What Can the Unique Traits of Arroyo Hondo Tell Us About Diversity, Demography, and Built Environment in the Northern Rio Grande

Jason S. Shapiro 

Dr. Jason Shapiro Ph.D. in Anthropology from Pennsylvania State University. His dissertation research focused on the arrangement of built spaces at Arroyo Hondo Pueblo, a 14th – 15th century pueblo located near Santa Fe, New Mexico, and resulted in the publication of his first book. Additional academic degrees include an MSPH in Environmental Management from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a BA in Geography from Clark University, Worcester, MA. From 2000-2013, Dr. Shapiro taught a variety of Anthropology, Archeology, and History classes at Santa Fe Community College, Pennsylvania State University, the University of Maryland, the College of Santa Fe, New Mexico Highlands University and the Renesan Institute of Lifelong Learning. For several years he was a member and Chair of the Archeological Review Committee for the City of Santa Fe. 

What Can the Unique Traits of Arroyo Hondo Tell Us About Diversity, Demography, and Built Environment in the Northern Rio Grande

Allow me to begin with a brief and hoary anecdote. Late at night a very drunk man was walking around and around a streetlight downtown. A policeman approached and asked, “What exactly are you doing?” The man responded, “I’ve dropped my car keys and I am looking for them.” “Well, where did you drop them” the policeman asked. “Somewhere over there in the parking lot.” “Then why are you looking for them over here?” The exasperated drunk finally said, “Because the light is better.” Irrespective of whether that little story is a metaphor for how archaeology in the Southwest has progressed in general, it reflects my own experience with Arroyo Hondo.  

I first encountered Arroyo Hondo Pueblo (Tewa: Kua-Kaa) (Harrington 1916:551) in the early 1990s while looking for an appropriate site with which to test the Space Syntax theories that would become the basis for my doctoral dissertation (Shapiro 1997, 2005).1 By that time the excavations had been completed for 20 years and eight monographs had been published, each detailing a different aspect of what had been learned through one of the largest, most intensive, and most interdisciplinary studies in the history of Southwest archaeology. In my then naïveté regarding the nature of Rio Grande Classic Period pueblos, I believed that I had found the perfect test site, an early but influential architectural model that would be the key to the entire Classic Period occupation of the northern Rio Grande Valley. In my mind, Arroyo Hondo was where the light was better.  

During the succeeding two decades I have researched, written about, and lectured regarding the significance of Arroyo Hondo, but as my information level increased I found myself reevaluating the meaning of Arroyo Hondo within the “big picture” of a region that underwent substantial social, economic, and political changes during the approximately 300 years that comprise the Classic period (Adams and Duff, Eds. 2004). My current view is that Arroyo Hondo remains a place, a people, and a process that is of critical importance for understanding the archaeology of the middle northern Rio Grande, but for reasons almost diametrically opposed to my initial impressions. At an earlier point in my career, I blithely could begin a statement with, “All Classic Period pueblos in the northern Rio Grande…” but I have come to appreciate that these myriad pueblos were built, occupied, and abandoned at different times, by different people, in different ways, and for different reasons. Arroyo Hondo is important because in many respects, it is not like other Rio Grande pueblos, leading not so much to the relatively easy question of “How was it different?” but to the more elusive question of “Why was it different?” Before we can address that question, some background discussion is appropriate. 

Beginning around seven hundred years ago the entire Rio Grande Valley and other parts of the Southwest, experienced a new kind of settlement pattern as hundreds or in some cases, thousands of individuals abandoned small, dispersed settlements, moved in together, and built some of the largest pueblos ever seen in the region. Chaco Canyon’s 800-room Pueblo Bonito is often presented as the apogee of Ancestral Puebloan building construction, yet numerous pueblos built and occupied during the 14th and 15th centuries had more than 1,000 rooms, with several having well in excess of 2,000 rooms. Small farming villages defined the earlier Ancestral Pueblo world of the 12th and 13th centuries but by the 15th century, many fewer but much larger town-sized pueblos defined this same world. Transformations in settlement patterns imply changes in social, political, economic, and ideological relationships but by any measure, the Classic Period constitutes a large-scale example of rapid societal change (Shapiro 2008). 

