Beyond the Village: Arroyo Hondo, Rock Art, and Religious Transformations in Classic Period Pueblos

Polly Schaafsma

Polly Dix Schaafsma is an archaeologist best known for her publications on Native American rock art. Schaafsma is a research associate in the Laboratory of Anthropology, Museum of New Mexico. She and her husband, anthropologist Curtis F. Schaafsma, have published research on the origins of the prehistoric Kachina cult in what became the Southwest USA. Schaafsma is a frequent lecturer and instructor at rock art field seminars for the School for Advanced Research, the Museum of New Mexico, Crow Canyon Archaeological Center and elsewhere. In 2008, Schaafsma received the Klaus Wellmann Memorial Award from the American Rock Art Research Association.

Beyond the Village: Arroyo Hondo, Rock Art, and Religious Transformations in Classic Period Pueblos

Around 700 years ago in the early 1300s, a large farming settlement, known today as Arroyo Hondo, was established at the foot of the southern tip of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Within the region other large multi-plaza aggregated villages, or towns, were also being founded at this same time, perhaps in part in response to an increase in population as migrants from the Colorado Plateau moved into the Rio Grande valley. Beyond the site of Arroyo Hondo Pueblo, the mountains rise as a barricade to the east. To the Southwest the view is expansive and open to the Galisteo Basin, a plain intersected by the long rocky ridges of basaltic dikes. Hills of intrusive volcanic rock and sandstone outcrops complicate the geological picture. Heading in the mountains north of Arroyo Hondo, the Santa Fe River flows westward through basaltic gorges before it reaches the Rio Grande plain.  The cliffs and boulders of this rocky landscape are inscribed with thousands of petroglyphs casting networks of meaning across the land and contributing to the creation of a cultural landscape.  Largely representing regional variants of two major Pueblo rock art traditions, the Plateau Pueblo Tradition (prior to ca. AD 1325) and the later Rio Grande style (beginning ca. AD 1325), these rock art sites document the seismic changes in Pueblo religion and cosmology that took place during the fourteenth century.  Among all the archaeological data available, rock art, being prolific, is a major resource for understanding the nature of these changes .The question posed in this essay is, how did Arroyo Hondoans relate to the profound shifts taking place around them that are evident in the rock art imagery?  Did they participate in these changes or was there a temporal off-set between Arroyo Hondo’s existence and these events? Were some settlements conservative, perhaps skeptical?

These were dynamic times. The migration out of the Four Corners region by the end of the AD 1200s, and the establishment of aggregated towns and villages elsewhere represent a time of crisis to which there were various responses.  Some of these responses are documented in the rock art that signals the presence of new religious beliefs and the development of organizations implementing in a new cosmology, of which the kachina complex is a prime example. Accompanying the new belief system that swept the Pueblo world in the fourteenth century was an explosion of image-making in both rock art and kiva murals, and the Rio Grande valley was the focus of this exuberance.  Fresh subjects rendered in new stylistic modes quickly replaced the former Ancestral Pueblo symbolic vocabulary of the Plateau Pueblo Tradition  (Figures 1–7) that had prevailed for probably around 700 years or longer from southeastern Nevada, across northern Arizona, to the Rio Grande Valley. The small solid life forms, spirals and abstract designs characteristic of the earlier work, was often overwhelmed by the large and imposing figures of the new Rio Grande style (Figures 8-22).

Across the land beyond the villages, engraved on high rocky ridges and painted hidden within small overhangs, the new iconography proliferated.  Kachinas and ritual  participants, warriors, war gods, and other deities including Shalakos and horned serpents, stepped clouds, and feathered stars celebrate the new cosmology as they empowered--and continue to empower--the landscape, synthesizing it with the supernatural realm. Kachina  faces  represented as discrete elements are the signature feature of the Rio Grande style. Back in the towns and villages, colorful, complex paintings on kiva walls featured large integrated compositions with similar subjects, including richly costumed participants engaged in ceremony (Figures 23 – 26). At Pottery Mound, paintings on multiple layers of plaster in eleven painted kivas were documented in the mid-20th century (Hibben 1975, Schaafsma 2007; see also Dutton 1963 for the Kuaua murals).   Similar mural paintings were also made at Awatovi and Kawaika-a, two among several Classic Period, or Pueblo IV, towns founded on Antelope Mesa situated just east of today’s Hopi villages (Smith 1952).

Most discussions of the changes that occurred among the Pueblos during the Late Coalition-Early Classic transition (ca. AD 1200-1325) focus on environmental issues as the driving force, with solutions to stress involving the appropriate pragmatic responses – increased aggregation, social stratification and the like (Adler 1996). Typically rock art and kiva murals are not included in these discussions. A look at rock art, however, demands that we carry this discussion further to understand how stress and cultural crises may in fact lead to changes in belief systems, that in turn, also contribute to the reorganization of social structure, as well as specific changes in ritual practice. Further such changes may result from a willingness to accept new ideas from elsewhere, not merely in situ restructuring. If ideas from elsewhere are deemed to be more powerful for producing rain, for example, then, under conditions of drought, they might be incorporated into ritual practices, even replacing older ones.   New belief systems enthusiastically embraced in times of stress and depicted in imagery, are well known from other cultural contexts (see Burger 1988).

