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Archicterture And Agiculture In The SW Essay, Research Paper


Native American ancestors left behind some of the most intriguing and fascinating evidence of their existence. Part of this evidence included artistic building techniques and their intelligent cultivation practices of growing food. This paper will specifically describe detailed architectural structures noted from site excavations. Room size expansion is evaluated contrasting American Southwest Indian cultures of the Hohokom, Mogollon, and the Anasazi, ranging from 450 B.C. to 1600 A.D.. Controversial opinions is also noted on the abandonment of northern Anasazi centers at the close of Pueblo III period. The paper concludes with a notation concerning the disintegration of current pueblo culture and habitation practices by federal government intervention of urban renewal.

Primative Southwest Architecture and Agriculture


Architecture can be interpreted as the highest level of building in terms of what people make and thought of as the majestic of human endeavors through civilization.

In the uncovering of researched materials based on scholars in the fields of science and anthropology, it is my opinion that analysis of material objects, especially those that we categorize as art or architecture, is always subject to distortion resulting from the rhetoric of social idealism. Analysis is always expressed by the rhetorician referencing the fundamental social values and beliefs that are held by the investigator. Sociologist, anthropologists, and historians are often imprisoned by their own beliefs and social traditions. When examining southwest Indian architecture one must examine closely the era in which it was reported in order to analyize possible distortions being reported by scholars.

Every archeologist who has worked in the Eastern Anasazi world has analyzed the changes in room size between different archeological time periods and the progression of building technology. These changes are based on progression of primative southwest cultures expressed in time periods known as Basket Maker I (200 BC – AD 1), Basket Maker II (AD 1 – AD 450), Basket Maker III ( AD 450 – 700), Pueblo I (AD 700 – AD 900), Pueblo II (AD 900 – 1100), Pueblo III (AD 1100 – 1300), Pueblo IV ( AD 1300 – 1600), and Pueblo V (AD 1600 – to Date). Between Basketmaker I and II, small pithouses were replaced by larger ones. During Basketmaker II sites are characterized by large cobble-ringed pithouses, small storage cists, and no pottery. Sites found include south of Mesa Verde, between Durango and the San Juan country, which are the result of the Basketmaker I earlier pithouses which arose out of the desert Archaic Tradition. Small pithouses are replaced by larger ones by Basketmaker II, that went through a radical transformation when pottery was introduced into the Eastern Anasazi area, transforming Basketmaker II into Basketmaker III. During the Basketmaker III period there is a large surge in village construction showing differentiation between the largest and smallest pithouses, peaking in A.D. 700s to 800s (Pueblo I).

By the early A.D. 800s, above ground masonry architecture begins to replace the last of the pithouse villages. This was called early Pueblo II. Large Anasazi pithouses inhabited at the end of Pueblo I were replaced by small above ground masonry room blocks in the early Pueblo II period. Pithouse architecture in the Anasazi country overlapped with new above ground masonry architecture of the large and deep pithouses.

The early pueblo II period between the early A.D. 800’s and the middle A.D. 900’s in Chaco Canyon consisted of farmsteads composed of six to twenty room “pueblitos”, which were small rooms, often two rows deep, that were built in an L or C shape. Adjacent to many centered in a small plaza, were large “proto-kivas”. These were pithouses in the process of becoming religious chambers (Stuart & Gauthier, 1981).

During a building boom, dramatic changes took place in room size. The Chaco society began to build what are now called “outliers”. The small sites are called Hosta Butte Phase, and Red Mesa. The large outliers are referred to as “Bonito Phase”.

The late AD 900s to early AD 1100s are noted for their repeated, powerful surges in architectural activity and the variation between big and little. Rooms at smaller sites are noted to be only a meter and half on a side and were probably to small as habitations (Stuart & Gauthier, 1981).

In contrast, the “big house” architecture which characterizes the Bonita Phase consists of large sandstone strongholds with thick masonry walls, kivas set into square rooms, and rooms which were enormous. By the early A.D. 1100s Chaco society was beginning to suffer burnout and farmers were abandoning the lower, drier areas of the San Juan Basin and returning to the surrounding uplands. Their structures were above ground pithouses on a modest scale (Stuart & Farwell 1983).

