Cultures of the Ancient Americas

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Cultures of the Southwest

The arid deserts and high plateaus of the American Southwest gave rise to three unique prehistoric cultures, Ancestral Pueblo (Anasazi), Mogollon and Hohokam. All dates are BCE (Before Current Era, or BC) and CE (Current Era, or AD).

Hohokam

Mesa Grande

Mesa Grande

Along the rivers of the Arizona desert a unique culture, the Hohokam, arose and flourished. Beginning as early as 1200 BCE, their predecessors, known as the "Early Agricultural Period" people, began to construct large irrigation systems along the Santa Cruz River. 

By 1 CE, Hohokam culture appears and they begin building the largest and most sophisticated irrigation systems in the New World.  Related to cultures to the south, the Hohokam made large ball courts and played a version of the Mesoamerican ballgame with balls made from a natural rubber in Mexico and traded north. 

By 1150 they began to construct large temple mounds, including the Mesa Grande platform mound recently opened to the public by the Arizona Museum of Natural History.  Their descendants, the O'odham People of the Salt and Gila River communities carry on a vibrant, living culture today.

 

Photo of Santa Cruz Red on Buff plate

Santa Cruz Red on Buff
Hohokam, 900 CE
Southern Arizona

This is an extremely large example of a Hohokam helmet pot, so named because of its resemblance to a World War I army helmet. This example dates to the late Santa Cruz Phase of the Colonial Period approximately 900 CE. This is a typical "quartered" design, with the bowl being divided into 4 quarters, each containing the same repeated design. 

Anonymous gift facilitated by Walter Knox, Scottsdale, AZ

Mogollon

Covering an area extending from central Arizona and southwestern New Mexico to a point 400 miles south of the Mexican border, Mogollon culture includes many regional variations. In central Arizona, Mogollon culture shows subtle differences in architecture and artifacts from those of the Anasazi.  In Southwestern New Mexico, the Mimbres branch is known for their distinct pottery often containing scenes of daily life.  The Chihuahua branch in Northern Mexico shares many cultural traits with cultures further south in Mesoamerica.  The major site for this area, known as Casas Grandes or Paquimé, was a large town of several thousand people. Paquimé was a great trading center, distributing copper bells, rubber balls, shell ornaments and other goods from Mexico north into the American Southwest. 
 
Southwestern cultures have long been known for their ceramics with colors and styles that varied across different cultural areas and changed through time.  The large jars or "ollas" displayed here are only rarely found surviving the ravages of time.

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Snowflake Black on White Olla
Mogollon, 1100-1250 CE
Western New Mexico-Eastern Arizona

Snowflake Black on White is often identified by the use of individual panels containing repeated designs.  Can you see this in the slanted panels on this olla?  Snowflake Black on White is a Mogollon ceramic that occurs between 1100 and 1250 CE.  It is part of a larger group of ceramic types known as the Cibola Whitewares, which are widely distributed in both the Ancestral Pueblo and Mogollon culture areas of eastern Arizona and western New Mexico.

Anonymous gift facilitated by Walter Knox, Scottsdale, AZ

 

Tularosa Black on White Ollas - A  Tularosa Black on White Ollas - B

Tularosa Black on White Ollas
Mogollon, 1225-1300 CE
Western New Mexico-Eastern Arizona

The Tularosa style, named for the Tularosa Basin in New Mexico, is a ceramic of the Mogollon culture and dates from approximately 1225 to 1300 CE.  The "scrolls" on the one olla are very typical of this style of painted pottery.  The other shows a typical "woven" pattern with decorated strips that are in an over and under woven pattern. 

Anonymous gift facilitated by Walter Knox, Scottsdale, AZ

 

Showlow Polychrome Jar

Showlow Polychrome Jar
Mogollon, 1325-1400 CE
Eastern Arizona

Showlow Polychrome is named for the town of Showlow near the Mogollon Rim.  Showlow Polychrome is a late ceramic, dating from 1325 to 1400 CE.  Polychromes, poly = many and chrome = colors, contain 3 to 4 different colors.  This is a very rare Showlow polychrome jar. 

Anonymous gift facilitated by Walter Knox, Scottsdale, AZ

 

Tonto Polychrome Jars - A Tonto Polychrome Jars - B

Tonto Polychrome Jars
Salado, 1300-1450 CE
Southwest

Tonto polychromes appear late in Southwest prehistory, occurring between 1300 and 1450 CE.  This type is part of a larger and related group of ceramic types known as Salado Polychromes.  They first appear in the Four Corners area and then spread rapidly throughout the Southwest.  