Although no bell tolled at midnight on New Year’s Eve in 1325 C.E. to ring in a new era, archaeologists use that year as a convenient date based upon the appearance of glazed pottery in this region to delineate the beginning of the Classic Period during which virtually all of the inhabitants of the northern Rio Grande region left their small hamlets in favor of big settlements that were sufficiently populous to be called “towns.” Some of these settlements, such as El Pueblo de Santa Fe, Pindi, and Agua Fria Schoolhouse, were ongoing occupations from the earlier Coalition Period but many new pueblos such as Arroyo Hondo, as well as several truly massive settlements in the Galisteo Basin and in areas north of Santa Fe, were newly built at this time. The fundamental question that continues to vex archaeologists is “Why aggregation?” What forces drove people across the Southwest in general and the middle northern Rio Grande in particular to construct these enormous settlements? In an excellent synthesis, Adler, Van Pool, and Leonard reduced the fluid process of aggregation to a collection of environmental and cultural “push/pull” triggers (Adler et al 1996). Virtually every examination of earlier manifestations of community aggregation in the Southwest including the 11th and early 12th century events in the Mimbres region of southern New Mexico, the 10th, 11th, and 12th century events in Chaco Canyon, and the 13th century events in southwestern Colorado, has arrived at a similar mix of many and varied causes. Although the widespread archaeological evidence of a near total shift towards aggregated settlements across the Pueblo Southwest in the 14th and 15th centuries looks like another version of a recurring phenomenon, it is probably not possible to tease out any single aspect and say, “Aha, so that’s why the Pueblo people built those enormous settlements in the Rio Grande Valley!” Furthermore, the process did not solely involve aggregation, the collecting of people into larger units, but also included amalgamation and accommodation. People found themselves living in communities that were both larger and more diverse than the Coalition communities of only a few generations past. Everyone needed access to land and water and people had to be woven into the community’s social and ideological fabric. There also had to be a willingness among community members to adjust their lives in some manner to the needs of others who were probably not related by clan or lineage ties. This was a radical step that required new ways of building as well as new ways of thinking.  

The back-story to aggregated pueblos is that by the late 13th and early 14th centuries the northern Rio Grande was filling up with people, it was an environmentally challenging area for maize-based agriculture, and there was not very much well-watered, arable land. Among other things, these newer and larger pueblos could muster more agricultural workers and warriors in what had evolved into a highly competitive landscape. 

The 14th century process of aggregation-amalgamation-accommodation is associated with changes in architectural style. By this time, local Puebloans had expanded an earlier Coalition plan of a single plaza partially enclosed by two or three roomblocks into much more outsized designs.2 For example, at its zenith Arroyo Hondo was comprised of 24 mostly contiguous roomblocks with around 1,000 rooms and 13 plazas. Not every large settlement that developed during the Classic Period was configured the same way but the size and spatial complexity of Classic pueblos was unlike anything that had ever been built before in the northern Rio Grande and Arroyo Hondo was probably the first large community that adopted this new form. Archaeologists have increased their understanding of the relationship between architecture and other cultural elements to the point where this quote from archaeologist Erik Reed, made fifty years ago, now seems curiously quaint in its honesty: “Interpretation of the [architectural] changes during the last few centuries in the Upper Rio Grande, from the front-directed Anasazi [construction] plan to the hollow-square layout…to [the] predominance of parallel [roomblock] alignments, except among the Tewa, is beyond me (Reed 1956).”  

