in the late fifteenth century? Archaeologists have proposed, of course, that warfare in Mesoamerica wrecked trade and commerce in the north. Others have suggested the possibilities of warfare between Paquime and nomadic tribes, factionalism between neighboring pueblos, change in environment, the epidemic of disease."
Paquime collapsed around 1350 and was burned.  This is about the same time as the Great Abandonment in Four Corners.

By 1400, the Sinaguans and Mogollon people had moved north to Black Mesa as did those from Wupatki and Hom'olovi near Winslow. Some remained near Mesa Verde.  The Colorado Plateau became their permanent home.

Silent ruins, once home to thousands, were waiting for the northern newcomers, the Navajo and Apache.  Both come from the McKenzie River  area in Canada.   Arriving here around 1450 to 1500 AD, the empty dwellings were ready made housing.   The Navajo moved into Canyon de Chelly and Chaco Canyon.  The Apache moved into the Central Highland areas of Sedona, Tonto Basin and the White Mountains.   Eventually some of the bands moved south into the Chirachua Mountains near today's Mexican border.

Map of Arizona.jpg (55174 bytes)

Map of Arizona

 

The rez.jpg (39886 bytes)

Map of the reservations and Four Corners 

 

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