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2.8 Mogollon

The Mogollon lived in the mountain area of New Mexico and became famous around 750 AD for their white on black Mimbres pottery. The Mogollon is one of the four major prehistoric archaeological culture areas of the American Southwest and Northern Mexico. The Mogollon culture lasted from approximately AD 150 until sometime between AD 1400 and AD 1450. The name Mogollon comes from the Mogollon Mountains, which were named after Don Juan Ignacio Flores Mogollón, Spanish Governor of New Mexico from 1712-1715.

2.8.1  Cultural History

This object is exhibited at the Iris & B. Gera...
This object is exhibited at the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts, Stanford University, California, USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Mogollon archaeological area was first recognized by Emil Haury, following work at two archaeological sites (the Harris Village in the town of Mimbres, New Mexico, and the Mogollon Village, on the upper San Francisco River) in southwestern New Mexico in 1933 and 1934. Haury recognized that superficial similarities with the Hohokam archaeological culture and the Ancient Pueblo (“Anasazi”) archaeological culture, including (initially unpainted) brown-paste pottery and the use of surface “pueblo” dwellings were insufficient to firmly characterize the inhabitants of the Mogollon region as subdivisions of these other archaeologically known cultures. Today, the distinctiveness of the Mogollon culture area in pottery manufacture, architectural construction, ground-stone tool design, and habits and customs of residence location and mortuary treatment are generally recognized.

Mogollon origins remain a matter of speculation.

  • One model holds that the Mogollon emerged from a preceding “Desert Archaic” tradition that links Mogollon ancestry with the first prehistoric human occupations of area around 9000 B.C.
  •  An alternative possibility holds that the Mogollon were descendants of early farmers who migrated from farming regions in central Mexico around 3500 B.C.

Research on Mogollon culture has led to the recognition of regional variants, of which the most widely recognized in popular media, is the “Mimbres culture” (Mimbres Mogollon branch). Others include the Jornada, Forestdale, Reserve, Point of Pines (or “Black River”), San Simon, and Upper Gila branches. Although the Mimbres culture is the most well-known subset of the Mogollon archaeological culture-area, the entire Mogollon occupation spans a greater interval of time (roughly one millennium) and a vastly larger area than is encompassed by the Mimbres culture.

2.8.2  Mimbres Culture
“Mimbres” may, depending on its context, refer to a tradition within a subregion of the Mogollon culture area (the Mimbres branch or the Mimbres Mogollon) or to an interval of time, the “Classic Mimbres phase” (also known as the “Mimbres culture”; A.D. 1000-1130, roughly) within the Mimbres branch.

The Mimbres branch is a subset of the larger Mogollon culture area, cantered in the Mimbres Valley and encompassing the upper Gila River and parts of the upper San Francisco River in southwestern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona as well as the Rio Grande Valley and it western tributaries in southwest New Mexico. Differentiation between the Mimbres branch and other areas of the Mogollon culture area is most apparent during the Three Circle (A.D. 825-1000 roughly) and Classic Mimbres (A.D. 1000-1150) phases, when architectural construction and black and white painted pottery assume locally distinctive forms and styles.

In the Three Circle phase (A.D. 825/850-1000) pithouse villages within the Mimbres branch are distinctive. Houses are consistently quadrilateral, usually with sharply angled corners, with well-plastered floors and walls, and average approximately 17 square meters in floor surface area. Local pottery styles include early forms of Mimbres black and white (“boldface”), red-on-cream, and textured plain wares. Large ceremonial structures (often called “kivas”) are deeply excavated into the ground, and often include distinctive ceremonial features such as foot drums or log grooves.

Classic Mimbres phase (A.D. 1000-1130) pueblos can be quite large, with some composed of clusters of compounds or roomblocks, each containing up to 150 rooms, and grouped around an open plaza. Ceremonial structures were different from the previous pithouse periods. Most coomon were ceremonial rooms within roomblocks. Smaller square or rectangular semi-subterranean kivas with roof openings are also found. The largest Classic Mimbres sites are located near wide areas of well-watered floodplain suitable for maize agriculture, although smaller villages exist in upland areas.

2.8.3 Mimbres Pottery
The pottery (example shown above) produced in the Mimbres region, often finely painted bowls, is distinct in style and is decorated with geometric designs and figurative paintings of animals, people and cultural icons in black paint on a white background. The elaborate decoration indicates that these people enjoyed a rich ceremonial life.

Mimbres bowls are often found associated with burials, typically with a hole punched out of the centre. Most commonly Mimbres bowls have been found covering the face of the interred person. Wear marks on the insides of bowls show they were actually used, not just produced as burial items.

2.8.4 Geographic Location
The Mogollon settled in high-altitude desert areas in what is today New Mexico, Sonora, Chihuahua and western Texas. The Mogollon were, initially, foragers who augmented their subsistence efforts by farming. Through the first millennium A.D., however, dependence of farming probably increased. Water control features are common among Mimbres branch sites from the 10th through 12th centuries.

The nature and density of Mogollon residential villages changed through time. The earliest Mogollon villages are little more than hamlets composed of several pit-houses. Village sizes increase through time, however, and in the 11th century surface pueblos were common. Cliff Dwellings became common during the 13th and 14th centuries.

2.8.5 Archaeological Record
Archaeological sites attributed to the Mogollon culture are found in the Gila Wilderness, Mimbres River Valley, along the Upper Gila river, Paquime and Hueco Tanks, an area of low mountains between the Franklin Mountains to the west and the Hueco Mountains to the east. At the headwaters of the Gila, Mimbres populations adjoined another more northern branch of the Mogollon culture. The TJ Ruin, for example, is a Classic Mimbres phase pueblo; however the cliff dwellings are Tularosa phase.

2.8.6  Descendants
The area originally settled by the Mogollon culture was eventually filled by the unrelated Apache people, who moved in from the north. However, the modern Pueblo people in the Southwest claim descent from the Mogollon and related cultures, although these people generally assert that their descent was from more than one group and location. Archaeologists believe that the Western Pueblo villages of the Hopi and Zuni are very likely related to the Mogollon.