Archaeological and architectural studies have attempted to relate the design of plaza-oriented settlements to the ability to respond to changing demographics. Architecture operated in concert with new social rules to accommodate diverse groups of people who now found themselves living together. "Ladder-style" roomblocks could be built in a relatively short period of time in order to adapt to population increases, and plazas became settings for a wide variety of both family-centered and larger group activities.3 Ultimately, plazas became community-integrating spaces in the same ways that kivas had integrated smaller groups in the past (Shapiro 2005). The change in architectural style and living arrangements seems to have predated the rapid increases in population, but that ongoing debate about whether the population increases beginning in the 13th century were the result of in-migration or local population increases is still with us. I will not repeat the competing arguments except to note that the overall growth rates, measured in numbers of newly built pueblo rooms, cannot be accounted for by focusing only on the fertility of local populations. On the other hand, those scholars who favor the “Four Corners In-Migration Model” do not account for either the absence of Four Corners style architecture within the Rio Grande Valley nor do they account for preexisting local populations during the Late Developmental and Coalition Periods, except to say that they were relatively small (Ortman 2012). 

We have learned that in the pre-contact Southwest the fundamental conundrum of having too many people and not enough food could not always be solved, and even the largest pueblos could not insure the health, safety, and social stability of their members. Beginning in the 1320s or 1330s, climatic cycles fluctuated enormously with short (5 or 10 years) intense periods of very high and very low rainfall (Rose et al 1981). In spite of, or maybe because of, these fluctuations, some pueblos were able to develop ecological solutions to the problem of growing maize in an uncertain environment. The people living at Arroyo Hondo struggled to achieve productivity in a somewhat marginal landscape, whereas several miles away the people at La Bajada Pueblo, situated along the lower reaches of the Santa Fe River, did not. La Bajada’s location gave residents relatively easy access to three different types of farmland: floodplains near the river, garden plots at the base of a mesa where both rain water and organic material would run off, and extensive dry farming plots on top of the mesa. The people at La Bajada developed an agricultural system by planting at different elevations, exploiting different soils, and relying on different water sources. During dry years when mesa top farming was unreliable, people focused on floodwater farming near the river and garden plots at the base of hills. During excessively wet years when floods limited planting on the floodplains, people focused on dry farming on the mesa top. In years without extremes both strategies may have worked well enough to accumulate some surplus. The effectiveness of La Bajada’s “agricultural diversity strategy” seems to be borne out by archaeological evidence that it was occupied for at least 200 years during a time when many pueblos were occupied only for two or three generations (Herhahn 1995). The people at Arroyo Hondo were not as well situated as those at La Bajada to exploit a productive natural ecology and Wilma Wetterstrom probably understated the case when she wrote: “The inhabitants of Arroyo Hondo must have faced a serious challenge in trying to make a living (Wetterstrom 1986).” 

A different kind of solution to the insecurities of the 14th century was to get bigger, not by continuing to physically expand the already enormous pueblos, but by binding several communities together into loose, temporary alliances. In her study of ceramic designs as ethnic identifiers, Judith Habicht-Mauche has found correlations between stylistic diversity and changes in cultural diversity among 14th century groups living in the northern Rio Grande (Habicht-Mauche 1995, 1993). The essence of her research is about connections and, more specifically the recognition that for some pueblos emerging ethnic identification (or something like it) may have been more important than geographical proximity in establishing and maintaining trade-based or other kinds of alliances with selected pueblos. If Arroyo Hondo participated in an alliance system, it is not readily apparent. The pottery collected at Arroyo Hondo suggests trade with biscuit and micaceous ware producers to the north, glazeware producers to the south and west and a variety of local pottery suppliers, but nothing strongly suggests participation in the kinds of formal networks that could be used as a fallback source for food, warriors, ceremonial specialists or other resource needs. 

Within Arroyo Hondo, as is the case with many Classic Period pueblos, there is no obvious evidence of economic or socially elite groups of people, at least in terms of the number, quality, and overall distribution of household possessions, and yet we have learned from ethnohistoric investigations that not everyone was absolutely equal within these erstwhile egalitarian societies. Most living rooms within Arroyo Hondo were about the same size, and archaeologists have not found evidence of larger and more elaborate dwellings, or of concentrations of fancy and exotic stuff, or of privileged burials. Not only can we not find a chief’s house, but archaeologists have inferred that there was relative economic equality within these large towns such as Arroyo Hondo.  