This is very different from most ceramics whose occurrence is restricted to specific regions. Archaeologist Patricia Crown noted that the motifs, which often contain parrot or feathered serpent symbols (in Aztec the god Quetzalcoatl) along with masked figures, are common on Gila Polychromes.  She suggests that this is the beginning of a new ideology, the Katsina Cult, which today is represented by the Hopi katsinas.  

These new gods appear at a time when a severe drought forced the Ancestral Pueblo people out of the four corners area, from which they spread south throughout Arizona, taking the Gila Polychrome style of ceramics with them.

Anonymous gift facilitated by Walter Knox, Scottsdale, AZ

 

Ancestral Pueblo (Anasazi)

Spruce Tree House, Mesa Verde National Park
Betatakin, Navajo National Park
Spruce Tree House, Mesa Verde National Park
Betatakin, Navajo National Park

 

Ancestral Pueblo peoples, often referred to by the Navajo term "Anasazi" or "Ancient Enemies," inhabited a vast area of the northern southwest.  They appear by 1500 BCE, living in "pithouses" built into the ground to insulate them from the summer heat and winter cold.  

From scattered small villages they tended crops of corn, squash and beans.  Around 1200 CE, people from these small villages began to gather in large population centers as social unrest, fueled initially by a severe drought, swept through the Southwest.  

By the 1200's warfare became prevalent throughout the American Southwest and the once widely scattered populations aggregated into larger village sites.  They also began to locate in defensible locations, creating the magnificent cliff dwellings such as those in Mesa Verde National Park in southern Colorado.  

Soon after, many of the Ancestral Pueblo people migrated south and their sites have been found in the Tonto Basin and Safford Valley in southern Arizona. But a few groups, including the Hopi, Zuni and the pueblo people of New Mexico remained and survived as thriving cultures today.

 

Mesa Verde Black on White Mug

Mesa Verde Black on White Mug
Ancestral Pueblo, 1180 to 1300 CE
Four Corners Area

With its familiar shape, resembling a modern coffee mug, the Mesa Verde Black on White mug is the iconic artifact from the late period of the American Southwest.  The mugs typically have a black organic paint created from the Beeweed plant.  The designs are geometric and often bordered on the top and bottom by bands as seen in this example.  Mugs are most often found in kivas or with human burials, contexts that suggest they were most often used in a ceremonial context.  Some are found in rooms and residential areas.

Gift of Walter Knox, Scottsdale, AZ

 

Jeddito Black on Orange Jar

Jeddito Black on Orange Jar
Ancestral Hopi, 1250-1350 CE
Northeastern Arizona

The Jeddito series of pottery is unusual in two respects.  First, it can be directly linked to a modern group, the Hopi, who still make some similar types of pottery.  Archaeologists can follow the changes in Hopi ceramics from Jeddito, which dates between 1250 to 1350 CE, to modern Hopi types.  Secondly, Jeddito is one of the few prehistoric Southwestern ceramics that was fired not with wood but with coal.  Coal is still mined today on the Hopi Mesas.

Anonymous gift facilitated by Walter Knox, Scottsdale, AZ

 

Historic Pueblo

The line that traditionally divides historic from prehistoric is the arrival of the Spanish in the Southwest in 1540, but in some ways this is an arbitrary distinction.  Arrival of the Europeans was disruptive to traditional Pueblo societies, and led to the Pueblo Revolt of 1680.  But one of the greatest disruptions to Ancestral Pueblo ways of life was the abandonment of pueblos in the Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon areas due to drought and other societal stresses in the 1200s, with depopulation or population relocation to other areas. 

Pueblo cultures survived these early severe disruptions and the later European invasions, and today enjoy robust cultural creativity.  The contemporary Western Pueblos are Hopi, Zuni, the Tewa community at Hano on First Mesa, Acoma and Laguna.  The Eastern Pueblos are those along and near the Rio Grande from Taos to Isleta.

 

Polychrome Seed Jar

Polychrome Seed Jar
Acoma Pueblo, 1850-1900 
West-Central New Mexico

Except for the very short raised neck and direct rim, the vessel is a seed jar form with a thick high shoulder.  A broad band features a Zuni-influenced trisected composition, with bold diamond motifs filled with black-on-white checker patterns and fringed with red triangles.  The lower portion is painted red. 