These pithouses were followed in the late A.D. 1100s by the renewal of above ground masonry architecture consisting of small to moderate sized pueblos of ten to twenty rooms uniform and medium in size. By AD 1200, another building boom and peak of diversity in upland architecture became evident (Stuart & Farwell 1983).

Another set of pithouses, smaller and shallower, was constructed in the lower river valleys around AD 1300, especially along the Chama and the Rio Grande. A final transformation saw Anasazi society following streams which flowed from the east slopes of mountainous areas. This move to the rivers has been called Rio Grande Classic society and begins with modest pithouses similar to the early A.D. 1300s (Stuart & Farwell, 1983).


Primitive agricultural practices began in Mexico by 6000 B.C. to 4000 B.C. and by approximately 2000B.C. were known on the northern fringe of the middle American culture area. Maize was not the only crop plant, for gourds, squash, peppers, cotton, and varieties of beans were also domesticated. Maize was grown in the southwestern United States by 2000B.C. to 1000B.C., but most of the other domesticates did not arrive until just before and after AD 1 (Horgan, 1954). The early introduction of maize in the Southwest had no marked effect on cultural development, and the existence of pottery, storage pits and domestic houses with subterranean floors and lateral entrances was not well known until after AD 1.

The origin of the Basket Maker I Indians begins in the ice age when humans migrated from Siberia into Alaska following woolly mammoths and other giant herbivores. The first Americans filtered southward along ice free corridors, emerging on the Great Plains south of the ice sheets. Bands of these early hunters began spreading across the continent. Named for Clovis, New Mexico, where their chipped spear points were discovered, the Clovis people depended on the mammoth, which became extinct as the climate warmed. The later Folsom people, named for the New Mexican findspot of their fluted spearheads, hunted huge Bison in the increasingly dry Southwest. Folsom site excavations have revealed small groups, perhaps three or four families, staying in one location only long enough to track down and butcher a bison. Over the next several thousand years the Folsom culture in turn divided into regional groups, leading to tribes and languages. It is also evident that when they first settled in the area of Arizona and New Mexico around 1 AD, they were already excellent basket weavers and that they were supplementing hunting and wild seed gathering with the cultivation of maize and pumpkins. They either lived in caves or out in the open in shelters constructed of masonry poles and adobe mud. Both caves and houses contained special pits, often roofed over, that were used for food storage (Creamer and Haas, 1991).

This basic pattern continued into the period of the Basket Maker II AD 500 – 700, when agriculture became their major interest with the addition of bean crops and domestication of turkeys. During this period hunting and gathering were reduced to supplementary roles. Villages remained either in caves or out in the open; but those in caves consisted of an array of semisubterranean houses, and those in the open consisted of chambers both aboveground and below ground joined in straight lines or crescents. Above ground chambers probably served as storage places and the houses as living quarters and ceremonial rooms (Creamer and Haas, 1991).

The era of the Basket Maker period consisted of 2 major farming complexes : Mogollon and Hohokom. The Mogollon complex was situated in the mountainous belt of west central New Mexico and east central Arizona. Their agriculture depended upon rainfall and stream diversion over flood plains. The people lived in villages of scattered pit houses that evolved in a series of three stages : Georgetown phase, San Francisco phase, and the Three Circle phase (Cordell, 1984). In contrast with the Mogollon agricultural practices was the Hohokom, the second large farming complex. Their territory rein was situated in the desert area of the Gila basin of southern Arizona. Agriculture was made possible by extensive irrigation canals that required cooperation between villages.

