Jakob Sedig, University of Colorado, Boulder
(August 24, 2015)—For the past four years, I have been conducting research at Woodrow Ruin, a large, multicomponent site on the upper Gila River. (“Multicomponent” means that the site bears evidence of people being there in more than one distinct cultural period.) Although archaeologists have been interested in Woodrow Ruin since at least the 1920s, there had been no extensive professional work at the site until 2011, when I began my research there.
I used almost every imaginable archaeological method to learn about the site and its inhabitants—high-precision GPS mapping, magnetometry, surface survey and inventory, testing, excavation, Neutron Activation Analysis (NAA) of ceramics, X-ray Florescence (XRF) of obsidian, C14 dating, dendrochronology, and artifact analysis. The results of these analyses have not only helped us understand life at Woodrow Ruin and in the upper Gila, but also helped shed light on the Mimbres Transitional period (A.D. 900–1000), when people made the switch from living in pithouses to aboveground pueblos.
The new data from Woodrow Ruin show that it was one the largest sites in the Mimbres region between the terminal Late Pithouse (A.D. 550–1000) and early Classic (A.D. 1000–1300) periods. Mapping and survey of the site indicate that there were probably between 100 and 175 total pithouses at Woodrow Ruin, and approximately 150 rooms distributed among ten to thirteen room blocks during the Classic period. The population apex occurred sometime in the late A.D. 900s or early 1000s, when as many as 675 people may have called the site home. Although Woodrow Ruin certainly had a substantial Classic period population, it was probably depopulated earlier than sites in the Mimbres River valley. Few people remained at Woodrow by A.D. 1100.
Woodrow Ruin was a prominent, well-known place in its day. Mapping and magnetometry of the site suggest a road was present on its north end. This road would have led toward the center of Woodrow Ruin, where two large great kivas and a large room block were located. Woodrow Ruin’s inhabitants had extensive trade and interaction with their neighbors throughout the Mimbres region. Woodrow Ruin had a much higher percentage of obsidian in its flaked stone assemblage than sites in the Mimbres River valley; XRF revealed the majority of this obsidian originated from Mule Creek. Neutron Activation Analysis of ceramics from Woodrow Ruin suggests that the site’s denizens imported few vessels, but, interestingly, exported a substantial number of vessels to sites in the Mimbres River valley.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of my research at Woodrow Ruin was delineation of the Mimbres pithouse-to-pueblo transition. A new form of architecture—shallow pithouses with thin adobe walls—identified during excavation suggests that the change from pithouses to aboveground pueblos was more complex than previously suspected. Excavation of the northern great kiva revealed that a dramatic remodeling of the structure occurred between the Late Pithouse and Classic periods, which indicates a substantial change in ritual practices and beliefs.
These and other changes occurred during a severe, extended drought that struck southwest New Mexico from approximately A.D. 920–1020. I argue that the multitude of transformations that occurred at Woodrow Ruin and other Mimbres sites during the Transitional period were social adaptations that enabled people to stay in place during deteriorating environmental conditions.
Unlike most Mimbres sites, Woodrow Ruin has been spared from extensive looting. Its unique preservation will provide archaeologists with insight and data unavailable at most other Mimbres sites, which have been devastated by pothunting. I hope that the extensive information revealed by research at Woodrow Ruin also serves as a lesson for better protection and preservation of archaeological sites in the American Southwest.
Funding for my research was provided by the National Science Foundation (NSF), Arizona Archaeological and Historical Society, Colorado Archaeological Society, and University of Colorado Graduate School, Grant County Archaeological Society, University of Colorado Department of Anthropology and Museum of Natural History, the Barbara Roastingear & Henry Oliver III Family Foundation, and gofundme.com donors. Thank you!
Archaeology Southwest’s Karen Schollmeyer and Allen Denoyer will give a tour of Woodrow Ruin on September 25 as part of the Gila River Festival. Learn more here.