Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Ancient History in My Own Backyard

I feel quite privileged that located just a short, five-minute walk from my house in the White Mountains is an ancient site once inhabited by the Mogollon Indian tribe (named after Juan Ignacio Mogollon, an early Spanish governor) of eastern Arizona. Why this site, on national forest service land, is open to any and all is a mystery to me, but I am thankful that is so easily accessible to me.

What can be found there is a series of ancient foundations made out of stone. According to my research, these types of Mogollon dwellings came about as the result of the Anasazi’s influence circa A.D. 1100. Very close, and sometimes connected, these foundations show a pattern of housing which resembled the Anasazi’s masonry construction and was a step up from the earlier Mogollon pit houses built above-ground.

It was just a bit earlier than this time (about A.D. 1000) that the Mogollons began making pottery with designs of black on white, which is the style most associated with these people. Remnants of this painted pottery can be found all over the richly red soil, without even having to look very hard. In a recent trip up the mountain, which is overshadowed by a long, flat rim of rock formations, I managed to accumulate quite a bit of pottery shards (and for anyone who might wonder, I left them there, per the dictates of the 1982 law which made it illegal for anyone to take artifacts of any kind from a historic site - the law is detailed on the badly deteriorated sign in the photo at the top). You can see what I found in the picture on the right. Not a bad haul for an hour's search. I've also included some of the more utilitarian pottery, which is black or the red-brown of the soil with a textured pattern.

I have yet to find what I could consider a definitive arrowhead, but I’m going to keep on looking. As well, there are many volcanic-type stones which bear evidence of ancient usage through the smooth depressions and deep holes carved within. Were these rocks used to sharpen spear points? I’m not sure – it’s hard to tell and unfortunately, I do not have a degree in archeology. Stone metates (a flat, dish-shaped stone which was used with a mano, or smaller, rounded stone) were quite commonly used to grind corn and I have no doubt that there are some of these vessels remaining also. Only time and rain storms which wash the red mud further down the hillside will reveal subsequent artifacts.

What happened to the ancient Mogollon people is a mystery. For some reason, their population in both eastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico seems to have vanished around A.D. 1200 for reasons unknown. However, their legacy lives on in the finely crafted pottery which has survived over eight centuries in my backyard!

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