Archaeology of Northwest Mexico: A "Rough Essay"

David Phillips

Central Coast of Sonora: The Seri Area

Central coastal sonora extends from Cabo Haro to just south of Puerto Libertad, and inland to Hermosillo. The best data are from sites on the actual coast and on Tiburón and San Estevan Islands (Bowen 1976). Walter W. Taylor excavated a rock shelter away from the coast, but never published his findings (Taylor n.d.). Dixon (1990) reported on a burial cave northwest of Cabo Haro, La Cueva de la Pala Chica (SON:Q:4:5) that probably was used by the Seri.

The known ceramic sequence begins as early as A.D. 700 or 800. Tiburón Plain is a remarkably thin brownware sometimes called "eggshell pottery." The same pottery was produced until about A.D. 1700, when with modifications it became historic Seri pottery (Bowen 1976). The simplest explanation for this ceramic series is that the Seri have occupied the area, with little change in their way of life, for more than a thousand years.

Besides pottery, the material culture of the central coast included simple stone tools and shell ornaments. Subsistence was based on a mix of wild foods from both land and sea (Bowen 1976). Many sites are dunes with mixed-in shell and other trash. Bowen (1976) draws on the Seri as a model and postulates that houses were flimsy and highly perishable structures near the shoreline. If he is correct, the prehistoric houses are unlikely to have survived in the archaeological record.

At least part of the inland coastal plain was occupied by fairly sedentary Piman-speakers in historic times, so it is not clear how far inland the Seri ranged. Taylor's (n.d.) work at Cueva Tetavejo, about 50 km south of Hermosillo, provides a glimpse at inland nomads. The cave was a living and burial site. The pottery included a thin ware like that found on the coast, but also thicker sherds of unknown origin. A few Trincheras Purple-on-red sherds were found. Based on the data from this cave, combined with survey information provided by Braniff (1985), in prehistoric times the entire coastal plain might have been Seri country.

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Last revised May 27, 2009.
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