On the other hand, just because we cannot find the chief's house does not mean there were no leaders or hierarchies. By the 14th century towns had grown to a point where management decisions had to be made above the level of individual families in ways that would keep the entire community together. There were simply too many people and the decisions too important to not have had some type of formal process capable of mediating among competing families or lineages. In the absence of clear hierarchies, it is likely that either kinship based groups (clans, moieties) or non kinship based sodalities developed some kind of power sharing arrangements that rotated responsibility for seasonal agricultural activities and rituals (Ware 2014). There is arguable evidence that a variety of societies such as curing, medicine, hunting, or war societies existed at Arroyo Hondo. The recovery of several miniature bowls, including at least one with a lizard or frog motif, ceramic effigies, at least one prayer plume base, several minerals, crystals, and round and polished stones may constitute parts of one or more assemblages of ceremonial paraphernalia that would support the existence of such societies.4 The absence of any descendent-based connection among contemporary pueblos and Arroyo Hondo however makes the identification of such societies challenging at best. 

Suppose this “bigger idea” of alliances mediated by the distribution of distinctive ceramics or other items were not enough? Temporary alliances were notably unstable and at best could only offer localized ameliorations to broader environmental or political instabilities. Over the course of the 14th and 15th centuries, a belief system developed that in many ways connected the entire Ancestral Puebloan world, including the northern Rio Grande Valley. This was the katsina (or kachina) system. In one sense, the katsina system is just another, albeit a very large, adaptive system like clans and moieties, sodalities, and similar institutions. Many of the earlier integrating institutions encompassed specialized and secret societies that initiated select members into a realm of sacred and esoteric knowledge. While I hesitate to use the word "democratic," the katsina system was open to more participants and was much more public in its ceremonialism. In addition to its inclusiveness, the katsina system represented a new way of looking at the cosmos and it became the most widespread cultural phenomena in the northern Southwest since the dissolution of the Chaco system in the 12th century.  

The katsina system probably coalesced into a recognizable form shortly before 1300, but it is still not entirely clear whether this ideology spread east-to-west across the northern Southwest from the Rio Grande Valley, or west-to-east, from the Little Colorado River area in northeastern Arizona (Adams 1991, Schaafsma and Schaafsma 1974). The recognition that elements of the katsina system remain strongest among the western Pueblos of Hopi and Zuni than among eastern Puebloan groups living in the Rio Grande Valley supports the latter scenario but, regardless of its origin, by the end of the 14th century it had become the dominant ideology among the Ancestral Puebloans.5 The development of the katsina system can be seen as both a device for social integration as well as one for the amelioration of risk. Everyone participated in the katsina ceremonies either as dancers attempting to intercede with natural forces, or as observers whose attendance legitimized and reified the efforts of the dancers. To the Puebloans, the world appeared to be "out of balance," and they used elements of katsina ideology that focused on water and rain, or fertility and growth, to adapt to changes in both their physical and social environments.  

Closely associated with the spread of katsina ceremonies were the appearance of new forms of iconography featuring costumed and masked dancers, horned or plumed serpents, parrots, butterflies, and stars. These shared symbols opened a panoply of new possibilities. Suppose someone had to move into a new area where the people were strangers and did not speak the same language? If people followed the same ceremonial practices and understood their religious symbolism there was some common ground on which to build a cooperative relationship. Among the western Pueblos, it is possible that the long-term stability of pueblo society is due in part to the katsina system fostering and formalizing the concept of power sharing among the adherents. Katsina ceremonies involved the participation of large masses of people that could only be accommodated within the large open plazas that had come to characterize Classic Period settlements. By this time, kivas had become the exclusive domain of smaller ceremonial groups rather than sites for the mixed kind of social, political, religious and even residential functions they provided during earlier periods. The decreasing numbers of kivas constructed within settlements reflected this functional change. This last discussion is intriguing because there is virtually no evidence that Arroyo Hondo participated in the katsina system. With the exception of a single design on a single pot, there is no katsina iconography, there is no rock art, there are no kiva murals, or indeed any material evidence that this system that had swept across the northern southwest had taken root at Arroyo Hondo.6

