I am, once again, living in a place that is surrounded by ancient sites. Some of them are ruins, inhabited only by the spirits of those who went before, some are national parks and some are still active pueblo villages. The living pueblos include Taos, Picuris, San Juan, Santa Clara, Nambe, Pojoaque, Tesuque and San Ildefonso. All of these are a short drive from my home. A little further a-field is Acoma Pueblo, commonly called “Sky City” for its location high on top of an isolated rock mesa. Then there are the National Monuments: Aztec Ruins, Bandolier, Gila Cliff Dwellings, and Petroglyph, to name a few, as well as Chaco and Pecos National Parks. Clearly, man has lived in the area that is now New Mexico for many thousands of years. I would like to focus on Bandolier National Monument and Taos Pueblo because I’ve visited each numerous times, their being only an hour away.
There is evidence of human activity in the area that is now Bandolier National Monument dating back more than 10,000 years. The commonly held belief that these ancient people mysteriously disappeared around 1300 AD should be replaced with an understanding of the continuity of an ancient culture still found in modern day pueblos. Pueblo people lived in the Bandolier area into the 1600’s
The earliest homes in Bandolier, once the migrating people became more settled, were pit houses, built mostly underground with mud and stick walls and roofs over the dug out areas. These dwellings were followed by above ground stone houses and cliff dwellings. Evidence of trade and shared methods of house construction indicate relationships between the people of Bandolier, Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde. Trade items were also brought from distant places such as Mexico.
Eventually, around 1200 AD, the people of the Bandolier area began farming, cultivating fields of corn, squash and beans. Whole rooms were used for food storage. It was important for survival to store several years of harvest, enough to see families through years of drought or crop failure. It is thought other rooms were used to house turkeys. Turkeys were raised, primarily, for their feathers, which were woven together with yucca fibers to make warm blankets and clothing.
Hunting, weaving and heavy construction were performed by the men while women cooked, made pottery, raised the children and regularly mudded the exteriors of the dwellings. Both men and women farmed. Life expectancy of these small people (between 5 feet and five feet six inches tall) was, on average, 35 years. The environment was harsh and their lives consisted, predominantly, of hard work. Both took their toll.
A timeline of the area, taken from a brochure about Bandolier National Monument which was provided by the Western National Parks Association, follows:
(9500 BC – 5500 BC)
The story begins more than 10,000 years ago with nomadic hunting bands moving in and out of the area in pursuit of large game animals.
(550 BC – AD 600)
As the last glacier receded northward, about 7500 years ago, the climate became drier and warmer. As large grazing animals died out, roaming groups of people began to hunt smaller animals and collect edible plants. Around 500 BC the population of the northern Rio Grande Valley increased as roving bands settled into a more sedentary lifestyle. Early houses, known as pit housed, were built partially underground.
(AD 600 – AD 1175)
During the early part of this period people began to make pottery. While baskets were portable and practical for nomadic people, ceramic pots replaced them as people began to build more permanent homes. Pit houses were replaced by above ground structures. Old pit houses were modified and became the first kivas. Early homes were made of adobe, a mixture of mud reinforced with wood and rocks. Later houses were made almost entirely of stone and plastered with mud.
(AD 1175 – AD 1325)
People from the Four Corners area very likely migrated into the Bandolier area as populations in Four Corners began to decline.
(AD 1325 – AD 1600)
Populations peaked in the Bandolier area as people from other areas migrated there. Villages grew in size. Most pueblos ranged from 150 to 500 rooms; some contained 1,000 to 1,500 rooms.
An important advancement was the widespread use of water control and soil retention techniques.
(AD 1600 – present)
In 1598 the Spanish founded their first colony in the area near the present-day San Juan Pueblo, 25 miles to the north. After the Pueblo revolt of 1680, some Pueblo people returned to live in the Bandolier area for a short time.
In the 1700s and 1800s a family holding a Spanish land grant farmed and ranched within the Bandolier area. The family drifted away by 1883.
Tomorrow I will write about Taos Pueblo, considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited community in the USA.