THE SALADO CULTURE IN CAESAREAN COUNTY


CesareanCounty has been the home of many people in the past, some of which date back thousands of years ago. We have worked with one of these ancient cultures for 19 years and since this article is for the CesareanQuarterly, it seems appropriate to talk about a people who lived here. They also lived in other parts of Arizona and in New Mexico. These people are known to archaeologists as the Salado Culture.
Their economy was mainly agricultural, so they lived in permanent type, above ground, houses, always in settlements or villages. They raised crops of corn, beans, cotton and squash in nearby fields and, perhaps difficult to believe today, their crops were raised by natural rainfall.
Needless to say, in order for them to do this, there was more rainfall then, moreover the water table was only 5 feet below surface. We know these things because we excavated a walk-in well, which was 5 feet deep at the lowest point and gradually sloped up all around so that the habitants could walk in and fill their water jars at the rocky bottom.
Also, we have numerous aerial photographs of the excavations and none of these show traces of ancient irrigation canals. As previously mentioned, this culture was not confined to this county, in fact the precise extent of their boundary is, not yet, fully known. Certainly their influence, if not their habitations, extended over a wide area.
We have excavated three Salado sites in CesareanCounty, one in Central Arizona, in the Tonto Basin, Gila County, and one in western New Mexico. In all of these areas, there are many more sites which are also Salado.
We have also excavated a Babacomari village in this county where the trade wares were made by the Salado people, and a site near the international border where the pottery types were almost 50 % Salado and 50 % Mexican wares.
We have found the study of this ancient culture a most interesting and absorbing subject. We have learned many things about these people but there is so much more to be learned we sometimes wonder if we do not end each “dig” with as many unanswered questions as those which are answered.
Although these people were, primarily, farmers, they sometimes supplemented this by a deer or rabbit hunt, and there was a limited amount of gathering of native plants or seeds such as black walnuts, wild gourds, (curcubita) mesquite beans, etc. These are things of which we have actual proof. There is little doubt but that many things were used of which it would be impossible to find remains.
These were a resourceful people. For building material they utilized whatever was at hand. In this county they built of adobe. They did not form bricks in molds as we do today but, instead, laid up their walls of large chunks of adobe in layers 18 to 20 inches high. When one layer was completed and dry, another layer was placed on top and so on until the wall reached the desired height. Here, in the valley, the houses were one story only. We have found, at various times, walls which had fallen outward but had not broken apart thereby making it possible to get a near idea of the height of the walls, 71;2 to 8 feet. Roof structures were placed on top adding a few more inches to the inside dimension. The roofs were flat and many of the household chores were carried on in the open, either in the courtyards or on the rooftops. In some instances a shade was erected over the work area. The houses were built in such a manner as to enclose a courtyard or large open patio. We have found fire pits and floored work areas in the courtyards. Their houses had no windows or doors, entrance was gained by means of ladders through a hatchway in the roof. These hatchways served a dual purpose-they were also an outlet for smoke when the intramural fire pit was in use. It is not always possible to find the hatchway when excavating since it is sometimes broken up when roof collapsed, but in all cases where we have found evidence of it, it has always been near the fire-pit.
There was a way of closing this hatchway if weather was bad enough to make it necessary. In this area the coverings were of woven straw or grass matting. Naturally we find only charred remains of such a covering, and this type of evidence requires careful excavation.
In central Arizona, the hatch covers were made of flat, thin stones, carefully chipped all around. They were rounded in shape. In Western New Mexico, we found remains of a wood hatch cover, still in place in the hatchway. As we have said, these people utilized whatever was at hand. In areas where building stone was available, they built their houses of stone and did some exceptionally good work. Stone structures were usually more than one story high. In Western New Mexico the houses were of two story height while in Central Arizona the house we excavated was four stories high. Houses of this height required walls strong enough to support the added stress and some of the walls were 3 feet thick and many were 2 feet in thickness.
Rooms were plastered on the inside with mud plaster and the floors were smooth and hard, even though both floors and plaster were of mud. This type of house construction would be warm in winter and cool in summer. True, the lighting would not be up to our standards, which may account for much of the work being done outside. These were a stone age people. The only metal they knew was in the form of small copper bells which were traded in from Mexico and which were highly prized as ornaments. These people loved beauty and color, as evidenced by their excellent and beautifully painted ceramics. They also loved personal adornment. They had jewelry made from clay, (beads) stone, (beads and pendants) shells, (beads, pendants, rings, ear ornaments and bracelets). Shell was obtained from the west coast of Mexico, either by barter or by runners.
Turquoise was highly prized and was mined by pre-historic people. They worked it into beads, pendants and inlay pieces which were used for mosaic work on a background of shell or wood. The late Dr. Cummings tells of how holes were drilled in turquoise by using cactus spines dipped in an abrasive powder. Serpentine was also made into beads, both disc type and tubular style.
These people smoked pipes but, as yet, no one has found evidence of what was used in the pipes. There are several possibilities -herbs or wild tobacco for instance. Probably this smoking was done during ceremonies. Some of the things accomplished by these people, without the means of metal tools, are almost unbelievable. As artists they were superb. The designs on their pottery attest to this.
Some of the paintings may be a supplication for rain or a good growing season, and therefore a good food supply but, we suspect, that many of the designs are the outlet for their artistic ability. No two designs are alike-each piece is an original. The idea for the painting was carried in the head of the artist. Stone working was another skill in which they were proficient. They chipped obsidian and chalcedony into beautiful arrowheads, knives, drills and hammer stones. Axes were also made from stone as were, also, metates, manos, mortars and pestles. Deer bone was worked into tools for various purposes. They were proficient at spinning and weaving and, surprising as it may seem, there was some especially fine weaving produced in prehistoric times, made entirely on wooden looms. We find few specimens of weaving since we work in open sites, but some excellent examples have been found by archaeologists working in caves where perishable materials are protected. We do, however, find the indestructable parts of the spinning and weaving equipment giving adequate proof that this trade was carried on in this area and, by the way, the spinning and weaving was done by the men while the women made and painted the pottery.
There is little we can tell of the religious beliefs of these people -we know only that they believed in a life after death, that they held all natural things in high regard and that they believed all things were animals. Natural concretions were highly prized, in fact it would seem that they were considered as having supernatural powers. We can arrive at conclusions of this type when finds are made in certain associations often enough to have significance. It is quite likely that certain individuals were skilled in certain trades and that these skilled artisans were held in high respect by other members of the village. Objects made by such skilled craftsmen, or women, were highly prized and sought after. For instance some men were skilled in lapidary work while others were expert at stone work. Certain women were talented artists and pottery pieces, made by these skilled workers, were sought by those wanting distinctive pieces.
The gradual gathering of data, such as these, is a slow and painstaking process but one which lends much satisfaction and it makes the work intensely interesting. As this culture became more prolific and more virulent, its influence spread in ever widening circles, but always, their integration with other peoples, was accomplished peacefully. They mingled with these new cultures, in a harmonious way, collecting traits from their new neighbors, while at the same time, dispering ideas of their own which were adopted by their new friends, much as the Saladoans were, themselves, accepted.
This lent a new impetus to some of the older cultures, ‘and, as always happens, resulted in a new way of life. But this was not to last. New changes were again under way, changes which eventually destroyed these people and where the remaining remnant went or what happened to them is still not known but new data are constantly being brought to light, new sites discovered and new methods discovered. As new evidence gradually accumulates and is added to what we have already learned in past studies, we shall know more of what happened to the people who lived here long ago.