One expert thinks this jar dates to 1850-1875, a second scholar thinks it dates not much before 1900.  The name "Colter" is written on the base.  Was this jar in the collection of Mary Jane Colter, the famous Arizona architect who designed Hopi House, Hermit's Rest, Phantom Ranch and other structures at the Grand Canyon, and La Posada Hotel in Winslow?

Gift of Charles F. Murphy, Carefree, AZ

 

Polychrome Jar

Polychrome Jar
Zuni Pueblo, ca. 1920-1930 
West-Central New Mexico

This jar from Zuni, New Mexico has an indented base that flares to a thick, rounded shoulder, and a short neck indented at the shoulder and tapering to a short slightly flared rim.  The mostly black-on-white painting has accents in red and some red filled areas.  The painting is composed of four panel bands.  The band at the neck consists of abstract geometric and curvilinear elements.  The upper and lower shoulders contain similar compositions that feature bucks in profile with the red heart-line motif standing on or under curved framing devices.  These bands flank a central band of birds in profile painted red.  The three shoulder bands are divided on opposing sides by vertical panel bands of abstract elements similar to those found around the neck of the vessel.  The lower portion is painted red.

Gift of Charles F. Murphy, Carefree, AZ

 

Polychrome Jar

Polychrome Jar
Zia Pueblo, 1940-1960 
New Mexico

The design of this jar shows undulating lines of the rainbow in red-brown, over and under which are white roosters with red combs.  The tail feathers are bifurcated, and the wing comes off the back.  There is bunting under the rim and hatched triangles along the rainbow.  The Pueblo of Zia is near the Jemez River in northern New Mexico.  Zia people speak a Keresan language.  The sun symbol on the New Mexico flag is a Zia design.

Gift of Margaret Kline, Phoenix, AZ

 

Ca'lako (Shalako) Katsina

Ca'lako (Shalako) Katsina
Zuni Pueblo, ca. 1945-1955 
West-Central New Mexico

Ca'lako (pronounced Shalako) winter solstice ceremonies occur in December and concern fertility rites and preparation for the new year.  Katsinas (or Kachinas) are supernatural beings important in religious and ceremonial life.  Conceptually, there are three aspects: they are supernatural beings, masked human dancers, and, carved and painted dolls.  Think of katsinas as messengers from the gods.  Dancers that appear in ceremonies are supernatural beings when they don the katsina mask.  The dolls are given to children as avatars of these beings.  This katsina is a Zuni avian deity that is part of the Ca'lako. The actual Ca'lako, in ceremony, stands about 10' tall as it is raised by a pole and "grows."
 
This katsina doll is probably carved of cottonwood and is costumed with yarn, beads, fur, feathers, horsehair, and painted textiles.  It is conical in shape and lacks arms.  A wooden headdress has feathers attached.  A collar, or ruff, made of black yarn, represents spruce.  Fur wraps beneath the ruff and a horsehair lock of hair falls in back.  The costume, made of painted textile, is adorned with borders and triangles common to traditional Zuni Ca'lakos.  A beaded turquoise-colored necklace is worn below the ruff.  A traditional Ca'lako has a horn on either side of the head; here one has broken away.  Also, the Ca'lako has a characteristic "beak", represented by a cylinder or beak shape; it is missing in this example.  In the Ca'lako ceremony, the deity makes a loud clacking sound with this wooden beak. 

Gift of Charles F. Murphy, Carefree, AZ

 

Navajo

 

The Navajo and the Apache are related groups that speak Athapaskan languages.  Archaeological evidence suggests that Athapaskan speakers were in the traditional Navajo area by the 1540s.  Weaving is an important tradition among the Navajo.  The Navajo acquired weaving after their arrival in the Southwest.   Some scholars think they learned the art of weaving from Pueblo peoples, but the Navajo believe the art of weaving was a sacred gift from Spider Woman, a Navajo Holy Person.

 

Wearing Blankets:  Classic Period

By the early 1800's, the Navajo were weaving blankets in sheep's wool (Churro) and using indigo dye and wool trade cloths ("bayeta"-English "baize") introduced by the Spanish.  The bayeta was already dyed in a red derived from "lac" (Old World insects) or from cochineal (New World cactus insects).  The bayeta was raveled and re-spun as yarn for Navajo weaving. Cochineal, or lac, reds were later replaced with aniline dyes.  The dominant forms were Chief's Blankets (First, Second or Third Phases), serapes, and saddle blankets.