Mogollon’s building phases began with the Georgetown phase dating from 500 – 700 A.D. consisting of pithouses that were small, roughly circular, and entered by an inclined passageway. Roofs were supported by a main pole in the center of the structure and secondary poles along the walls as shown in Figure 1a. Following the Georgetown phase the San Francisco stage pithouses were also small but the roughly circular houses were replaced by deep rectangular pithouses with roofs supported by a main center pole and auxiliary poles along the long axis as shown in Figure 1b. Most had entrances, but in some cases the entrance was through the roof (Cordell, 1984). In addition to the living structures were larger houses thought to have been of a ceremonial nature.

Insert Figure 1 about here

These were kidney-shaped as a result of the drawing in of the sides at the entrance. They had no ventilators. Storage pits were rare in houses but occurred between the structures and were usually wider at the bottom than at the top.

In New Mexico further changes took place during the Three Circle phase which followed the San Francisco phase. Pithouses were somewhat smaller and shallower and were all rectangular and often stone lined. Roofs were usually supported by four main posts placed near the corners as shown in figure 1c. Sometimes the supports were incorporated in the wall. In some cases, the side entrances were short and sometimes made of brush and mud that were dispersed along the streams and canals. Main settlements and major cultural growth took place during the period AD 700 – 1200, which coincided with a minor climatic period of favorable distribution of rainfall for plant growth over the entire Southwest. For the same climatic reasons, their was an expansion of population shift into the Four Corners area of New Mexico (Cordell, 1984).

As time went on the Mogollon people were affected by outside cultural influences. By 950 or 1000 A.D. their culture had been so greatly altered and was submerged to such an extent that the resulting blend is termed Mimbres It was named after the Mimbres river, for this valley seems to represent the focal point of the culture. The greatest development centers in Brant County, New Mexico, where excavated sites that include the Swarts Ruin, the Mattocks Ruin, the Galaz Ruin, and Cameron Creek Village.

In these sites evidence of rapid changes in the construction of dwellings is apparent. The earliest houses were Mogollon type pit houses, sometimes slab lined. These were followed by semi subterranean and single surface houses with rubble masonry. In the latest stage, houses were built entirely above the surface. They were one story pueblo like buildings consisting of clusters of rooms. In some cases there were no more than five rooms, in others there were more than fifty. The larger structures sometimes had inner courts or plazas and at Swarts Ruin, where there are two big houses, there was a large dance plaza between the two buildings. Walls were built of masonry, often made of river boulders. Roofs were made of beams covered with brush, grass, reeds, and adobe. Some contained trap doors, covered with stone slabs, which provided a means of entrance. Also noted in an advanced building were windows, and rooms where fireplaces and rock walled storage bins had existed. Kivas during this time were rectangular, underground chambers.

The first permanent shelters developed in the Four Corners area were pithouses erected about A.D. 450 by Basket Maker II builders. These were subterranean or semisubterranean structures, 1 to 6 feet deep, of square or circular shape, roofed with poles covered over with earth. A characteristic of many of these was the use of four freestanding posts set in the floor to support the roof. On the tops of the posts substantial horizontal beams were placed forming a square or rectangular support for the other roof elements. Roof of some pithouses were built flush with ground level by seating a series of horizontal poles like spokes on a wheel between the edge of the pit. More commonly, the roof was elevated above ground level by slanting poles from the edge of the pit, or from a bench circling the pit some distance above the floor to the central support beams approximately 3 to 5 feet above ground level (Bunting, 1976).

In both cases the roof poles were covered with smaller wooden elements or brush and then with dirt or mud. A rectangular opening was left in the top of the roof to serve as a smoke hole and sometimes as an entryway. Many pithouses, however, were entered through an enclosed vestibule or passageway attached to one side of the pit. These structures ranged from 8 to 25 feet in breadth or diameter. In addition to a shallow firepit below the smoke hole, the sipapu was placed near the center of the room and was generally 3 to 5 inches in diameter and about as deep as shown in figure 2. The sipapu symbolized the passage from the underworld through which the Anasazi people had emerged into this world (Bunting, 1976).

