Using Paquimé as my Rosetta Stone and today’s Tarahumara for expanded interpretation, I can now understand much more clearly the rise and fall of the Paquimé/Anasazi/Hohokam Oasis America cultural systems. Using my natural and human system model , it is clear that the Oasis America cultures were participating in a broadly-based system that stretched from Mesoamerica sites in the south to Mesa Verde in the north and included similar religious, agricultural, and architectural practices over a 700 year time period.
Paquimé is able to function as my key to Oasis America cultures for two reasons:
Exceptionally well-preserved late date ruins, especially at the recently discovered Sky Island culture site
Great wealth and power at the height of its existence, as indicated by their material culture which is carefully documented by Charles Di Peso, Ph.D.
A substantial amount of “high status” copper artifacts, brought from western Mexico , have been found on the steps leading to the central Paquimé well (C. Di Peso and C. S. VanPool). I have shown evidence that trade in the expensive Scarlet Macaws from southern Mexico took place in Paquimé; a large supply of corn from the Sierra Madre, 2+ tons of shell from western Mexico, and bison bones, indicating a protein supply from the Plains, have also been found there. Taken together, these findings substantiate Paquimé’s involvement in an extensive trade network.
The special agricultural, architectural, and cultural features for grain production, transport, and storage set the Paquimé/Anasazi/Hohokam cultures apart from preceding, contemporary, and subsequent pueblo groups. These features include the use of agricultural terraces, located to take advantage of favorable parent soil fertility, increased rainfall from orographic lifting, and natural control of root cutworm and other pests through elevation. Also included is the building of public architecture specifically for the production of fertile water. These sweetwater mulching swamps enabled the production of bigger, sweeter corn for religious ceremonies. Based on recent archaeological discoveries at the Sky Island cultural site and my ongoing research on the production of fertilizer in Oasis America , I propose that all Hohokam and 90% of Paquimé “ballcourts” be re-evaluated as potential sweetwater mulching swamps.
In perhaps my most important proposal, I have been able to provide a plausible ethnographic/archeological explanation for the shape of the “ballcourts” as a religious architectural design representing the physical origins of female fertility. This oval shape ‘()’ also functioned as a practical receptacle for fixed nitrogen rainfall and provided a structure for the mulching of waste materials that dramatically increased the measurable efficiency of the available fertilizer resources.
In terms of grain transport, I have shown that both men and women in Oasis America cultural groups, like the Tarahumara, Nepalese, and others today, were eminently capable of carrying loads of 75-150 pounds or more up to 90 miles and more. This is documented in the archaeological record, which indicates that most adults (both male and female) had spinal degeneration from carrying heavy loads (Martin et al. 1991). More recently it has been documented by Linda Cordell, Ph.D. that maize originating from the Chuska Mountains and at a later date the San Juan and Animas river flood plains was transported in the 90 km range to be stored Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon (Benson and Cordell, October 2003). I have also shown that transhumance, or moving across ground to meet daily, weekly, and seasonal needs, was practiced in Oasis America, as it still is today among the Tarahumara and others.
Storage of corn was accomplished in multipurpose kiva/silos. Our extensive research of the Paquimé granaries indicates that these structures were built primarily for the long-term storage of corn. They were also used as smoker granaries and, particularly as the population of Oasis America began to decline after AD 1300, for religious and ceremonial activities. The specific smaller key-slot kivas at Pueblo Bonito should be re-evaluated as corn storage granaries using carbon monoxide to eliminate pest along with humidity control architectural features.
That all of the cultural groups throughout Mesoamerica and Oasis America shared similar religious beliefs and practices is undisputedly shown in the ubiquitous use of the step-fret and spiral designs in ceramics, rock art, and architecture. These designs symbolize fertility, weather control, and the basic male-female balance that is at the foundation of their cosmic view. The extensive trade in Scarlet Macaws further supports the connectedness of the Oasis America cultures, both with each other and with Mesoamerica .
Finally, the widespread evidence of iron-deficient anemia, as shown by the presence of cribra orbitalia/porotic hyperostosis in Oasis America skeletal remains, indicates the simultaneous collapse of the complex, centralized city-states that had characterized Paquimé/Anasazi/Hohokam cultures. It is probable that large population centers reached a “ceiling” of available dietary iron from animal sources. This factor lead to the choice of adopting known Mesoamerican dietary practices or returning to “indigenous origins” population levels. As the supply of adequate protein sources disappeared, the choice to adopt Mesoamerican dietary practices as recently documented archaeologically – and was rejected as a matter of known historical record. Following widespread warfare and strife, those tribal groups that opted to follow Mesoamerican ways were pushed to the south, while those that remained reverted to living in smaller population densities which did not require extensive agricultural enhancements or architecture and that enabled an adequate supply of large mammals to live in the area, thereby providing an easily-accessible protein source.
Using my natural and human systems model for analysis, I am thus able to provide an integrated and more complete picture of the Oasis America cultures throughout their history than has been possible previously. I am able to offer seven revolutionary new archaeological interpretations for the Paquimé/Anasazi/Hohokam pre-Colombian cultures A.D. 700-1425/1475. These seven proposals are (1) sweetwater mulching architecture, (2) increased load carrying capacity and distance, (3) transhumance agricultural strategy, (4) macaw and shell long distance trade systems, (5) granary kivas for long-term storage of corn, (6) religious interpretation of ceramic art and architectural design, and (7) anemia as the specific cause of the dramatic end of the Paquimé/Anasazi/Hohokam cultural systems. I am able to provide very strong ethnographic, as well as well-documented scientific, historical, and archaeological evidence to support these proposals.