A large community structure was constructed to the south of the main pueblo at Arroyo Hondo on the easiest, flattest, least defensible, and presumably most common approach for visitors but it had no obvious katsina associations, or for that matter, standard kiva floor or wall features (Creamer 1993). One wonders whether the people at Arroyo Hondo deliberately opted out of the katsina system, were somehow excluded, or like the people at Taos, did not express it in obvious and expected ways. Contemporary Americans may be obsessed with “networking,” but one reason for Arroyo Hondo’s ultimate demise may have been that its residents were not sufficiently connected to larger support systems. 

I would like to return to a discussion of sodalities, non kinship-based organizations that performed similar social, political, and ceremonial functions within the Rio Grande pueblos. While none of these other institutions individually reached the magnitude of the katsina system, many of them operated at scales larger than individual pueblos. With specific reference to medicine societies, whose responsibilities involved overseeing the health of the community, it was not unusual for these societies to engage in a form of “cross training” in which initiates from “foreign” pueblos were trained in the pueblos where the societies originated. In addition, there appears to have been established mechanisms for the exchange of esoteric ritual knowledge and paraphernalia among various Pueblos. Some scholars have theorized that specialized sodalities evolved in order to facilitate interaction among a diverse Rio Grande population that did not even speak the same language (Ware 2014). The Northern and Southern Tewa, Northern and Southern Tiwa, Towa, Tano, and the Keresans are linguistically different but shared common cultural attributes. If substantial numbers of sodalities expanded during the Classic Period they may represent another kind of large-scale networking system that helped to smooth out environmental and political uncertainties. We are still considering the existence of such linkages at Arroyo Hondo.7

Having summarized some general characteristics of the Classic Period in the northern Rio Grande, we now return to the fundamental question of what is it that Arroyo Hondo can teach us? There were actually three separate Arroyo Hondo sites. The most well known site is Lower Arroyo Hondo (LA 12). Located on natural bench overlooking Arroyo Hondo Creek, this site is less than 2 miles downstream from Upper Arroyo Hondo (LA 76), a Coalition period settlement of potentially 100-200 rooms. Although it has never been fully surveyed and barely excavated, its size and location make Upper Arroyo Hondo a presumed source for at least some of the people who built and occupied the larger pueblo downstream. Archaeological evidence has revealed that Lower Arroyo Hondo had two separate and distinct settlements (or components) that in total spanned no more than 125 years. Beginning with the initial building phase around 1300 C.E., the pueblo continued to expand. Within a few decades it encompassed 1,000 rooms, and was more than 10 times larger than the earlier and more modest Upper Arroyo Hondo Pueblo. The enclosed plaza layout at Arroyo Hondo certainly suggests community-level planning but it may also suggest the existence of some “core group” who designed the settlement according to a sense of an expected population. In other words, pueblos such as Arroyo Hondo may look more planned and less eccentric than Coalition Pueblos such as Pindi because the nature of decision-making may have been different. This does not mean these pueblos were always built in a single construction episode, but it implies some overriding and mutually acceptable idea about how things should look. 

Some archaeologists have associated the “enclosed plaza” form with the adoption of the aforementioned katsina system because of the historically observed associations between large plazas and large ceremonies. Katsina ceremonialism did not appear in the middle northern Rio Grande until long after people had been building large enclosed plazas. On the other hand, as the process of settlement aggregation continued, people with different ethnicities or languages had to find ways to become accepted into larger communities. At Arroyo Hondo, it is notable that the plazas are not interconnected; rather, each plaza has its own external gateway, a deliberate decision made by some Puebloan architects/town planners. The implication is that plaza-roomblock sections did not blend seamlessly into one another but were discrete units within the larger settlement. In other words, the plaza-roomblock design allowed individual groups to maintain their own self-contained and plaza-centered “barrios” yet still be an integral part of a larger community. Arroyo Hondo may have been more of a “mixing bowl” than a “melting pot.” Stated differently, pueblos were no longer just variations of large, extended family compounds; they were now small towns with more internal diversity but where residents knew almost everyone who lived in their town. 

