Ancestral Pueblo: Greater Upper Rio Grande Valley

Culture Name: Ancestral Pueblo: Greater Upper Rio Grande Valley

First posted by C. Dean Wilson 2013

A difference in the classification approach presented here, as compared to some other Southwestern classification schemes, is reflected by the decision to place "Pueblo" traditions found in New Mexico into three rather than two broad "culture" areas. Unlike the Mogollon, the Rio Grande is seldom placed in a distinct cultural culture area. An often implicit assumption underlying many current Southwestern classification systems is that pottery and cultural traditions in regions along areas of the Northern Rio Grande Valley and the Southern Colorado Plateau can be subsumed under a common group originally described as the Anasazi and more recently as the Ancestral Pueblo. Two assumptions have long contributed to the assignment of archaeological manifestations found across much of the Colorado Plateau and the northern most Pueblo regions of the Northern Rio Grande Rift into a common culture area. One is the overall similarities in pottery technology associated with the long span of production of gray and white wares in both geographic provinces. The other is the assumption that Pueblo groups residing in at least the northernmost Pueblo regions of the Rio Grande Valley were the result of large scale mass migrations from the Colorado Plateau that included the mass movement of Keres groups in the Middle Rio Grande and Tewa groups from the Northern Mesa Verde region into the Northren Rio Grande during the thirteenth century (Cordell 1995; Cordell et al. 2007; Duff 1998; Duff and Wilshusen 2000; Ford et al. 1972; Lekson and Cameron 1995; Ortman 2010).

While mass movements of Keres groups into the Middle Rio Grande seem to be largely supported and agreed upon by almost all archaeologists, the case for mass movements from the Mesa Verde groups to the Northern Rio Grande is much more tentative (Boyer et al. 2010; Wilson 2008; 2013). By the late thirteenth century, most of the Rio Grande cannot simply be characterized as an empty landscape but instead was inhabited by distinct, indigenous, and growing Pueblo populations that exhibited a distinct suite of traits that include ceramics (Boyer et al. 2010; Wendorf 1954; Wendorf and Reed 1955; Wilson in progress). While, as is the case for the Mogollon culture area, there were many shared ceramic traits with the Southern Colorado Plateau, the overall material culture seems to have been distinct in terms of decorative styles and other attributes for both gray utility and decorated white ware types in ceramics from assemblages associated with sequence of occupation over all of the Rio Grande region (Wendorf 1955; Wilson 2013). Likewise, we have placed areas along the Rio Abajo region sometimes assigned to the Mogollon based on the dominance of brown ware types into the Rio Grande culture area.

Observations of the difference in sequences of change noted for ceramics and other material culture have resulted in development and utilization of an overall classification scheme for the Rio Grande that is quite different than that represented by the Pecos systems employed for regions of the Anasazi (Wendorf 1954; Wendorf and Reed 1955). This system includes the assignment of Rio Grande components to the Developmental, Coalition, Classic and Colonial periods. Thus, the Rio Grande Culture area as used here applies to what appears to be distinct and connected groups that long shared similar Tanoan languages and were part of a greater interaction sphere adapted through time in unique way to the combinations of landscapes along the Rio Grande Rift (Wilson 2013). Variation noted in traits associated with pottery long produced along the long section of the Rio Grande Rift and associated tributaries form the basis for both the definition of different Rio Grande Pueblo pottery traditions as well their division into traditions associated with a northern and southern branch.

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