New evidence indicates while many Pueblo groups that abandoned the Four Corners area about 1300 migrated south to settle in northern Arizona and northern New Mexico, others made a swift, southernly migration up to 250 miles long.
Three very similar ruins -- Gallinas Springs, Pinnacle Ruin and Palomas Creek – are located on the west side of the Rio Grande River roughly between the cities of Socorro and Truth or Consequences. Interestingly, all three sites -- believed to have been inhabited shortly after 1300 – exhibit definite characteristics of the Mesa Verde culture, a University of Colorado at Boulder archaeology team believes.
"Most of the ancient Four Corners residents moved relatively short distances to places like the Galisteo Basin and to villages like Hopi and Zuni," said CU-Boulder anthropology Assistant Professor Stephen Lekson. He believes the people of the Chaco Canyon, N.M., Pueblo culture -- who dominated a region the size of Ohio in the Southwest about 1,000 years ago -- may first have gone north to Aztec, N.M., when the Chaco empire collapsed about 1130, then moved south about 1300.
"We are looking at three fairly sizable settlements in southern New Mexico from the 14th century that look very much like Mesa Verde," he said. "Because of similarities in pottery and masonry construction, these sites stand out like sore thumbs." The most characteristic evidence found at all three sites is the typical "Mesa Verde black-on white" pottery scattered about.
Lekson will present a paper and talk on 14th century Southwest American Indian history at the bi-annual Mogollon Conference in Las Cruces, N.M., on Oct. 13. Lekson and CU-Boulder graduate students Curtis Nepstad-Thornberry and Brian Yunker surveyed Pinnacle Ruin in June and found tantalizing evidence that a village-sized group from the Mesa Verde region settled there in the 14th century. Located on Alamosa Creek about 40 miles northwest of Truth or Consequences, Pinnacle ruin was an ideal place to settle, said Lekson. "It’s located next to permanent spring water and arable land and sandwiched between two mountain ranges on a defensible butte."
Lekson’s group has teamed with archaeologist Karl Laumaugh of the non-profit Humans Systems Research Institute and the site’s landowner, Dennis O’Toole, a museum professional and director of the Canada Alamosa Institute to conduct further excavations at Pinnacle Ruin.
Although Pinnacle Ruin had been discovered several decades earlier, it was only briefly inspected and it’s location was misplotted on maps, said Lekson. In 1988, Lekson relocated the ancient Pueblo site -- atop a 150 foot-high butte -- during a field survey trip through the region. His team subsequently remapped the site and more fully recorded the physical features.
Nepstad-Thornberry was charged with locating and excavating a representative midden, or trash, pile at Pinnacle Ruin, which usually reveal a lot about past activities at such sites. "We were very surprised to find a well-defined, intact midden," said the CU-Boulder doctoral student. Numerous deer and elk bones in the midden showed inhabitants "were eating quite well in contrast to the final decades at Mesa Verde," he said.
The site, once a village containing about 200 stone and masonry rooms, appears to have been inhabited by a large group of Puebloans who made the journey some 250 miles south from Mesa Verde when Four Corners collapsed. "All indications in the ceramics style show a probable relationship with the Four Corners area," said Nepstad-Thornberry. "While we are still waiting on dates for the site, other sites in the region including Gallinas Springs would appear to indicate a relatively direct move into the region from Four Corners."
By 1300, the estimated 5,000 to 10,000 people still inhabiting the Four Corners region had pulled up stakes, perhaps for political or religious reasons or because the natural resources had been depleted, said Lekson. Lekson’s extensive Southwest research experience has led him to believe that many of the Chaco people made a major migration due south to Casas Grandes in Mexico after abandoning the Aztec ruins. Aztec, Chaco Canyon and Casas Grandes are on a virtually direct north-south meridian.
"It looks like whole villages may have picked up and moved south together, not just a smattering of families," said Lekson, who is museum and field studies curator for the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History. He noted that Gallinas Springs, the most northerly settlement in southern New Mexico, contained up to 500 rooms.
Yunker, the other CU graduate student, was charged with locating a typical room at Pinnacle Ruin. The team wound up excavating two rooms with masonry walls about 5.5 feet high. Although Yunker found the remains of a wooden roof beam, its poor condition precluded tree-ring dating to determine the age of the site. Instead, organic material like corn cobs will be used to radiocarbon date the site, he said.
A similar Pueblo migration is seen further to the west at about the same time that groups of Kayenta Puebloans trekked south from Utah about 250 miles, building new settlements as far south as present-day Tucson in the 14th century, said Lekson.
"There was some very long-distance travelling going on and it involved whole villages rather than smaller groups or individual families. This is news for archaeology, although it fits well with Pueblo histories of clan migrations.
"We’ve only begun to explore these sites, and future work will determine if we are reading them correctly. If so, we can count on new insights on the remarkable population movements out of Mesa Verde and the Four Corners in the 14th century."
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