Archaeology of Northwest Mexico:
A Review

David Phillips

Northern Durango and Southern Chihuahua

As used here, northern Durango and southern Chihuahua refer to the high basin and range country between the Sierra Madre on the west and the Chihuahuan Desert on the east.

Loma San Gabriel Culture

Definition of the Loma San Gabriel culture is based on fieldwork by J. Charles Kelley (1956, 1971; M. Foster 1985) and his colleages. Loma San Gabriel emerged between 200 B.C. and A.D. 200 and was derived from the Los Caracoles preceramic complex (M. Foster 1986; J. C. Kelley 1971; Spence 1971). The "type site" is Cerro (or Loma) San Gabriel in northern Durango. Similar sites occur in western Zacatecas, in Durango as far west as the Sierra Madre, and north to the upper Rio Conchos in Chihuahua. Art MacWilliams comments,

In [1952] the Shacklefords surveyed along the upper Río Conchos and Río Florido in Chihuahua for Kelley (Shackelford n.d.). They recorded 15 sites with assemblages comparable to Cerro San Gabriel, and unnlike Chalchihuites sites in Durango (Kelley 1953:172). These sites, distributed between Carmen and Lago Toronto, were originally referred to by Kelley (1953:174) as "peripheral Chalchihuites culture assemblage[s]." Only in 1956 did Kelley introduce the name Loma San Gabriel to describe these Ceramic period sites that were influenced by Chalchihuites, but much simplified in material culture, and architecturally distinct. The northernmost extension of Loma San Gabriel sites is not clearly defined [MacWilliams 2001:71–72].

Most Loma San Gabriel sites were hamlets and small villages based on foraging and farming (Brooks et al.1962; M. Foster 1984). Sites were often built on elevated points overlooking arable land and sources of water, probably with defense in mind. The principal crops were maize and beans. The only known Loma San Gabriel structures are surface rooms (M. Foster 1986). Caves were also used, for both habitation and burial (Brooks and Brooks 1978). Loma San Gabriel pottery consisted of plain, red, white, and red-on-brown jars and bowls in simple shapes (M. Foster 1985).

About A.D. 200, the Chalchiuites culture of northwest Mesoamerica (J. C. Kelley 1971, 1985) began expanding into Loma San Gabriel territory in western Zacatecas. By A.D. 900 to 1000, Guadiana Branch Chalchihuites sites could be found in Durango as far north as El Zape. The Loma San Gabriel culture persisted during the expansion of the local Mesoamerican frontier, adopting some practices from their Chalchiuites neighbors. The Chalchihuites culture disappeared about A.D. 1450. The archaeological record for the Loma San Gabriel culture ends between A.D. 1350 and 1450 (M. Foster 1982:258) but it may have become the historic Tepehuan (Riley and Winters 1963).

The preceding reconstruction of the local historical trajectory can be termed the "Kelley-Foster" model. Marie-Areti Hers (1989) has disputed that model, arguing that the local settlement pattern does not reflect the presence of two cultures (Chalchihuites in the large sites, Loma San Gabriel in the small ones). Instead, she suggests, the pattern reflects the division between elites (in prominent Mesoamerican-style centers) and commoners (who lived in much simpler settlements). The two models are not mutually exclusive, however. Indeed, the Kelley-Foster model's assumption of Chalchihuites colonization is easily expanded to involve Mesoamerican colonists sought to gain control of the local people, not just of land.

Trincheras Sites

According to MacWilliams et al. (2008:44–45), Deric Nusbaum first identified cerros de trincheras in northern Durango and southern Chihuahua, while working for Gila Pueblo in 1940.

Gerry Raymond (2001; Raymond et al. 2003) tested three southern Chihuahua cerros de trincheras during 2000 in affiliation with the Cerro Juanaqueña project. We have since returned to one of these sites, Cerro Prieto de Santa Bárbara (A57-01), mapped another site, and both mapped and tested three additional cerros de trincheras sites in the region. ... However, unlike cerros de trincheras in northwestern Chihuahua, those in the south have substantial Ceramic period occupations. So far, we have been unable to isolate an earlier component on any of these terraced hills.

The southern cerros de trincheras each have from five to forty terrace walls made with stacked rocks and have closely arranged round rock outlines, presumably of structures, on top. These outlines are typically about 3 to 3.5 m in diameter. Several of these sites have saddles that are cleared of rocks and enclosed by stone walls ... Assemblages from these hills are variable and include brown to plain buff ware with infrequent red ware (MacWilliams et al. 2008:45).

The local examples underscore the fact that cerros de trincheras were not limited to any single time or place. Thus far the only provable common denominator for cerros de trincheras is that all of the known examples were made by farmers, not foragers.

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Last revised June 28, 2009.
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