The concern here is how Arroyo Hondo Pueblo, situated in the western foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, fits into this period of social and ideological restructuring well marked by a changed artistic legacy. Named for its proximity to a nearby drainage, Arroyo Hondo founded by ca. AD 1300, persisted for a while – around 45 years—then was nearly deserted to be reoccupied on a smaller scale 25 years later. Between AD 1330 and 1345 the region underwent a period of drought (Habicht-Mauche 1993:91).  It is likely that the ensuing regional stress resulting from poor crops and arroyo cutting contributed to the sea changes in social structure and religious cosmology reverberating throughout the Pueblo world at this time.  It was another 45 years in the early fifteenth century before people left Arroyo Hondo again and did not return.  .

Who were the people who founded Arroyo Hondo, and what were their broader social relationships within the competing local Pueblo scene? Were they local, or were they recent immigrants into the Rio Grande valley?   Were they ethnically unified or were they a composite group? Whether unified or diverse, were they seeking a new identity in these unstable times or seeking to maintain old connections with the past in the face of change? While the cultural ambience of change strengthened regionally during the fourteenth century, did this impact  the second occupation (Component II)  of Arroyo Hondo? While there are few clear answers to these questions, the data suggest that  Arroyo Hondoans were not in  the forefront of the changes occurring around them.

Although contemporary with the early components of the large towns being established in the Galisteo Basin itself in the early fourteenth century, according to Habicht-Mauche (1993:54), ceramics suggest that Arroyo Hondo Pueblo’s closest relationships were with its nearest neighbors in the Santa Fe River drainage and in the upper Pecos. In fact, it is the general consensus that Arroyo Hondo was founded by local people within the Santa Fe watershed community. The suggestion has been made (Kurt Anschuetz, Arroyo Hondo Conversation, June 2015), that they and other villagers in the Santa Fe water shed constituted a Middle Tewa population.

Although archaeological indications such as site layout reveal  that it was a community in transition, there was also an emphasis in local persistence.  The dominance of the Black-on-white pottery tradition, and with Glaze wares in the minority throughout Arroyo Hondo’s existence, indicates that the Arroyo Hondo people maintained a traditional focus. Likewise, the scarce iconographic information available on pottery relates to traditions of previous centuries, thus reinforcing the idea that Arroyo Hondo residents maintained a conventional outlook.

Arroyo Hondo itself will be addressed in more detail further along in this discussion. I will now turn to rock art in order to lay the ground work for discussing the regional changes that took place in the fourteenth century.

The Rock Art

Although rock art was often made in direct proximity to a village or town – as at San Cristobal and Pueblo Colorado in the Galisteo Basin-- this is not always the case.  Unfortunately, there are no rocky outcrops near Arroyo Hondo, where petroglyphs made by village residents might have provided a clue today as to their belief system. Furthermore there is no rock art on the cliffs near their canyon spring (Jay Shapiro, Arroyo Hondo Conversation, June 2015).   Therefore we are unable to confirm Arroyo Hondo’s participation in the new religious movement evident in the imagery made by members of other fourteenth century Pueblo farming communities  It is well known that Pueblo rock art may occur at quite some distances from habitation sites, thus incorporating a wide region into the cultural landscape of any particular pueblo.   It can not be said with certainty, but it is even possible that relatively isolated landscape features located at some distance from any habitation sites bear imagery made by members of different villages. It is therefore, likely – even inevitable -- that residents of Arroyo Hondo were responsible for some rock art in the northern part of the Galisteo Basin or along the Santa Fe River drainage.   Assuming this to be the case, what kind of images would the residents of Arroyo Hondo have made?

The Plateau Pueblo TraditionPrior to the mid-fourteenth century, Pueblo petroglyphs in north-central New Mexico fall within the scope of the previously mentioned widely shared Plateau Pueblo Tradition, that depicts a pre-AD 1325/1350 belief system, albeit with some regional emphases.   These petroglyphs occur in numerous localities in the Santa Fe water shed and in the Galisteo Basin with estimated dates of AD 1050 to around 1325.  Pueblo habitation sites in the vicinity of the Santa Fe water shed date between AD 900 and 1300, and on into the early Classic period (Mera 1935:Map 1).  While the petroglyph sites along this section of the Santa Fe River between the settlements of La Cienega and La Cieneguilla are dominated by the local version of the Pueblo Plateau Tradition, Rio Grande style elements were added at a later date.

Petroglyphs of the Rio Grande variant of the Plateau Pueblo Tradition are distinguished from those of the Four Corners region by small differences in content but not in style. Throughout, life forms are typically depicted as solid elements.  Both frontal stick and rectangular-bodied anthropomorphic figures are rectangular in basic configurations with limbs positioned at right angles. Heads are small, and faces for the most part are lacking, and in general they are subject to little elaboration, although some female figures are shown with hair whorls. Common are small humpback-fluteplayers, often phallic, and some of these are engaged in impregnating female figures.  In addition there are snakes, spirals, concentric circles, sequences of small triangles, and meandering lines. Birds far out number mammals. In the Rio Grande region birds in profile are especially notable--birds with folded wings, paired birds, and birds stacked in vertical sequences. Many birds appear to represent turkeys. Among mammals is the occasional deer, antelope (?) mountain lion and possible dog. Bighorn sheep, prevalent in sites on the Colorado Plateau, are notably absent, and hunting scenes are rare. 

