Mogollon culture

Mogollon culture

The Mogollon (play /mʌɡɨˈjn/ or /mɡəˈjn/)[1] is one of the four major prehistoric archaeological Oasisamerica culture areas of the American Southwest and Northern Mexico. The American Indian culture known as the Mogollon lived in the southwest 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.


Cultural history

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. Five decades of subsequent research conducted by teams based out of the Field Museum of Natural History, the Arizona State Museum at the University of Arizona, the Amerind Foundation, and the Mimbres Foundation, confirmed Haury's initial findings. 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 (late Pleistocene) prehistoric human occupations of area (around 9000 BC). In this model, cultural distinctions emerged in the larger region when populations grew great enough to establish villages and even larger communities. An alternative possibility holds that the Mogollon were descendants of early farmers who migrated from farming regions in central Mexico around 3500 BC, and who displaced descendants of the antecedent Desert Archaic peoples.

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.

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"; AD 1000-1130, roughly) within the Mimbres branch.

The Mimbres branch is a subset of the larger Mogollon culture area, centered 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 (AD 825-1000 roughly) and Classic Mimbres (AD 1000-1150) phases, when architectural construction and black and white painted pottery assume locally distinctive forms and styles. Classic Mimbres phase pottery is particularly famous pottery, and Classic Mimbres pottery designs were duplicated on Santa Fe Railroad dinnerware during the early 20th century.

Three Circle phase (AD 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 m2 (180 sq ft) in floor surface area. Local pottery styles include early forms of Mimbres black and white ("boldface"), red-on-cream, and textured plainwares. 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 (AD 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 pit-house periods. Most common were ceremonial rooms within roomblocks. Smaller square or rectangular semi-subterranean kivas with roof openings are also found. (It should be noted that the word "kiva", a Hopi term with specific meaning, has generally been applied to "Anasazi" or Northern Pueblo populations. It may be a poor term in discussing the Mogollon in their broadest contexts.) 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.

Mimbres pottery

Mimbres bowls at Stanford University

The pottery 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. Some of these images suggest familiarity and relationships with cultures in northern and central Mexico. The elaborate decoration indicates that these people enjoyed a rich ceremonial life. Early Mimbres Black-on-white pottery, called Boldface Black-on-White (now called Mimbres Style I), is primarily characterized by bold geometric designs, although there are also a few early examples of human and animal figures. Over time, both geometric and figurative designs became increasingly sophisticated and diverse. Classic Mimbres Black-on-White pottery (Style III) is characterized by elaborate geometric designs, refined brushwork, including very fine linework, and may include figures of one or more animals, humans, or other images bounded either by simple rim bands or by geometric decoration. Birds figure prominently on Mimbres pots, including images such as turkeys feeding on insects and a man trapping birds in a garden; fish are also common.

Mimbres bowls are often found associated with burials, typically with a hole punched out of the center. 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.

Mimbres pottery is so distinctive that until fairly recently, the end of its production around AD 1130-1150 was equated with the "disappearance" of the people who made it. More recent research indicates that substantial depopulation did occur in the Mimbres Valley, but some remnant populations persisted there. Both there and in surrounding areas, people changed their pottery styles to more closely resemble those of neighboring culture areas, and dispersed into other residential sites with different types of architecture.

Geographic location

A map showing the extent of Mogollon occupation.

The Mogollon settled 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 AD, 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 (houses excavated into the ground surface, with stick and thatch roofs supported by a network of posts and beams, and faced on the exterior with earth). Village sizes increase through time, however, and in the 11th century surface pueblos (ground level dwellings made with rock and earth walls, and with roofs supported by post and beam networks) were common. Cliff-dwellings became common during the 13th and 14th centuries.

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. Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument in southwestern New Mexico was established as a National Monument on 16 November 1907. It contains several archaeological sites attributed to the Mimbres branch. 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. The Hueco Tanks State Historic Site is approximately 32 mi (51 km) northeast of El Paso, Texas. This site is culturally and spiritually significant to many American Indians, partially due to the pictographs that can be found throughout the region, many of which are thousands of years old.