Insert Figure 2 about here

The firepit was usually rimmed with stones or a collar of clay, and a low masonry wall or thin stone slab set on end formed a deflector to protect the fire in the pit from the current of fresh air that entered through the entrance vestibule. There might be several small storage pits dug in the floor, and additional storage holes might be bored in the earth walls below the shelf that supported one end of the slanting roof poles. Too high to sit on but useful for storage, this shelf is often described by archaeologists as a bench. Excavated sites indicate that pithouses were usually bunched together in small numbers, generally five to twenty, in a way to suggest family groupings. In addition, there were nearby storage areas or cists excavated in the ground, covered with cone-shaped roofs of poles, and sealed inside and out with mud plaster. The small community was completed by an adjacent refuse heap (Bunting, 1976).

Some changes occurred in Basket Maker III pithouses after about AD 450. Most apparent was the modification of the entrance vestibule or passageway into a ventilator shaft too small for a person to crawl through. Thereafter, one entered through the smoke hole in the roof by means of a ladder. The ventilator, a right angled shaft extending from floor level of the pithouse to the surface outside the structure, allowed for fresh air to enter the house as the vestibule did in earlier times. The floor area between the ventilator opening and the firepit was portioned off from the rest of the interior by a low adobe parapet. Archaeologists do not agree as to why this division exists, nor of its function. The quarters were dark and crowded, and they were only used for household activities in inclement weather.

An important architectural innovation sometime after AD 700 coincided with the beginning of the Pueblo I period. For the first time building type is referred to as a unit, clan, or surface house. It had no windows or doors, and the rooms were entered by two ladders, one to climb to the roof, a second by which to descend into the room through the smoke whole in the roof. Wall construction was of either wattle and daub or stone laid in adobe mortar, and the flat roof was formed of contiguous poles covered with brush and adobe as were the pithouses. Rooms were built adjacent to one another and formed an arc on the north and west sides of an irregular work area or plaza. These abunting single story rooms created both a wind break and a primitive line of defense. The chief means of protection was provided by the outside ladders which could be drawn up to the roof by defenders in case of attack. One interesting aspect of communities early in the period, however, is that in some cases both the new post and mud structures and the older pithouse were used simultaneously. Archaeological evidence suggests that in many such instances the pithouses served as habitations and the associated above-ground structures were used primarily as storage places. Through time, as the surface units became more commonly employed as houses, one or more pithouses in the plaza of a village probably served as a ceremonial center for the hamlet. This ceremonial pithouse, which is the prototype of the later kiva, is clearly descended from the earlier Basket Maker pithouse. It illustrates once again in architectural history how the primitive dwelling furnished the prototype for a later religious structure, a phenomenon repeatedly observed in different branches of world architecture.

During Pueblo II times other developments took place in Anasazi architecture and agriculture. The Anasazi and other tribes throughout the Colorado Plateau built small terraces and check dams at the mouths of small arroyos. These structures captured water flowing in the arroyos for use in irrigating crops.

The Anasazi constructed water catchment basins and reservoirs. Dams were constructed from stones and reservoirs were built in natural depressions in the earth. These basins contained rain water or spring water. The Anasazi system of dams, terraces, border gardens and canals supported populations of several thousand people in a region with a harsh climate (Cordell, 1984).

Most of the effort in water management was directed towards capturing the sparse rainfall runoff from the mesa tops, rather than towards diverting water from the Chaco wash. In one area of the canyon, runoff from an intercliff zone was diverted by a dam to a canal which carried the water 200 yards to a headgate. The headgate slowed the water where it was channeled to a border garden along the wash. Garden washed areas contained stones that outlined squares and rectangles several yards on a side filled with gravel. Archaeologists now recognize them as gardens whose gravel served as mulch to hold moisture in the dry ground, protecting young plants from extremes of heat and cold. At least fifteen division systems have been documented in the Chaco Canyon (Cordell, 1984).