Based upon estimates of the number of living rooms, family sizes, and the amount of food that the immediate area around the pueblo could provide, the maximum population for Component I at Arroyo Hondo has been calculated at between 600 and 2,700 people, an admittedly broad range with the upper figures too large (Creamer 1993). Keeping in mind that pueblos were never 100 percent occupied, and using a combination of room occupation percentages, average numbers of rooms per family unit, and average numbers of persons per family, I estimate a population of between 240 and 1,000 people living at Arroyo Hondo during the first half of the 14th century (a number that fits well with Adolph Bandelier’s 1890 population estimate of around 700 persons). In light of what we know about the overall health of the residents, the smaller numbers are probably more realistic. Although it would be nice to say that Arroyo Hondo thrived, “struggled” is probably more accurate and there is compelling evidence that the people living at Arroyo Hondo were not in robust health. 

The mortuary data from Arroyo Hondo suggests a scenario of people under substantial nutritional stress, experiencing high infant mortality, and suffering from an incidence of anemia greater than most of the surrounding pueblos, including El Pueblo de Santa Fe (LA 1051), a mere 5 or 6 miles to the north (Palkovich 1980). As stated by Nancy Akins who analyzed skeletal remains the from the latter site, “Rather than typical, the Arroyo Hondo population, or at least segments of that population, was considerably more stressed than other groups in the surrounding area. Life and the general health at LA 1051 were probably more typical of the Late Coalition and Early Classic periods in the Northern Rio Grande (Lentz et al 2013:285).” The most recent data indicates that a substantial subset of the population actually suffered from rickets. Populations under stress typically exhibit decreased fertility, precisely the opposite condition of what would be necessary for high rates of natural increase (Palkovich 2006).  

One of the challenges for archaeologists is to reconcile seemingly incompatible data. As noted, an analysis of the mortuary remains from El Pueblo de Santa Fe reveals a much healthier, more vigorous population with very little evidence of either the nutritional stress or physical trauma revealed at Arroyo Hondo. Did the residents of El Pueblo de Santa Fe have access to more and better food, especially protein? Were the downtown residents connected to social or economic networks that provided them with both material support and protection that Arroyo Hondo did not have? Archaeologists have not yet answered the question why two contemporaneous settlements so close together should have such divergent demographic profiles, but I consider this issue as critical for resolving the riddles of Arroyo Hondo. 

As archaeologists we need to remember as we excavate and analyze our “sites” is that they constitute places where real people lived real lives. Seven hundred years ago, Arroyo Hondo was a place where several generations of people were born, worked, farmed, and died. The excavation of Arroyo Hondo in the early 1970s and the initial eight monographs that detailed the results of those excavations generally followed a cultural ecology paradigm, part of the materialist-evolutionary tradition in the field of archaeology that stresses ecological processes, the nature and location of resources, and demographic responses to environmental conditions. Within the past few decades, new phenomenological approaches have emerged that attempt to answer questions about how people mentally structured and thought about places where they lived (Basso 1996). An example of such a cognitive approach is Severin Fowles’ concept of a “villagescape” that locates “places” in cosmological as well as geographical space (Fowles 2009).  

One of the ways in which villagescapes can be analyzed is through the identification of networks of shrines that were part of a built environment that structured cultural landscapes beyond the confines of roomblocks, plazas, and other large features. Both Upper and Lower Arroyo Hondo were most likely southern Tewa sites and as such both appear to have a Tewa-like network of shrines that structure an as yet largely unexamined realm of life at those sites. Upper Arroyo Hondo was the subject of some minor excavations by Nels Nelson in 1915 and Stanley Stubbs in1934, but appears largely intact. A recent cursory survey revealed numerous ground slick boulders and upright boulders along the southern and western slopes of the existing roomblocks.8 Whether those shrines form any discernible pattern is a question awaiting a research design. 

