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NM 6: Prehistory Summary and Q&A
Episode 69th March 2024 • Distant Echoes: A History Podcast • Michael Narum
00:00:00 00:14:07

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Episode 6 in the History of New Mexico series. Taking a step back to answer questions and summarize what has been covered so far in the series before continuing the narrative.

Episode Transcript


Pictures on the website

Indigenous groups in New Mexico

Further information on New Mexico Tribes

Tribal lands in New Mexico

Research on Turkeys

Research on dogs

NeoWestern Incompetech, Kevin McLeod CC-3:

Music: Desperados by Frank Schroeter

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Hello and Welcome to Distant Echoes: New Mexico Episode 6: Prehistoric Q&A

With the end of the prehistoric phase it’s time to summarize where we’re at, what has happened, and to answer any questions you all had.

Let’s start with a quick summary of where we are.

We started the show with the earliest hunter-gatherer populations, arriving approximately around 11,000 BCE. These populations are mostly known for distinct points they made for hunting. It is believed that when they could they hunted megafauna such as mammoths but it is believed they mostly subsited off of smaller game and foraged plants.

fauna began to die out around:

uring the En Medio phase from:

As populations became more settled, pithouses began to be replaced with above ground settlements around 700 CE. Pottery was introduced sometime around 300-400 CE.

Over time the climate began to create a bimodal distribution of rainfall in the area along north and south. This is thought to have led to the rise of Chaco Canyon starting in the 800s, which would be ascendant for the next 300 years. Chaco Canyon is thought to have been a center of trade between these two modes of rainfall.

began to collapse in the late:

nce began going into the late:

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Now before we get into the Q&A, I think it's finally time for me to talk about some of the different groups of native Americans in New Mexico today as we'll be talking about them with specifics such as when the Coronado expedition visited the Hopi pueblos. This will let me set the stage for everything going forwards.

Before I stick my foot in my mouth, I'm not an anthropologist nor an expert in any of this. I'm just trying to lay out something that is digestible to the listener so that when I mention places like Taos or Acoma they've at least heard of them. I'm sure I'll make mistakes or say something stupid. I am trying my best though. I've linked to the New Mexico website that contains more information on each group in the show notes. I've also included a map of all the pueblos and tribal lands on the website.

I often see two systems used in parallel to talk about the Native Americans in New Mexico. The first is whether they were Puebloans or not. In the former group you have, obviously, all of the pueblos which are then often broken down by the language group they belong to, which we'll talk about later. For the second group, this usually refers to the nomadic groups that live in New Mexico, namely being the Apache tribes and Navajo nation. The other method goes solely on the linguistic groupings. For the purposes of this show we’ll use a mix of both.

Let's start with the groups that were nomadic or semi-nomadic.

In New Mexico there are two larger ways to group those that were nomadic or semi-nomadic: the Navajo nation and the three Apache tribes.

We'll start with the Navajo: the modern Navajo Nation is located in northwestern New Mexico, North Eastern Arizona, and south eastern Utah. They refer to themselves as the Díne. The Navajo nation covers roughly 27,000 square miles, slightly smaller than the state of North Carolina. There are also three smaller bands located away from the main reservation. They were a semi-nomadic tribe that moved seasonally between campsites.

Apache refers to several related groups of native Americans in the United States that speak related languages. There are three Apache tribes in New Mexico; the Fort Sill, Jicarilla Apache Nation, and the Mescalero Apache Tribe.

The Fort Sill Apache tribe is mostly located in Arizona, however they control a small area near Deming New Mexico where they recently won the rights to establish a reservation.

The Jicarilla Apache Nation is located in northern New Mexico near the Colorado border. They have historical ties via trade with Taos and Picuris pueblos.

The Mescalero Apache tribe is actually made up of three smaller bands; the Mescalero Apache, the Chiricahua Apache, and Lipan Apache. They are located in southeastern New Mexico, near Ruidoso.

Now that we've discussed the nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes of New Mexico, let's talk about the Pueblos.

The Pueblos are often grouped by the language groups they speak, namely; Tanoan, Kersan, Hopi, and Zuni. Keresan is further broken down into Eastern and Western Kersan, for the sake of this podcast we'll be grouping Eastern and Western Kersan. Tanoan can be broken down into the Tewa, Towa, and Tiwa languages.

It is my understanding that while a specific Pueblo may be classified as a Tewa pueblo, it may speak a slightly different dialect of Tewa. So this is not to say that all these pueblos share the exact same language, they just speak related languages.

While not located in New Mexico, we'll also talk about the Hopi and the pueblo of Ysleta del Sur as they do play a part in our story and are both puebloan groups.

We'll actually start with the Hopi as they're one of the language isolates. The Hopi have several pueblos located on mesas in north eastern Arizona. They are actually located within the Navajo Nation, which has caused land disputes and controversy.

Moving on to the next language isolate, the Zuni. Zuni pueblo is located south of Gallup. The Zuni are the remainder of the Cibolans that Coronado sought. Sometimes the Zuni language is included in Western Keresan.

Moving on to the Tanoan languages, we'll start with Tewa.

Tewa speakers include the pueblos of: Nambe, San Ildefonso, Ohkay Owingeh, Santa Clara, Pojoaque, and Tesuque. There is also a small group of Tewa speakers in the village of Tewa on the Hopi Mesas. They are mostly located north of Santa Fe.

Next we'll discuss Tiwa which has two sub dialects, north and south, the Piro Pueblos may also have spoken a sub dialect of Tiwa. North Tiwa pueblos include: Picuris and Taos. Southern Tiwa pueblos are: Isleta and Sandia. Some southern Tiwa is also spoken at Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, also known as Tigua near El Paso, Texas.