Most pueblos were constructed of stone masonry, the true kiva became a standard feature in all settlements, and the unit or clan house was joined by rooms on all sides. As long as all the rooms of the group remained one story, this caused no problems since each room was lighted by means of the hatchway in the roof. But when upper stories were added, a process which probably began in Pueblo II times, ground floor rooms deprived of light in the middle of the block were used for storage as shown in Figure 3 (Bunting, 1976). Another characteristic of these clustered dwellings was the presence sometimes of round ceremonial chambers included in room blocks where they

Insert Figure 3 about here

were encased within the rectangular grid system of walls. These chambers were situated at ground level instead of below grade, but like early Kivas, they had well pronounced ventilator shafts, were entered by ladder through the roof hatch placed above the firepit, and retained the interior bench or shelf. An interesting development here is that only certain amount of these chambers contained a sipapu. These suggest that not all circular rooms were employed for ceremonial purposes, some probably served social purposes (Bunting, 1976).

The Pueblo III period, extending from AD1050 to AD1300 represents the climax of the dominant Indian culture in the Southwest. Concentrated in the Four Corners area, it is represented by such famous sites as Chaco Canyon and Aztec Pueblo in New Mexico,

Mesa Verde in Colorado, and Betatakin in Arizona. In this period the pueblos became larger in size, were fortified, and the stone masonry of which they were built attained a level of refinement unsurpassed elsewhere in the southwestern Indian architecture (Bunting, 1976).

The size and complexity of some pueblos, the presence of regional religious centers substantial engineering undertakings for irrigation and water storage or of highways connecting pueblos, all show a degree of community organization and control not equaled in Anasazi culture before or after.

The best example in Chaco Canyon is Pueblo Bonito, which covered three acres, contained as many as 650 rooms, and housed a population estimated at less than eleven hundred. The village was located on the north side of the canyon above the level of flooding and close enough to the canyon wall, which rose 200 feet, to find protection from winter storms. The pueblo was roughly arc shaped, with the appearance of the letter D as shown in figure 4, constructed of stone, and over 35 feet tall as shown in Figure 4. At its highest level, the structure rose to four stories. The wall is as much as 3 feet thick at ground line but thins to about one foot in the top story, has no external doors, and only

Insert Figure 4 about here

small, high slit like window openings. From the thickness of the peripheral wall it is obvious that multi storied structure was envisioned at the outset though the final building was the result of several building programs which entailed much demolition and reconstruction. Building activity largely took place between 919 and 1067. The flat south side of the complex facing the river was composed of rooms only one story in height. Although there was at one time a gateway, this was blocked up and persons entering the central plaza had to cross over the roof of this line of rooms by climbing and descending ladders (Bunting, 1976).

At its widest point the crescent shaped construction is six rooms deep, and in section it steps up toward the periphery in an irregular fashion forming a series of terraces. Rooms on the ground story, even on the plaza side, had no doors but were entered by ladder through a roof hatch. The upper levels were thought to contain doors and windows opening onto the terraces as shown in Figure 5 (Bunting, 1976).

Insert Figure 5 about here

Rooms were small, averaging about 9 by 14 feet and under 8 feet in height. Rooms with outside exposures had small windows, these had sometimes been blocked up, perhaps because of the cold. These enclosed areas were primarily for storage and for sleeping during wintry seasons since smoke from fires inside the rooms made it unbearable during cooking, as it found its way out as best it could through a hatch. It is probable that except during bad weather most household chores were carried out on the terraces or in the inner plaza; (Bunting, 1976).

In the manner of Pueblo II unit houses, Pueblo Bonito also contained small kivas, 35 in number, some enclosed within its system of rectangular walls. Too small to have accommodated a large segment of the community, some of these called clan kivas, may have been for religious purposes, others for social ends. But in either case, use was probably restricted to specific family groups or clans. Both variations retained the firepit and most have a alcove or shelf on the south side. It is possible that these recesses are derived from the partially walled off area found in pithouses of Basket Maker III date. Distinctive to Chaco is an underfloor ventilator that connects with the usual vertical shaft as shown in Figure 6. In construction these kivas depart from early pithouses by replacing the four free standing wooden posts that supported the roof with short masonry

Insert Figure 6 about here

pilasters, six to ten in number, built upon the kiva bench. These pilasters supported a roof made of log cribbing, a system that was stronger but required more and larger timbers than earlier roofs. The remains of one cribbed roof indicate that some 350 logs were required to cover an 18 foot in diameter kiva. Frequently the roof formed a part of a plaza or terrace in which the daily activity as well as ceremonial dances were carried on as shown in Figure 7a & b (Smith, 1990).