In addition, hands and bare footprints (as opposed to sandal tracks) are often featured.   Life forms of the Plateau Pueblo Tradition rock art also occur on the regional Black-on-white wares, both on the Colorado Plateau and in the Rio Grande Valley, including Arroyo Hondo (Habicht-Mauche 1993:Figs. 26, 36g).

In summary, although there are regional differences or emphases in content, a general shared iconographic vocabulary indicates a widely shared worldview throughout the Pueblo domain from at least the eleventh century through the end of the 13th century or slightly beyond this.  Of equal importance as well is the conformity throughout to stylistic canons of representation that determined the way in which this ancient world view ws  portrayed.  As this discussion suggests, among some villagers in the Rio Grande Valley, this  “old-time” cosmology persisted into the 1300s. 

Outside of the spiral’s possible calendrical functions, few aspects of this rock art complex are subject to interpretation.  Beyond human fertility themes and motifs thought to be related to rain making, much of the meaning it must have held at the time is lost or remains obscure.   The phallic fluteplayer is the only identifiable personage whose role must have been amplified in myths and narratives, although there are undoubtedly others. The derivative figure, the flute-less Kokopelli known for his rampant promiscuity, has persisted into the Pueblo present and participates as a kachina in Hopi plaza dances.  The symbolic import of other life forms is not clear. Did turkeys have symbolic connotations? While they served an important role in Ancestral Pueblo economy as a source of feathers for blankets (Nancy Aikens, Arroyo Hondo Conversation, March  2015), did they also have ritual functions before the Classic era?  In the Rio Grande style, turkey feathers, along with eagle, red-tailed hawk, and macaw—all symbolically significant--are represented commonly in ceremonial contexts. In contrast, feather representations, if they occur at all, are non-specific in the Plateau Pueblo Tradition. 

As for abstract elements, at Chaco and elsewhere on the Colorado Plateau, sun and shadow interactions with spirals indicate a calendrical-ritual function (Sofaer 2008).  On another note (Schaafsma 2013), I have suggested that the formalized stepped textile and pottery motifs found in Pueblo III (ca. AD 1100-1300) rock art, most notably in northeastern Arizona, but elsewhere as well including the Rio Grande, served as petitions for rain. Both  pottery vessels and cotton weaving have metaphorical roles in rain-bringing rituals today and at least as far back as Classic times and seemingly before.  Assuming this was the case during  Pueblo III, concerns with rain can be added to the symbolic code embedded among the plethora of images of the Plateau Pueblo Tradition, for which interpretation is at best limited and certainly difficult.  In the final analysis, as for the older Ancestral Pueblo iconography, one can only identify characteristic elements and offer tentative interpretations for some of them.

 In contrast, the Rio Grande Style rock art, kiva murals, with their rich inventory of new figures portrayed in detail, represent major changes in Pueblo cosmology and religious beliefs during the fourteenth century, with an on-going continuity today among modern Pueblos. 

The Rio Grande Style.  Some time in the 1300s, new rock art images comprising the Rio Grande Style, began to be made across the wide vistas of the Rio Grande landscapes (Schaafsma 1975, 1980).   Whereas the Plateau Pueblo Tradition was the culmination of iconographic and stylistic shifts that had been incremental and continuous for many hundreds of years, the revolutionary change in the graphic arts during the fourteenth century was different. 

With no evidence of transition, the new subjects are portrayed in large bold forms employing the use of outlines. Figures defined by outlines allow for larger representations within which details contribute added meaning beyond that possible under the previous regime.  Shalakos and war gods, along with taloned and feathered stars, an endless variety of kachinas and ceremonial participants are among the outstanding themes. Some of these complex entities combine human, feline, and eagle characteristics in a manner that seems to illustrate a synthesis of human ritual practitioners and animals powers.  Under rock overhangs in smaller scale, sets of dancers were painted in exquisite detail. In contrast, prominently positioned  large shields and shield-bearing warriors brandishing weapons, their faces often in profile, occur in abundance, and are especially notable in  Tewa rock art, both in northern Tewa sites and in the Galisteo Basin.  And finally the horned and feathered serpent was painted in secluded overhangs and carved under the open sky, a deity first portrayed in the Southwest on Mimbres bowls (ca. AD 1000-1130) (Brody 1977: Pl. 11, Figure 160).  Among the new themes is also the stepped terraced cloud, representing the “water mountain,” the all-important source of rain. This too finds an early appearance on Mimbres bowls (Brody 1977:Fig. 61).