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,[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

See also


  • Brody, J.J., Steven Le Blanc and Catherine J. Scott. Mimbres Pottery: Ancient Art of the American Southwest. Hudson Hills Press, New York, 1983.
  • Fagan, Brian M. Ancient North America: The Archaeology of a Continent. Thames and Hudson Ltd., London, 1995. ISBN 0-500-05075-9.
  • Fewkes, J. Walter. The Mimbres: Art and Archaeology. Avanyu Publishing, Albuquerque, New Mexico, republished 1993. ISBN 0-936755-10-5.
  • Lekson, Stephen H. Archaeology of the Mimbres Region, Southwestern New Mexico. BAR International Series 1466. Archaeopress, Oxford, 2006.
  • Nelson, Margaret C. Abandonment, Continuity, and Reorganization: Mimbres During the 12th Century. University of Arizona Press, Tucson, 1999.
  • Noble, David Grant. Ancient Ruins of the Southwest. Northland Publishing Company, Flagstaff, Arizona, 1995. ISBN 0-87358-530-5.
  • Powell-Marti, Valli S., and Patricia A. Gilman. Mimbres Society. University of Arizona Press, Tucson, 2006.
  • Plog, Stephen. Ancient Peoples of the American Southwest. Thames and Hudson, London, England, 1997. ISBN 0-500-27939-X.
  • Woosley, Anne I., and Allan J. McIntyre. Mimbres Mogollon Archaeology: Charles C. Di Peso's Excavations at Wind Mountain. University of New Mexico Press, 1996. ISBN 978-0-8263-1674-5

Further reading

  • Anyon, Roger A., and Steven A. LeBlanc. The Galaz Ruin: A Prehistoric Mimbres Village in Southwestern New Mexico. Maxwell Museum of Anthropology and University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque. 1984. ISBN 0-8263-0748-5.
  • Brody, J. J. Mimbres painted pottery School of American Research, Santa Fe, N.M. 1977. ISBN 0-8263-0452-4
  • Diehl, Michael W., and Steven A. LeBlanc. Early Pithouse Villages of the Mimbres Valley and Beyond: The McAnally and Thompson Sites in their Cultural and Ecological Contexts. Papers No. 83. Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass. 2001. ISBN 0-87365-211-8.
  • Hegmon, Michelle (2002) "Recent Issues in the Archaeology of the Mimbres Region of the North American Southwest" Journal of Archaeological Research 10(4): 307-357.
  • Hegmon, Michelle, Margaret C. Nelson, and Susan M. Ruth (1998) "Abandonment and Reorganization in the Mimbres Region of the American Southwest." American Anthropologist 100(1):148-162.
  • LeBlanc, Steven A. The Mimbres People: Ancient Pueblo painters of the American Southwest. Thames and Hudson Ltd, New York, 1983, ISBN 0-500-39017-7
  • Nelson, Margaret C. and Michelle Hegmon (2001) "Abandonment is not as it seems: An Approach to the Relationship Between Site and Regional Abandonment." American Antiquity 66(2):213-235.
  • Nelson, Margaret C., Michelle Hegmon, Stephanie Kulow, and Karen Gust Schollmeyer (2006) "Archaeological and Ecological Perspectives on Reorganization: a Case Study from the Mimbres Region of the U.S. Southwest." American Antiquity 71(3):403-432.
  • Reid, Jefferson and Stephanie M. Whittlesey. Prehistory, Personality, and Place: Emil W. Haury and the Mogollon Controversy (University of Arizona Press; 182 pages; 2010). Examines the controversy occasioned by the American archaeologist's identification of the Mogollon as a people distinct from their Pueblo and Hohokam neighbors.
  • Shafer, Harry J. Mimbres Archaeology at the NAN Ranch Ruin. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque. 2003. ISBN 0-8263-2204-2
  • Shafer, Harry J. "Architecture and Symbolism in Tansitional Pueblo Development in the Mimbres Valley, SW New Mexico." 1995 Journal of Field Archaeology 22(1): 23-47.
  • Shafer, Harry J, Marianne Marek, and K. J. Reinhard, "A Mimbres Burial with Associated Colon Remains from the NAN Ranch Ruin, New Mexico." 1989. Journal of Field Archaeology 16: 17-30.
  • Shafer, Harry J. and Robbie L. Brewington, "Microstylistic Changes in mimbres Black-on-White Pottery: Examples from the NAN Ruin, Grant County, New Mexico" 1995. Kiva 64(3): 5-29.

External links

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