Insert Figure 7 about here

Besides these clan kivas, Pueblo Bonito had two chambers large enough to accommodate a large assembly. Called great kivas, the largest of these is 45 feet across. Its roof appears to have been supported by four heavy beams carried on four masonry piers whose placement corresponds to the four posts of a pithouse. A secondary system of logs carried the layer of earth that formed the roof. Access to these kivas was by stairs rather than by ladder. The presence of two great kivas probably reflects the community’s harmonious organization which sought balance and reciprocity, a system of religious and social organization that survives and integrates modern pueblos (Hill, 1967) .

While speaking of kivas, mention should be made of Casa Rinconada, a site in Chaco Canyon seemingly developed solely for religious activity. The great kiva, whose floor is sunk to bedrock about 5 feet below grade, has an interior diameter of 63.5 feet and its roof was supported on four piers . Access was by means of two broad stairways located north and south. No special ventilator shaft was required here because fresh air was supplied through the entrances and through numerous small windows. The stairs on the north axis communicated with a series of chambers at ground level built against the kivas’s outside wall as shown in figure 8.

Insert Figure 8 about here

The rooms were probably used for ritual and storage purposes, not for habitation. The floor of the kiva was interrupted by a large central firepit as well as by two large rectangular boxes defined by low masonry walls. These rectangular boxes have been identified by archaeologists as foot drums which had skin or logs laid across the masonry rim, and upon which performers danced. They may also have been used as beds for sprouting corn or beans to be used in rituals. Two series of niches are located in the kiva wall above the level of the bench, some people postulate that these were part of a solar calendar that functioned in connection with the entrance opening at the head of the south stairway. This great kiva may have been built for the benefit of a number of small pueblos on the south side of the canyon or possibly for all the pueblos in the canyon (Hayes, Brugge, Judge, 1987).

Returning to the subject of construction, one of the most notable aspects of structures in Chaco Canyon is the stone masonry which used blocks of sandstone broken loose from nearby cliff walls. Some of the stone was stratified and broke easily into regular tabs. The more homogeneous material was shaped by means of stone hammers, a method of finishing that left small peck marks on the surface. During the Pueblo III period an evolution in masonry technique resulted in craftsmanship of the complex to be more precise and the chinking more detailed. Anasazi builders exploited three major materials to construct the pueblos, stone, clay, and wood. The proportions of these ingredients in a particular building depended on the size and importance of the structure, the availability of the materials, and sophistication of the builders. Ratios of mud mortar to stone in masonry walls, for example, varied greatly over time and between different building locations (Hayes, Brugge, Judge, 1987).

Masonry construction first appeared in the ninth century. Stone was initially used as replacement for mud in wood frame buildings. The first masonry walls, generally one stone thick with generous mortar, could not support more than one story as shown in Figure 9.a (Ferguson and Rohn, 1987). In the late eleventh century, in Chaco

Canyon, wider walls, with multiple stone thicknesses, allowed rooms to be stacked on top of each other. Stone construction flourished in the canyon from about 1070 to 1130. Developement of several major styles of masonry varied primarily according to the proportion of rock to mortar, the breadth of the wall, and the specific structural role of the sandstone. Simple walls and double simple walls masonry relied on one or two withes of stone, laid in thick mortar, for their strength as in Figure 9 a & b (Lekson, 1987). Compound walls also used two withes, but stones internally interlocked the two sides as shown in Figure 9 c. The core and veneer walls, the hallmark of Chacoan construction, used two facings, bound and separated by a load bearing core of rubble and mortar. Lower walls were made thicker to support the weight of the upper floors and roofs. The core wall evolved from a Puebl

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