The Paleo-Indians

Archaic culture

Double Adobe Shows Changing Lifestyles

At the Double Adobe archaeological site twelve miles northwest of Douglas in the Whitewater Draw area, bones of mammoth, horse, bison, antelope, coyote and dire wolf were found associated with artifacts in re-deposited stream sediments. Artifacts included fire-cracked rock, projectile points, and small grinding stones. Although there are hunting tools at the site, the 316 milling stones are the most prominent evidence. The presence of grinding stones has been interpreted to mean that humans were beginning to adapt to the changing environment that followed the end of the Ice Age and the extinction of many of the large mammals. The coming of the Holocene Era (10,000 Before Present Era) brought warmer and drier conditions to the southwest, and people either moved on to other areas or modified their lifestyles to suit local resources.

As a result, by 11,000-10,500 B.P.E. the Clovis culture (described on another page) was beginning to give way to more regional variants, which are generally called Archaic cultures. Except on the Great Plains, where the focus remained on hunting bison, the human subsistence strategy seems to have become more diversified, with medium and small mammals and various plant foods being added to the menu. These people were highly mobile and lived by plant and seed gathering, supplemented by hunting of modern fauna. Though the herds of large grazing herbivores were gone, browsing animals such as pronghorn and deer were still living in the mountains. The people probably came down to the lowlands when the rains made the desert fruitful and retreated to the mountain regions when water was scarce. They developed milling stones such as those found at Double Adobe to process tiny seed grains.

Later, as the climate became even hotter than it is at present, the people became more dependent on plant foods, as animal prey became scarce. A more sedentary lifestyle followed the introduction of squash, maize, and beans. Pit homes, which may have originally been below-ground storage areas, began to appear.

Building a pit house, 250 B.C. to 1450 A.D

These dwellings, which formed the basic domestic architecture in the area for more than a thousand years, were built by forming a pit in the ground, pounding the dirt floor and roofing it over with a framework of heavy sticks which were covered with grass, sticks and earth. During periods of drought the people could easily move back up into the mountainous areas, where there was greater rainfall and seepage springs provided water. These areas were also easier to defend in case of attacks by intruders.

Although the Archaic people left few artifacts and disappeared before the time of the birth of Christ, many of the later developments of Native North American culture in the Southwest are rooted in this period.

Mogollon Culture in Cochise County
Later Indian cultures arose further north in the area of the Casa Grande ruins and the pueblos of northern Arizona and New Mexico. These more advanced villages were inhabited first by Hohokam, Anasazi, Mogollon, Sinagua and Patayan Indians, and later by the Hopi and Zuni.

The Mogollon people began expanding down into the mountains of southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico about 200 BC. There they found easily defensible home sites on rocky promontories from which they could descend into the valley to carry on rudimentary farming, growing first corn and later beans, squash and bottle gourds. They did not build cities like the impressive pueblo villages, but their pit houses gradually became more complex, sometimes including a larger building for communal gatherings. The people continued to rely on native plants and animals for much of their subsistence.

Mogollon culture was named by Emil Haury after the Mogollon area of New Mexico. Haury defined this culture, which existed from about 200 AD to 1000 AD, as characterized initially by pit houses and brown pottery. Villages at first were on hilltops near the river valleys, but later larger villages were frequently located near rivers. Pit homes gradually became more numerous and complex. Although the people did significant farming, it is not known to what extent they continued to rely on native plants and animals for their subsistence.

Excavations at San Simon Village and Cave Creek Village are significant Mogollon culture sites in Cochise County. The Gleeson site, occupied about 900 AD, shows some cultural diversity, with features of both Mogollon and Hohokam cultures. Thirty-five houses were excavated there as well as pottery, projectile points, carved figurines and a variety of tools. Mimbres, 9th-12th century

The best-known remains of the Mogollon are their pottery. The art was developed over a period of nearly a thousand years. As it became more diverse, simple geometric designs on brown were replaced by more complex red-on-white and finally by the well-known black-on-white designs of the famous Mimbres pottery. The Amerind Foundation in Dragoon, Arizona, has a striking collection of Native American pottery.

After the early innovations, the Mogollon culture evolved very little and was gradually swallowed up by the more dynamic cultures of the north. By about 1450 AD they had merged physically and culturally with the Anasazi. The prehistoric Pueblo cultures, which included the Anasazi, developed in the northern areas of what is now Arizona and spread south, reaching the Salt and Gila Rivers by about 1200 AD. By 1400 AD, however, those cultures were breaking up and soon disappeared. By the time the Spaniards arrived in the sixteenth century, the local Indians had no recollection of the people who had built the magnificent Casa Grande structures or the cliff dwellings.Pima basket design

Sobaipuri, Papago, and Pima Indians
When the Spanish began exploring Northern Sonora, it was inhabited by Pima Indians, a semi-agricultural people who foraged for food when crops were poor. The Indians living in the San Pedro valley at the time the Spanish first entered North America were described by Jaramillo as follows:

"We went through deserted country for about four days to another river, which we heard called Nexpa, where some poor Indians came out to see the general, with presents of little value, with some stalks of roasted maguey & pitahayas."

When Father Kino entered the San Pedro valley around 1692, about one hundred and fifty years later, the Sobaipuri Indians had a very similar lifestyle. Pimas, Sobas, Sobaipuris and the Papagos, who lived west of the Santa Cruz, were all of Piman stock (O'otam) and spoke similar languages. Kino, who was fluent in the Pima language, was able to identify these similarities. Living along the rivers, these natives used the scanty water for irrigation and successfully raised cotton, maize, beans, calabashes, and melons.'

This article is available as a free e-book as part of Paleo-Indians in the Southwest.

Recommended reading:

de Castaneda, Pedro et al., translated and edited by George Parker Winship with an introduction and additional notes by Frederick Webb Hodge. The Journey of Coronado. Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Publications. 1990.

Dillehay, Thomas D. The Settlement of the Americas: A New Prehistory. New York: Basic Books, 2000. (A revisionist theory)

Green, John. Indian Life in Pre-Columbian North America. New York: Dover Publications, 1994. (Source of the drawing of pit house, above)

Hart, Donna and Robert W. Sussman. Man the Hunted: Primates, Predators, and Human Evolution. Cambridge, MA: Westview Press, 2005. "This provocative view of human evolution suggests that the countless adaptations, from larger brains to speech, that have allowed our species to survive stem from a considerably more vulnerable position on the food chain than we might like to imagine. The myth of early humans as fearless hunters dominating the earth obscures our origins as just one of many species that had to be cautious, had to depend on other group members, had to communicate danger, and had to come to terms with being merely one cog in the complex cycle of life." (dust jacket copy)

Haury, Emil. Prehistory of the American Southwest. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1986.

LeBlanc, Steven A. and Katherine E. Register. Constant Battles. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2003. Presents the view that primitive societies fought constantly and brutally, mainly for the possession of scarce natural resources.

Sovak, Jan. Prehistoric Mammals. Dover Pictorial Archive Series. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1991.

Wilson, Eva. North American Indian Designs for Artists and Craftspeople. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1984.