Previous research indicates that the immediate sources of this complex imagery and related cosmological belief system rested among farming people to the south such as the Mimbres and Jornada Mogollon around AD 1000 or even earlier. (Note that broader relationships to Mesoamerican cosmologies have been discussed at length elsewhere and are beyond the scope of this essay: see Schaafsma 1999, 2000, 2015, Schaafsma and Taube, Mathiowetz et al. 2015).  Stylistic continuities between the Pueblo kachina masks and those in Jornada Mogollon rock art dated somewhere before 1000 to around 1400 are marked, especially south of Albuquerque, testifying to their origins.  Beyond that, the accompanying cosmology and the metaphorical content promoting this belief system has roots in greater Mesoamerica (Schaafsma1999, Schaafsma and Taube 2006, Mathiowetz et al. 2015 and others). The focus here, however, is not on origins, but the changes themselves in the Rio Grande Valley, the cultural context for Arroyo Hondo.

The Rio Grande style marks a time of not only a new iconography, but a time during which a large output of energy was expended in producing it.  There was a veritable explosion of image-making throughout the entire Pueblo Rio Grande region encompassing vast areas of the landscape across cliffs, talus slopes, and various outstanding rock outcrops where no petroglyphs had existed previously.  In some cases, thousands of images were produced along a single expanse of cliffs.   In the Galisteo Basin nearly every high point is marked with petroglyphs.  Many petroglyphs sites, such as those in the Galisteo Basin and on the West Mesa of Albuquerque (Petroglyph National Monument)  stretch for miles.  In other cases, small secluded overhangs apparently that served as shrines are tucked away under overhangs among cliffs and boulders (Schaafsma 1990). In tandem with rock art proliferation are the elaborate kiva murals mentioned earlier picturing the same world in even greater detail.  (see also Crotty 1999 for Picuris).

This vastly increased effort to depict the introduced symbolism appears to represent not only an enthusiastic acceptance and promotion of the new Pueblo belief system, but a belief in the efficacy of the representations themselves..  Among the precipitating causes of such change may have been the crisis brought on by drought and its ensuing stress across the Colorado Plateau and Four Corners, marked by migrations out of that region at the end of the thirteenth century as referred to previously.  If the new cosmology and its related imagery was a response to this crisis, then perhaps an important aspect of the new images was the belief that the representations themselves were effective --  that they possessed the agency required to affect the desired changes, and among these the power to bring rain.

A large part of what is pictured in this rock art and Pueblo IV kiva murals has reference to a complex cosmology involving rain-making. Pueblo kachina masks are the most diagnostic element of the Rio Grande rock art style. Throughout they vary from simple to complex in detail, and many of them can be identified specifically, as they continue today.  Masks carved under the open sky on prominent landscape locations such as hilltops, knolls and intrusive volcanic features may well have served as petitions to the spirits of rain clouds attracted by their images. In Hopi ethnographies it is clear that paintings and images were and are made in hopes that they will be pleasing to the spiritual entities they represent and thus command their presence (Stephen 1936:744; Schaafsma 2015:1).   In that way rock art empowers the landscape and defines places where communication with powerful supernaturals may take place because they are attracted to their images. High points empowered with images may have been regarded as symbolic of the high mountains from which clouds emanate, those storehouses of water and homes of the kachinas.

Animal patrons of war, the hunt and healing societies are also depicted. Warfare themes --symbols of conflict, probably both real and ritualized--are prominent and represent a major investment in time and skill . In the Galisteo Basin imposing figures of war gods, warriors bearing shields, and warrior kachinas flaunt their presence high on the Comanche Gap ridge that faces the final ridge that borders the endless reach of the high plains of New Mexico. Although there is little consensus among scholars as to the degree of conflict and with whom it took place (Kohler et al. 2014, LeBlanc 1999),  the rock is testimony  to occurrences of hostile encounters. The magic powers of shields inscribed or painted in the landscape have a long history among the Pueblos for whom it is proposed that they served as a kind of protective magic against intruders (Schaafsma 2000). In addition, throughout the Galisteo Basin, small hidden overhangs  house limited groups of petroglyphs and  rock paintings, many of which are focused on war-related themes.  Such locations may have served as war society retreats.

The iconography indicates that Pueblo conflict was ritualized incorporating cosmic powers that include the sun and Venus as Morningstar (Mathiowetz et al. 2015).  Further, the perpetual need and requests for rain are embodied within the iconographic repertoire related to conflict.  Within the overall warfare cosmology, in some oral traditions, the War Twins’ abilities to bring rain  are cited as  being even more powerful than those of  the kachinas (Stirling 1942). The Morningstar conflated with the eagle and represented by the taloned stars and animal war patrons such as the bear and mountain lion are known as scalpers.  Because enemy scalps were viewed as rain-bringers, Pueblo skirmishes during which scalps were acquired meant assurance of rain for the following season’s cornfields (Schaafsma  2000:146-150).   As described in detail elsewhere (Schaafsma 2000:154-157), icons of rain-making and conflict, evident in the Rio Grande style represent a complementary dualism that is also well described in the ethnographic literature. 