The network at Lower Arroyo Hondo includes one [destroyed but excavated] large world quarter shrine, several ground slick boulders, an upright boulder, and at least one cupule boulder that has been identified but “disappeared” in connection with residential development in the vicinity of the site. (Richard Ford personal communication). The ground slick boulders, upright boulder, and cupule boulder that have been identified were located outside of and to the west of the primary pueblo. Ortiz (1969) has written that Tewa villages have many shrines but whether additional shrines exist will require additional survey with specific attention to identifying what at first glance may be morphologically ambiguous boulders or collections of boulders. An additional problem with identifying a formal network of shrines at Arroyo Hondo is the encroachment of residential development that has impinged upon areas adjacent to the pueblo.  

The world quarter shrine (LA 10608) was located on a small hill approximately three quarters of a mile to the southeast of Arroyo Hondo and was noted and photographed by Nelson in 1915. In 2005 in preparation for the construction of a private residence the shrine was surveyed, mapped, and tested by Lone Mountain Associates as part of a data recovery project. Diagnostic pottery sherds associated with the shrine were consistent with the early 14th through early 15th century occupations at Arroyo Hondo. Unfortunately, the survey report produced by Lone Mountain is ultimately noncommittal regarding the nature and affiliation of the shrine and concludes: “The site may have been part of the ritual landscape network of three different pueblos, beginning with Lower Arroyo Hondo, followed by Pecos Pueblo, and most recently the home of the Pecos Pueblo descendants, Jemez Pueblo. Each affiliation likely brought a different set of relationships with similar sites on the landscape (Boggess 2014).” In other words, the affiliation and use of that shrine, while purportedly part of an Arroyo Hondo ritual network, remains a matter of conjecture as well as another opportunity for future research. 

For reasons that are not entirely clear but may be related to drought, by the 1340s Arroyo Hondo could no longer support itself and the remaining residents left. After a hiatus of perhaps twenty-five or thirty years, some people returned and built a new pueblo literally on top of the old one. This settlement is denoted as Arroyo Hondo, Component II, but in many ways it is so different so as to be considered an entirely new settlement. Only 10 of the original 24 roomblocks were actually rebuilt, which resulted in a much smaller (200 room) pueblo that was comparable in size to Upper Arroyo Hondo. It is noteworthy that Plaza C, the largest plaza maintained during Component II, had two entries and as such was a more open and integrating space than any of the plazas used during Component I. Clusters of tree ring dates indicate relatively rapid room construction, particularly during the 1380s. In contrast to the larger, slower construction of the first occupation component, the second component was built more quickly but was occupied for no more than two generations. Archaeologists found evidence of extensive burning throughout the pueblo associated with tree ring dates around 1410, findings that initially supported the idea of an external attack, although recent research by Ann Palkovich provides a compelling case for internal dissention and intra-pueblo violence (Palkovich 2015). Whether this violence was the result of tensions among political factions, different cultural groups, or because of allegations of witchcraft is not clear. The presence of several unburied skeletons, physically traumatized skeletons, and 25 skulls without bodies is evidence of that violence. There may have been some minimal occupation after the fire but the burned rooms were not reused and the last residents appear to have left around 1425.  

Conceivably, a pueblo as small as Arroyo Hondo’s second occupation and located in a somewhat marginal agricultural zone simply could not sustain itself, and so became a target for larger pueblos in the area. In any event, one enduring question has always been “So, where did the remaining people go?” As the crow flies heading due west from Arroyo Hondo, it is not far to the pueblos of Cieneguilla and La Bajada.9 Either of these pueblos could have absorbed the relatively small population from Arroyo Hondo and logic tells us that one or both settlements may have done just that. Logic, however, is not a substitute for evidence, and neither archaeology nor ethnography has provided any clear answers. A telling point is that none of the modern Rio Grande pueblos have claimed an ancestral relationship with Arroyo Hondo, an extremely unusual situation within the contemporary cultural landscape of the northern Rio Grande where residential relocation does not usually denote a complete loss of connection to a place in the manner demonstrated at Arroyo Hondo. Ancestral sites and cultural landscapes remain an important and active component of contemporary Pueblo life and yet no one wants to be associated with Arroyo Hondo.  