 

Second Phase Navajo Chief's blanket

Second Phase Navajo Chief's blanket
1860's - 1870's
Four Corners area

"Chief's Blankets", or wearing blankets, of the "Second Phase" have added a design element to the grouped dark brown, indigo blue & white stripes of the "First Phase" Chief's Blankets that appeared around 1800.  Typically, the design addition is a rectangular bar woven between the stripes.  This blanket of homespun Churro wool, with natural brown and white stripes, has four rectangular bars woven in raveled bayeta that was dyed with cochineal red. The bars have two sets of indigo blue stripes placed between three terraced diamonds in natural white and indigo blue.  The diamonds repeat, three per bar, making a pattern of twelve across the face of the blanket.  This pattern of twelve precedes the pattern of nine bars or diamonds more common in the Third Phase Chief's Blankets.

Anonymous gift facilitated by Walter Knox, Scottsdale, AZ

Third Phase Chief's Blankets: 1860's to 1870's

The aniline dyes of these later blankets appear as a brighter red than the darker reds of the cochineal dyed fibers.

Third Phase Variant Navajo Chief's Blanket

Third Phase Variant Navajo Chief's Blanket
1860's - 1870's
Four Corners area

This blanket is a Third Phase variant, as it includes design elements of both the Second and Third Phase style Chief's Blankets. The block design superimposed over the stripe pattern is a Second Phase element, but it includes a 9-panel diamond design more typical of Third Phase style.  The diamonds on this rug are serrated designs, a design type which may have been derived from northern Mexico and introduced at the Bosque Redondo internment camp in New Mexico (post-1863).  The dyes are natural and aniline.

Anonymous gift facilitated by Walter Knox, Scottsdale, AZ

 

Third Phase Chief's Blanket

Third Phase Chief's Blanket
ca. 1865-1870 
Four Corners Area

This Third Phase Chief's Blanket has the 9-panel diamond design set in red squares. The squares are between bands of blue and black stripes which alternate with the bands of black and white stripes typical of Chief's Blankets. This style appears slightly later, 1865-1870 in the Four Corners area. The black and white are of natural fibers, the blue is indigo dyed and the red is aniline dyed yarn.

Gift of Charles F. Murphy, Carefree, AZ

Navajo Weaving: Transitional Period

After 1868, when the period of interment at Bosque Redondo ended, a number of changes affected the textile market for Navajo weavings and marked the beginning of the Transitional Period.  Weavers became more dependent upon commercially spun yarn and the quality of the product diminished somewhat.  The use of indigo and cochineal dye declined, and was replaced by aniline (coal tar) dyes; bayeta was replaced by an orange-red raveled American flannel. Commercially spun yarns included the bright colors of Germantown yarns.  The reds during this period take on a much brighter appearance.  During this period the emphasis shifted from making "wearing blankets" to making "rugs" as traders moved into the area to accommodate an increasing tourist trade.

 

Child's Blanket or Saddle Throw

Child's Blanket or Saddle Throw
ca. 1870-1880 
Four Corners area

This blanket features broad vertical panel banding on a brilliant red background.  The composition features a central column of red diamonds outlined in black and white that frame white cross motifs; white and black zigzag motifs are woven in the background areas.  The two flanking panels are similar to the central one except that the tips of the diamonds are left open at the outer edges of the textile.  The black and white are natural fibers and the red is both commercial cochineal and raveled cochineal dyed yarn.

Gift of Charles F. Murphy, Carefree, AZ

 

Late Serape-Style Blanket

Late Serape-Style Blanket
ca. 1885-1895 
Four Corners area

Serape-style blankets, another form of wearing blanket, are longer than they are wide.  Stepped or serrate diamond patterns of dark red, green, yellow, and white are vertically aligned across a bright red field on this blanket.  Smaller geometrics are woven at the blanket ends.  The black and white are natural fibers while the green and yellow are aniline dyed and the red is both commercial cochineal and raveled cochineal dyed yarn.

Gift of Charles F. Murphy, Carefree, AZ

 

Regional Styles

As the Navajo moved back into their homeland from the Bosque Redondo after 1868, traders also moved into the area and opened a number of trading posts, some of which are still active.  As the traders set-up in different areas, the local Navajos would trade their weavings at the trading posts for other kinds of goods.  In time, the traders began to influence what and how the weavers produced their textiles.  A shift was made from wearing blankets, originally made as garments, to rugs that were made primarily for the tourist trade.  A new design attribute -the use of borders -appeared to create the effect of framing.   Tourists increasingly arrived by railroad, and, familiar with rug designs from elsewhere (oriental, e.g.)would request patterns, colors, or combinations that appealed to them.  In turn, the traders would pass on those demands to the weavers, influencing elements of the product.  In this way, certain posts became associated with specific styles of rugs that were common to their area.  These styles became entrenched and were often named after the posts where they appeared.  Regional styles such as Two Gray Hills, Teec Nos Pos and Ganado, are still produced today.  A high degree of individual variability exists within all of these styles, and not all rugs can be attributed to a specific style.