These powers to bring rain and protect the Pueblo world were inscribed on a landscape that was superimposed by a cosmogram, a broader idealized organizing framework within which the seven directional points (N, S, E, W. plus zenith, nadir, and center) served (and still serve) to structure ritual activities and the supernatural powers with which Pueblo people engage. As described by Alfonso Ortiz (1986), each village is a center from which shrines extend in the four directions, ending finally at the sacred mountains on the horizon . around which rain-brining  clouds gather.  These mountains defining the boundaries of the world of each Pueblo, are the homes of rain deities, as well as the rain-bringing kachinas.  The mist rising from these watery mountain locales form  clouds that may be regarded as the kachinas or corporate ancestors congregating  above the mountains, ultimately spreading out, expanding their reach to release their water as rain onto the corn fields far below. It is within this idealized scheme that places marked with rock are situated, investing the land with additional meaning.

The cosmogram fundamental to this worldview is materialized in idealized form as pottery designs, vessel shapes, and in the construction of Pueblo altars (Geertz 1987: Fig. 1). The patterned layout on a Santa Fe Black-on-white bowl from Arroyo Hondo depicting terrace clouds of the four directions well represents this cosmogram (Figure 27). Although rare in the suite of pottery designs from Arroyo Hondo, it nevertheless indicates that this worldview was not unfamiliar to Arroyo Hondo residents. Furthermore, it came from a Component I room block  (Habicht-Mauche 1993:Fig. 37a) and is perhaps the best evidence we have in the way of iconography for the transitional status of Arroyo Hondo.

Ideology and Religion at Arroyo Hondo in the Midst of Change

What do we know and what can we deduce about Arroyo Hondo’s place and participation in this changing cultural milieu of the fourteenth century?  To address this, more sleuthing is necessary, starting with imagery.   Images are a direct statement. While they may derive immediately from the world as perceived, they are selected and assembled into their symbolic and metaphoric dimensions  to comprise depictions of the components of a worldview. Therefore imagery is critical to understanding past, cosmologies, religions and their accompanying  social implications. The fact that there is a paucity of  iconography attributable to the residents of Arroyo Hondo we are nearly lacking this information, This poses a significant challenge! Except for those very few depictions on ceramics and  other artifacts, we are largely dependent on secondary information in trying to figure out where to place Arroyo Hondo during these transitional times.

The earliest phase of Arroyo Hondo’s occupation between ca. AD 1300 and 1345 (Component I) bridges the Coalition (AD 1200-1325) to Classic (AD 1325-1600) Periods.  The later and smaller occupation  between AD 1370 and 1415 (Component II) was well within the Classic Period when surrounding towns were occupied with the new religion.   Kachina depictions on Black-on-white wares from other sites (Talpa Black-on-white (ca. AD 1300-1425) and Galisteo Black-on-white (AD 1300-1400)  (Wiseman 2014) establish the presence of kachina ideology among the Rio Grande Pueblos during this time frame. The Galisteo Black-on-white sherd in question came from a context around AD 1390 at Las Madres (Curtis Schaafsma, personal communication  2015). The Talpa Black-on-white sherd depicting a kachina came from Pot Creek Pueblo near Taos, abandoned by AD 1320 (Crown 1991, Hays 1994:57).  Kachinas on ceramics have not been found at Arroyo Hondo. Nevertheless, the previously described stepped cloud featured on a Santa Fe Black-on-white bowl from Arroyo Hondo with a quadripartite layout, along with the kachina representations on ceramics from other sites, are indicative of the changes reverberating in the neighborhood in the first half of the fourteenth century (Habicht-Mauche 1993::Fig. 37a). 

Beyond this Santa Fe Black-on–white bowl with the cosmogram, evidence for a    Pueblo IV rain-related cosmology at Arroyo Hondo is extremely  tenuous or non-existent.  Limited information in the way of from life forms on ceramics, which are extremely scarce, shows that they adhere to those widely known from Pueblo III contexts in the Rio Grande and elsewhere. Habicht-Mauche (1993:Figs. 26, 36g) illustrates two figures, a stick-figure rectilinear frog on a miniature jar, and a perched bird with folded wings on a Wiyo sherd (AD 1300-1400  more or less – see Wiseman 2014:207). Iconography prior to AD 1350 on pottery from Pindi Pueblo (i.e. Santa Fe, Pindi and Galisteo Black-on-white and Heshotautla) features small life forms such as bow hunters, stick figure humans, and birds with folded wings (Stubbs and Stallings 1953: 23; Fig. 59)   Some birds are paired breast-to-breast or perched on the corners of rectangles.  These same elements appear in the Plateau Pueblo Tradition rock art. 

The production of miniature jars was an old Pueblo practice, but.a rectilinear stick figure frog on one of these little jars from Arroyo Hondo suggests a linkage with water, and perhaps even with springs, but the latter association is not clear at this time.   There were six other small vessels—bowls, jars and ladles found at Arroyo Hondo, but they were uncached and scattered in the site, with only one-third of them from  kivas (Thibodeau 1993:198-200). In contrast, beginning in the Classic era, or Pueblo IV, similar jars, embellished with stepped clouds, lightning were found grouped as ceremonial caches in under-floor crypts in rooms and kivas as offerings to the rain deities (Gunnerson 1998, Preucel 2000; Wolfman and Dick 2000).  The cosmological implications of these caches falls squarely in line with pottery symbolism and earth-related rain cosmology as expressed in the archaeological record and mythologies of Mexico, as well as the kachina complex in the Southwest (Schaafsma 1999, 2015, and Schaafsma and Taube 2006).  Nevertheless, lacking this kind of contextual evidence for miniature vessels in Arroyo Hondo, their ritual significance within a cosmology that attributes rain to chthonic origins is unknown. The frog design is merely suggestive.