In addition to Arroyo Hondo, the occupations at Pindi, Agua Fria Schoolhouse, Chamisa Locita, and El Pueblo de Santa Fe ended within the early part of the 15th century. The results of several excavations in the city of Santa Fe support the view that the downtown settlements were either completely or substantially unoccupied within a generation or two after 1400 C.E. In other words, three of the 14th century settlement nodes—east of the city, west of the city, and downtown—were essentially finished within a century. During the early 15th century, there seems to have been a wholesale shift in settlements away from higher elevations in favor of lower elevations encouraged by the “usual suspects” including the onset of cooler temperatures and shortened growing seasons, drought, population pressure on limited resources such as arable land, and conflict. If we substitute the term “settlement shifting” for the culturally loaded term “abandonment,” then the idea of mobility, of being able to relocate when conditions were not conducive to group survival, appears to have been a constant theme throughout Ancient Puebloan history. Fifteenth century Puebloan farmers may have had a more difficult time relocating to new areas than did small bands of Archaic foragers but the conceptual strategy was essentially the same. 

Even with all this settlement shifting, people continued to occupy areas north of Santa Fe in the Tesuque Basin, south of the city along the Santa Fe River near the Cienega escarpment and in particular, southeast of the city in the Galisteo Basin where several of the largest and most densely occupied Classic Period pueblos were built. Beyond the immediate vicinity of Santa Fe, large towns existed at Pecos, Taos, and the areas around Albuquerque. A number of these settlements, including several in the Galisteo Basin, remained occupied at the time of the Spanish entry into New Mexico. In my opinion, the roomblock-and-plaza form that evolved during the 14th century, as exemplified by Arroyo Hondo, was more sustainable than the earlier Chacoan, Mesa Verdean, or even Coalition settlement forms. Either people had solved the problems of living in large groups or the external and internal stresses that continued to buffet these communities were insufficient to radically change the system. 

If we cut away all the overlays of social and cultural elaboration and are willing to indulge in some reductionism, we can say that the Classic Period was essentially about the idea of “bigness” as an adaptive solution to the problems of environmental productivity, population growth, and conflict. In a sense, bigness became the ultimate survival strategy that packaged economic, social, political, and ideological ingredients in new and larger ways in order to ameliorate the inherent riskiness of life in the northern Rio Grande. Even though Arroyo Hondo did not persist as long as some communities, it was the first one to experiment with “bigness.” The sheer size of subsequent Classic pueblos coupled with their apparent ability to field a critical mass of warriors suggests that it was the capacity to “look big” that was really important—an early manifestation of Cold War Deterrence during a period of considerable volatility, uncertainty, and anxiety. 

Bigger settlements were built, bigger associations of those settlements were created, and finally even bigger ideological and ceremonial movements like the katsina system and medicine societies, evolved. The ways in which those “big” entities were organized and directed are still being studied but if institutional continuity is one proxy measure for long term cultural success, then we know that at least until the 16th century when Europeans arrived in the Rio Grande Valley, all three elements—large pueblos, multiple alliance systems, and large scale ceremonial systems—were still going strong. 

Despite its apparent absence from either strong alliance networks or the katsina system, Arroyo Hondo has something to tell us about the dynamic cycles that many northern Rio Grande communities experienced. There were three Arroyo Hondos, all of which grew, declined, were abandoned, in some cases reused, and in the final and unique case, seemingly wiped off the collective memories of local Puebloans. These cycles form a common thread throughout Southwestern archaeology and yet very few communities have three separate and distinct building phases that can be analyzed as either stand alone sites or viewed as part of a singular process. We do not know what the residents Arroyo Hondo thought about their pueblos or how they viewed the role of those pueblos within the larger environment that included other communities as well as local and distant landscapes, but I think that the light is still better at Arroyo Hondo, depending upon which keys you are looking for. 


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