Finally for our discussion of the Tanoan languages is Towa. There is only one extant Towa Pueblo, Jemez Pueblo. However Pecos Pueblo spoke a Towa dialect until abandonment several other historical pueblos may also have spoken the language.

Moving on to the Keresan languages we'll start with Eastern Keresan.

The Eastern Keresan pueblos are: Cochiti, San Felipe, Santa Ana, Kewa, and Zia. Kewa pueblo is also known as Santo Domingo, although that is more of a historical name for the pueblo.

The Western Keresan pueblos are: Acoma and Laguna.

As well as the extant pueblos and groups there were also the Piro pueblos which were located around the area of modern day Socorro. As mentioned above they may have spoken a Tewa dialect. There were also some nomadic or semi-nomadic groups in southern and eastern New Mexico.

Aside from the 21 pueblos or pueblo groups above, some of which having been founded in the historical period, there were somewhere between 66 and 100 different pueblos upon contact, many of which have been abandoned or absorbed into modern settlements.

That’s it for the summary of New Mexico at the end of the prehistoric pueblo and set up for the next section, let’s move into all of your questions.

Heidi on episode 3 asks: What made the pottery so unique?

I’m going to assume that this in in regard to the Mimbres pottery. Mimbres pottery has a striking black on white finish. The use of geometric shapes on the finished pottery tended to be a deviation from contemporary pueblo societies. This may have been due to some mesoamerican influence.

Heidi also asked on episode 4 about Chaco Canyon:

What was the advantage of the bimodal weather system? Is there more information about the farming system? Why would eating a young turkey indicate that times were hard? Were turkeys kept for eggs? How domestic were these turkeys? What were they farming? How did they get their seeds? Is there evidence of Chaco being a religious center in addition to a trade center?

We’ll take these one at a time. The bimodal weather system promoted trade between the two areas. Those that got more water in the summer would have harvests at a different time than those who had it later in the year. By straddling these two areas, Chaco Canyon could act as a middleman, taking corn from one group to sell to the other and vice versa throughout the year.

As for farming I think either Linda Cordell’s Prehistory of the Southwest or David Stuart’s Anasazi America: Seventeen Centuries on the Road from Center Place are both good resources on Chaco Canyon that I used for this show. There are also several books written just about Chaco Canyon. At its core they were mostly reliant on dry farming then wet farming. Dry farming is more reliant on rainfall and wet farming relies on waterways such as streams, rivers, or arroyos. As for what they were growing, the majority of crops farmed were the southwest triangle of beans, squash, and corn. As for their seeds, initially they were introduced from Mesoamerica. After that, the pueblos attempted to keep some seeds from each year’s harvest for the next planting season.

Turkeys usually served two purposes among the pueblos. They were raised to use for their feathers and for their eggs. The former for religious uses and the latter for eating. Then when the turkey was old it could be eaten as it was no longer as useful. As to how domesticated they were, it isn’t mentioned in any of the books that I read, but one study I found on prehistoric turkey remains showed a high diet of maize. Which would imply that the pueblos were feeding them. As for why it was a sign of hard times that turkey were eaten young, it breaks the usual pattern of turkeys being used to produce other goods other than being used for their meat. So if you were eating a turkey young you must have been giving up those goods for food. I’d draw some analogies between what people ate during medieval European sieges.

Finally is there evidence of Chaco Canyon being a religious center in addition to a trade center. At least from the books I read they did not necessarily draw those conclusions. While some great houses like Pueblo Bonito had a lot of kivas and tower kivas, that may have just been showing off by the local religious well-to-dos or have served a purpose for visiting people to use. We also have to be careful with drawing religious conclusions that aren’t there. While there are Chacoan sites that may have had religious symbolism. There were several locations that seem connected to specific phenomena such as aligning with specific celestial events such as the lunar standstill at Chimney rock. The Chacoan world definitely had a deep understanding of the skies, this could have made Chaco a religious center as well as a trade center. Part of the problem is early research at Chaco Canyon though, the first few historical groups to explore Chaco Canyon such as the Weatherhills weren’t following best practices used today. Often artifacts were taken out of their context and the notes, if any were taken, were bad. Most of the research I did was noncommittal on this point. To me, it seems likely that a major political entity in the area could also serve as some kind of religious center but the details, like most of Chacoan society, are nor definitively known.

Speaking of puebloan animals, Jim asked on Episode 5: Did the pueblos have dogs? What about other pets?

I couldn’t find much in the time I gave myself for this episode for other animals being kept as pets. But I did find some interesting research on dogs although I could not access the entire paper. I’ve linked that in the show notes for this episode.

But to summarize dogs may have served several roles in the prehistoric southwest. Some research speculates that they may have been eaten, although such evidence is rare. It seems that more often, they were interred in ritual burials and appear to have eaten a diet similar to people, at least among the pueblos. So they may have been kept for ritualistic purposes or just been pets.

Among other groups in the southwest, as we’ll see later in the narrative, dogs were used elsewhere such as by the nomadic or semi-nomadic Quechero tribes of Texas where they were used as beasts of burden to carry the people’s homes and belongings.

Heidi also asked on Episode 5 Where the Galisteo Basin is and the Mariana Mesa?

The easier of the two is the Mariana Mesa which is in western New Mexico, south of the Zuni river. As for the Galisteo Basin this roughly encompasses the region bounded by the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the Northeast, and Sandia Mountains to the Southwest. This includes parts of the counties of San Miguel, Santa Fe, and Sandoval. To put it another way, it runs approximately from Santa Fe to Bernalillo.

On Episode 5 Heidi also asked: who were the attackers on the pueblos that experienced violence?

out during the middle to late:

That's the last of the questions for this section and the end of this episode. Next time we'll get back to the main narrative with the first of the explorers to accidentally travel into New Mexico.




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