Other cross-media comparisons testify to the traditional nature of Arroyo Hondo. The bird and animal effigies found there are largely from Component I and resemble those from Pueblo III sites on the Colorado Plateau (Thibodeau 1993:193). Forty whole and fragmentary remains of clay pipes were found, but their ornamentation lacks any connection with the Rio Grande style. Their designs stand in stark contrast with those on pipes, or cloud-blowers, from Pecos Pueblo on which stepped clouds, horned serpents, lightning arrows, a kachina, and taloned star beings are among he elements depicted (Kidder 1932:158-182}.  Again most of the  pipes from Arroyo Hondo are associated with Component I or the Late Coalition Period.

Finally, no painted kiva murals were recovered from Arroyo Hondo, although  testing yielded evidence of  paint of the walls (Creamer 1993:Table  5.1 and pp. 88-89).  All are Component I kivas dating prior to AD 1345, in which elaborate murals like those at Pottery Mound and Hopi are not to be expected.

Lacking a sound data base of direct evidence provided by iconography, other factors may contribute some indirect insights into Arroyo Hondo’s place during these times of cultural transition.  The socially integrating function of comprehensive religious societies has been mentioned, and indications of their existence might be indicated  in site layouts that include public space or plazas. Critical to this discussion are the social implications of the Rio Grande style with its implicit references to the presence of kachina and war societies.  Because both in contemporary Pueblos serve to broadly organize and thus integrate populations, cross-cutting traditional lineage and clan lines, they promote long-term social stability (Adams 1991; Schaafsma and Schaafsma 1974). During the Coalition period, pueblos came into being that were much larger than any prior communities. Many, however, were short-lived, suggesting that they lacked these means of social integration necessary for long-term survival.  Others managed to persist, many of them until the 1680 Pueblo Revolt or even into the current century. Many of the earlier towns --  plazas or not -- did not survive long, and Arroyo Hondo is among these.  As a settlement of 24 room blocks surrounding 10 plazas, Arroyo Hondo was one of the large-scale towns established in the area in the early fourteenth century.  The site layout is indicative of the transitional nature of Arroyo Hondo, the plazas in themselves suggesting the presence of certain types of socially integrative practices not found in earlier sites. Plazas are where village-wide ceremonies and dances take place in concert with food redistribution in contemporary pueblos. But do plazas alone denote the presence of pan-village rituals in the past parallel to the kachina dances today?  Or were they the  focus of  the activities of smaller  groups such as  lineages or clans?

Arroyo Hondo with its many plazas was short-lived and reduced in size dramatically by  AD 1335, and all but abandoned by AD 1345 during a severe drought. Although smaller, the second occupation, Component II (AD ca.1370-1420)  is represented by 200 rooms arranged in  nine room blocks around 3 plazas (Creamer 1993). Because of the early fourteenth century dates of Component I, in spite of many plazas, one would not necessarily  expect to find indications of the presence of the integrative kachina and war societies that come to characterizes the Pueblo IV period.  By AD 1370, however, the later resettlement of Arroyo Hondo, could well have included participants of the new regime with pan-village societies, due to their increasing presence in the region.  Had they existed they would have, theoretically, served to stabilize and integrate the town through ritualized food-redistribution networks during times of stress characterized by malnutrition and poor health  (Ann Palkovich, Arroyo Hondo Conversation, March 2015).  Nevertheless, Component II was also short-lived, a factor that indicates a presumed continuing absence of these socially over-arching organizations.

Pottery, perhaps, offers an additional clue. Glaze wares are often cited as a major marker of the social changes that distinguish the Classic Period. At Arroyo Hondo they were found to be in the minority in decorative ware assemblages.  As trade wares from the nearby south, including the Galisteo Basin itself, they are represented in only 4% and 6% of the decorative assemblages of Components I and II respectively (Habicht-Mauche 1993:85). Glaze wares were more common elsewhere in the Rio Grande Valley during the fourteenth century, appearing in tandem with cultural shifts that produced the kachina cult. Their small numbers at Arroyo Hondo may be significant.  Habicht-Mauche (1993:86) concludes from her pottery analysis that, “What is clear from these data is that prior to the widespread distribution of glaze ware pottery during the mid-fourteenth century, even large aggregated communities such as Arroyo Hondo were engaged in much more parochial networks of economic and social interaction.”

In summary, the rock art Arroyo Hondoans made, like the designs on ceramics, would have undoubtedly adhered to the regional expression of the old Plateau Pueblo Tradition. Even the bowl with the quadrupartite layout with terraced clouds described earlier, while perhaps an exception in part, is transitional in that motifs from late Pueblo III pottery are also incorporated into the overall design. 