 

Regional Style Rug

Regional Style Rug
ca.1930-1950 
Four Corners area

The main design of this rug is somewhat unusual in that it consists of black and white arrows, with pointed arrowheads.  The arrows point to the outer short edges of the center grey field.  The center field is surrounded by a white border with gold-brown linear geometrics, and the whole is further framed in black.  The white, grey and gold-brown fiber is natural white; the black is aniline dyed yarn.  Some have attributed this style to Teec Nos Pos, but its features are more independently derived.

Gift of Charles F. Murphy, Carefree, AZ

 

Two Gray Hills Rug

Two Gray Hills Rug
ca. 1930-1950 
Four Corners area

The central design of this rug consists of two dominant cross motifs, with bifurcated arms and complex fill elements.  The two crosses are separated centrally by a small white serrated diamond motif with a gold-brown border.  Parallel rows of black-tipped white and gold-brown feathers flank the cross-motifs along the outside edges of the central grey field, and are repeated as part of the central fill of the two crosses.  The central field is bordered by a white surround with black meanders. The whole is framed in black on the outside edges.  The white, grey and gold-brown fiber is natural white while the black is aniline dyed yarn and the red brown may be carded natural brown with red aniline dyed fibers.

Gift of Charles F. Murphy, Carefree, AZ

 

Saddle Blanket, with initials RW

Saddle Blanket, with initials RW
c. 1940s-1950s
Four Corners area

The asymmetrical design of this blanket is somewhat unusual.  It is divided into three panels of uneven proportion, each with a series of diamond design elements.  The two lower panels are narrow and have the same diamond motif represented by reversed black and red patterns.  Corner designs are squares on the broad panel, and have red, white, and black geometrics on a gold-brown field framed in red.  Corner designs on the opposite edge, in the narrow panel, are squares with white letters in a gold-brown field framed in black with lateral edge serrations.  Such letters may have been the initials of the weaver, though this is an uncommon practice, or the initials of the purchaser.  The outer edges of the blanket are corded in red, with tassels along the long edges.

Gift of Charles F. Murphy, Carefree, AZ

 

Apache

The Apache, like the Navajo, are part of the Athapaskan-speaking groups that migrated from the northwest and arrived in the Four Corners area by the 1540s.  The Western Apache make up one division of this larger cultural group that historically occupied a part of Arizona between present day Flagstaff and Tucson.  Today Western Apache groups in Arizona are generally considered to be the Tonto, Cibecue, White Mountain and San Carlos Apaches.  The Western Apache are known for their exceptional basketry weaving, making and using basketry more so than pottery.  Coiled, twilled, and twined basketry techniques were all employed.  The Apache are best known for their coiled trays and jars, coiled or twilled water bottles coated with pine pitch, and twilled or twined burden baskets.

 

Coiled Basketry Jar, 19" x 15"

Coiled Basketry Jar, 19" x 15"
Western Apache, ca. 1885-1900 
Fort Apache, East-Central Arizona

Western Apache baskets are typically coiled with a three-rod warp of willow, and a weft of willow and devil's claw splints.  Three rods in a pyramidal arrangement make a heavy coil for a firm foundation to the jar; with tight stitching of the weft this makes for a sturdy container.  This flared-neck jar has a decorative pattern of bold vertical zigzag bands, on a tan field, extending from base to rim.  The tan field derives from the willow and the black zigzags are from the devil's claw splints.  The coils are initiated at the base where they form a black circle visible only as part of the basal design.  Nine bands are initiated from this circle and extend vertically to the rim to cover the entire design field.  Each band is formed of two parallel zigzag lines, comprised of stacked rectangles offset to form steps.  The bands are closed at the base and at the rim. 
 
The repetition of design elements, and in this case the encircling zigzag bands, lend a dynamic "motion" to the pattern that is common in Western Apache basketry.  Typical is the black circle which begins the coil, and from which the design begins and extends to the rim.  Form, structure, and design of this basketry jar are all typical for the Western Apache group. 

Gift of Charles F. Murphy, Carefree, AZ