A Conclusion and Questions

Based on this review, it certainly dos not appear that Arroyo Hondo had an active role in the period of change, during which new ritual knowledge and its related ceremonial complexes were impacting other pueblos. That said, many questions remain.

 If one supposes that Arroyo Hondo residents were conservative in their views, holding on to a widespread, old-time Pueblo cosmology, what does its apparent persistence in traditional leanings tell us about the wider regional picture? Did the new ideology encounter resistance among some of the towns and villages of the Rio Grande valley, and especially in the north? Was there a period in the mid-fourteenth century during which the changes discussed were staggered in distribution?  Was there a hierarchy of towns, some of which were more ceremonially complete than others?  “Wealth” or value is often measured in Pueblo terms according to “ownership”  of ritual knowledge, and towns as well as individuals are or were ranked according to these criteria. Ceremonially complete towns (Brandt 1994) recognized as  “repositories “ of traditional knowledge, would have been socially and economically the most interactive and have thereby accrued social clout among their peers.  Firm answers to these questions are lacking when considering the status of Arroyo Hondo, but  they need to be considered, and  refined dating will eventually help clarify this picture.  At this point it appears that Arroyo Hondo was on the periphery of the fields of change, and was by no means a vibrant leader during the Late Coalition/Classic Period transition.

And finally, a related concern is where did Arroyo Hondo residents go?  Did the people in their first exodus of Arroyo Hondo stay within the Santa Fe water shed and establish a new town or did they join their Pueblo neighbors, contributing to the burgeoning populations in the larger towns in the Galisteo or EspaZola Basins that were being built in the first half of the fourteenth century?  Stubbs and Stallings (1953: vii) suggest that in the middle of the fourteenth century the Pindi population moved across the Santa Fe River to establish the Agua Fria School House site. 

 Based on patterns of migration and movements among Pueblo villages in historic times, it would appear likely that they moved into neighboring Pueblo towns that were increasing in size during the early fifteenth century.  In doing so they would have assumed new identities and become participants in the new regime and a full-blown new cosmology, leaving behind the older traditions and related worldviews. Or did they tire of farming, rebel against village life, and retreat to the mountains, resorting to a hunter-gatherer mode of existence, while their neighbors flourished in the large communities  integrated by religious societies – societies that conducted dances by richly costumed participants in  public plazas, accompanied by feasting and a redistribution of food  provided by the rain deities pleased with the new ceremonies in their honor?

Answers await.


I wish to thank Douglas Schwartz for inviting me to contribute to the website on Arroyo Hondo. I also express my gratitude to members the Arroyo Hondo Conversations for their helpful comments that improved this essay, and to Curt Schaafsma for our discussions over dinner and his guidance to references beyond rock art. 


Adams, E. Charles

1991    The Origin and Development of the Kachina Cult. University of Arizona Press, Tucson.

Adler, Michael A., ed.

1996    The Prehistoric Pueblo World AD 1150-1350. University of Arizona Press, Tucson

Brandt, Elizabeth

1994      Egalitarianism, Hierarchy, and Centralization in the Pueblos. In Ancient Southwestern Community, edited by W. H. Wills and R. D. Leonard, pp 9-23. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque.

Brody, J. J.

1977      Mimbres Painted Pottery.  School of American Research and the Univeristy of New Mexico Press. Santa Fe and Albuquerque.

Burger, Richard L.

1988    Unity and Heterogeneity within the Chavin Horizon. In Peruvian Prehistory, edited by Richard W. Keatinge, pp. 94-144. Cambridge University Press.

Creamer, Winifred

1993      The Architecture of Arroyo Hondo Pueblo, New Mexico. School of American Research Press, Santa Fe.

Crown, Patricia

1991    Evaluating the Construction Sequence and Population of Pot Creek Pueblo, Northern New Mexico. American Antiquity 56(2):291-314.

Crotty, Helen K.

1999      Kiva Murals and Iconography a Picuris Pueblo. In Picuris Pueblo Through Time: Eight Centuries of Change at a Northern Rio Grande Pueblo, edited by Michael A. Adler, pp. 149-187. The Clements Center for Southwest Studies, Southern Methodist University, Dallas.

Dutton, Bertha P.

1963    Sun Father’s Way. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque.

Geertz, Armin W.

1987    Hopi Indian Altar Iconography. Iconography of Religions X, 5, Institute of Religious Iconography State University Groningen. E. J. Brill,  Leiden.

Gunnerson, James

1998    Mountain Lions and Pueblo Shrines in the American Southwest.  In Icons of Power, Feline Symbolism in the Americans, edited by Nicholas J. Saunders, pp. 228-257. Routledge.

Habicht-Mauche, Judith A.

1993      The Pottery from Arroyo Hondo Pueblo, New Mexico: Tribalization and Trade in the Northern Rio Grande. The School of American Research Press, Santa Fe.

Hays, Kelley Ann

1994      Kachina Depictions on Prehistoric Pueblo Pottery. In Kachinas in the Pueblo World, edited by Polly Schaafsma, pp. 47-62.  University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque

Hibben, Frank C.

1975      Kiva Art  of the Anasazi at Pottery Mound. KC Publications, Las Vegas.

Kohler, Timothy A., Scott g. Ortman, Katie E. Grundtisch, Carl M. Fitzpatrick, and Sarah M. Cole

2014      The Better Angles of their Nature: Declining Violence Through Time among Prehispanic Pueblos. American Antiquity 79(3):444-464.

Kidder, Alfred Vincent

1932    The Artifacts of Pecos. Papers of the Southwestern Expedition, No. 6. Published for Phillips Academy , Yale University Press, New Haven.

LeBlanc, Steven A.

1999    Prehistoric Warfare in the American Southwest.  University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City.

Mathiowetz, Michael, Polly Schaafsma, Jeremy Coltman, and Karl Taube

2015    Darts of Dawn: The Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli Venus Complex in Mesoamerica and the American Southwest.  Journal of the Southwest. 57(1): 1-102. The Southwest Center, University of Arizona, Tucson.

Mera, H. P.

1935      Ceramic Clues to the Prehistory of North Central New Mexico. Technical Series Bulletin No. 8, Laboratory of Anthropology, Santa Fe.

Ortiz, Alfonso

1986    The Tewa World. University of Chicago Press.

Preucel, Robert

2000      Living on the Mesa: Hanat Kotyiti, A Post-Revolt Cochiti Community in Northern New Mexico Expedition 42 (1):8-17. The Magazine of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia.

Schaafsma, Polly

1975    The Rock Art of Cochiti Reservoir. Papers in Anthropology no. 16, Museum of New Mexico Press, Santa Fe.

1980      Indian Rock Art of the Southwest. School of American Research and the University of New Mexico, Santa Fe and Albuquerque.

1990    The Pine Tree Site: A Galisteo basin Pueblo IV Shrine. In Clues to the Past: Papers in Honor of William M. Sundt, edited by Meliha S. Duran and David  T. Kirkpatrick, pp. 239-258. Archaeological Society of New Mexico, Paper No. 16, Albuquerque.

1999    Tlalocs, Kachinas, Sacred Bundles and Related Symbolism in the Southwest and Mesoamerica. In The Casas Grandes World, edited by Curtis F. Schaafsma and Carroll L. Riley, pp.164-192. University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City.

2000      Warrior, Shield, and Star. Western Edge Press, Santa Fe.

ed.2007   New Perspectives on Pottery Mound Pueblo . University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque.

2013    Petitions for Rain: Textile and Pottery Designs in Rock Art. International Newsletter on Rock Art, edited by Jean Clottes, pp. 17-27. Foix, France.

2015    Tlaloc and a Mesoamerican Cosmology in the American Southwest. Tlaloque: Boletin del Seminario: El Emblema de Tlaloc  en Mesoamerica,    Ano 5, No.17, UNAM, Mexico, D. F.

Schaafsma, Polly, and Curtis F. Schaafsma

1974      Evidence for the Origins of the Pueblo Kachina Cult as Suggested by Southwestern Rock Art.  American Antiquity 39(4):535-545.

Schaafsma, Polly, and Karl A. Taube

2006      Bringing the Rain: an Ideology of Rain-Making in the Pueblo Southwest and Mesoamerica. In A Pre-Columbian World, edited by Jeffrey Quilter and Mary Miller, pp.231-285. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C.

Smith, Watson

1952    Kiva Mural Decorations at Awatovi and Kawaika-a. Papers of the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology, No. 37. Harvard University, Cambridge.

Sofaer, Anna

2008    Chaco Astronomy: An Ancient American Cosmology. Ocean Tree Books, Santa Fe.

Stephen, Alexander M.

1936      Hopi Journal, edited by Elsie Clews Parsons. Columbia University Contributions to Anthropology 23 (2 vols.). Columbia University Press, New York.

Stirling, Matthew W.

1942    Origin Myths of Acoma and other Records. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin. 135, Washington, D. C.

Stubbs, Stanley A., and W. S. Stallings, Jr.

1953      The Excavation of Pindi Pueblo, New Mexico.  Monographs of the School of American Research and the Laboratory of Anthropology, No. 18. Santa Fe.

Thibodeau, Anthony

1993      Miscellaneous Ceramic Artifacts from Arroyo Hondo Pueblo. In The Pottery from Arroyo Hondo, pp. 182-201. School of American Research, Santa Fe.

Wiseman, R

2014    Introduction to Ceramic Clues to the Prehistory of North-Central New Mexico. In Since Mera. Compiled and edited by Emily J. Brown, Regge N. Wiseman and Rory P. Gautier.  Pp. 197-223. Archaeological Society of New Mexico, Special Publication No.5

Wolfman, Daniel, and Herbert W. Dick

2000      Ceremonial Caches in Picuris Pueblo. In Picuris Pueblo Through Time: Eight Centuries of Change at a Northern Rio Grande Pueblo, edited by Michael A.  Adler and Herbert W. Dick, pp. 101-119.William P. Clemens Center for Southwestern Studies, Southern Methodist University, Dallas.