Explore additional content related to Safford, Ancient Arizona’s Forgotten Cosmopolitan Center, Jeffery Clark’s October 6, 2020, Archaeology Café Online presentation.
Extended Q&A with Jeffery Clark:
Q: Jeff, To what extent do you think the present-day irrigation canals follow/overlie/parallel ancient canals?
A: I think I at least partially answered this during my talk. Many early Historic canals probably followed pre-Hispanic canal alignments.
Q: Hi Jeff. This is Dave Abbott. Do you think that water use in Safford had an impact on water supply for irrigation along the middle Gila? How about change through time?
A: Perhaps, especially at the population peak ca. 1300. San Pedro and San Carlos drainages would have recharged the Gila River downstream from Safford, but there were also people living along and farming these drainages. Sounds like a good research project for someone interested in agricultural and demographic modeling.
Q: Jeff, Jim Neely and I have a minor disagreement on the amount of irrigated land along the Gila River in the Safford Valley. Settle our disagreement, or at least weigh in with your opinion. How many hectares were irrigated?
A: This is beyond my area of expertise. Most of our population estimates are based on room counts and site area, as well as occupation date range, not agricultural carrying capacity. In all of these methods, there are a lot of assumptions and inferences.
Q: What was the water source for the hanging canals?
A: Runoff and perhaps snowmelt from the upper reaches of drainages in the Pinaleño Mountains.
Q: Are you aware of Bob Hard’s recent work on the Sanchez Trincheras site across the river from Buena Vista?
A: No. This is great news. I wonder if Bob is continuing to focus on the early time period (late BCs and early ADs).
Q: How did it come to be that we know so much more about canals and sites right along the Salt River in the well urbanized Phoenix Basin than we do about those in the less urbanized Safford area?
A: Good question. Safford was and continues to be a fairly insular farming community. It also does not have a large academic institution that has the resources to do archaeological research. Phoenix and Tucson are more cosmopolitan and have large universities with strong Anthropology programs.
Q: Utilization of Mt. Graham? Timber, elk, or other evidence?
A: I would think so. Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of data. Of the few reported excavations, many focus on ceramic and other artifact data and don’t discuss plant and animal use.
Q: Jeff, When might we get excavations at CC:1:3 and CC1:19? These should tell us a great deal about the social and economic aspects of the valley’s ancient people.
A: CC:1:3 is a large room block that has now been destroyed by agricultural actvity. CC:1:19 is the fairly well-preserved Owens-Colvin site (late 1200s and early 1300s, ca 30 rooms), especially on Irma Rae Colvin’s former land. The site was partially excavated by Pam Rule with help from avocationalist Rex Owens. Pam passed away at an early age, but a report was written in her name by Wes Jernigan and published for limited distribution by Eastern Arizona College. It is a small site report that focuses on basic analysis of ceramics and other artifacts. The ceramics are what you would expect for this time period. We need a larger sample of sites with more intensive analyses to really get at socioeconomic dynamics in the Safford Basin.
Q: For Jeff, later, Maverick Mtn disappears around 1300 with the arrival of the Salado wares, in the Tucson Basin, Tucson Polychrome, an apparent derivative of Maverick Mtn, is found with Salado wares. Is there any Tucson Poly in the Safford Basin?
A: Some Tucson Polychrome is present in the Safford Basin, but Maverick Mountain appears to be more abundant. That is about all that can be said given the paucity of data. Tucson Polychrome does have a later end date than Maverick Mountain, but it does seem to decrease through time during the 1300s as Salado polychrome (Roosevelt Red Ware) increases.
Q: What kind of relationship would the folks in this region have with Chaco?
A: There is very little evidence for interaction between Safford Basin and Chaco. There was much more interaction with Mimbres and Hohokam Ballcourt World in Safford during the Chaco Era.
Q: How secure is the argument that the gridded fields were used for agave? I looked at the monograph a while ago, and I recall that they had trouble making functional interpretations. Might the fields have been used for maize (if the population was high enough to require this)?
A: Yes, it is difficult to obtain direct evidence for what is being grown in these and other dry farming systems. There is an ongoing debate that even includes cotton as a possible crop. However, the arid environment and relatively high water requirements for maize and especially cotton, argue for agave with its low water requirement. We know Indigenous groups were using agave intensively, and it is a good subsistence resource if the social climate is sufficiently stable that you can rely on being around to harvest it after you plant it. If maize were being grown, I would expect check dams and runoff diversion into these grids, which appear to be absent. Maize could have been grown in the Pinaleño bajada using those runoff canal systems.
Q: Is the tensions you noted as it pertained to pottery styles an related – any other evidence on tension to the extent of conflict or was this only reflected in distinctive culture…any evidence of when any cultural option occurred.
A: We infer this based on the defensible location of Goat Hill and perhaps other possible enclaves in the Safford area, similar to to the Reeve Ruin enclave in the San Pedro. That’s about it. Very little direct evidence of violence (i.e., bodies on room floors or skeletal trauma in burials). However, very few burials have been reported on in the Safford Basin, although many have been looted. One is left with the impression that the tension was more perceived (i.e., migrant xenophobia) than real (i.e., overt conflict).
Q: What extant Safford-site collections that haven’t been analyzed could be?
A: In addition to the Millses’ notes I mentioned, Eastern Arizona College has a large room filled with unanalyzed collections from important sites they excavated from the 1970s through the 1990s. They were restricting access to these collections for awhile, but as of a few years ago they were giving Arch SW full access and encouraging analysis. There are several dissertations on this collection.
Q: This area seems similar in at least some respects to the Tonto Basin. How do you account for the lack of platform mounds…weaker or declining Hohokam influence in Safford?
A: Yes, declining Hohokam influence after 1200 is likely, although potters in Safford are continuing to make Middle Gila Buff Ware (e.g., Casa Grande Red-on-buff) and San Carlos Red-on-brown, which is stylistically similar, at least until 1300.
Q: Would it be helpful to look at the map of canals with the idea of sites being near where canals begin and/or there’s a good overlook of several canals. I’m thinking of the location of Pueblo Grande in Phx. near the head of canals and has a good view.
A: Yes, I think using the early historic canals to make inferences about the location of major settlements would be an interesting exercise. The surface architecture is gone, but deep subsurface features (e.g., burials and pithouses) have survived plowing.
Q: Who is working in the Salado Basin now?
A: Besides Don Lancaster (local resident) and perhaps still Jim Neely I couldn’t think of anyone. However, Bob Hard from University of Texas-San Antonio has apparently started working in Safford (with John Roney?).
Q: Any evidence of very early cotton cultivation? What led archeologists to assume all that irrigated land was for agave cultivation?
A: As someone mentioned, the Pinaleño cotton cache is good evidence. The nearest place where cotton in this cache could be grown would be Safford, but cotton was probably widely traded. Unfortunately, little palobotanical analysis has occurred in the Safford Basin, and I would like to see more direct evidence for cotton production, such as cotton seeds in flotation samples. The argument is that much of the non-irrigable land on the terraces was being used for agave, especially the grid fields (see above answer).
Q: I have heard that one ballcourt was bulldozed into the river. Do we know how many of the others still exist?
A: Good question. We know of four ballcourts. But there could have been more. Also, ballcourts are partially subterranean, and the lower portions could still be preserved beneath plowed fields.
Q: Do you have any thoughts about how Safford area populations relate to settlement in the Blue River Valley to the north? And do you agree with Steve Swanson on where the boundary with Mimbres may have been on the Blue?
A: Another good question. I don’t know much about settlement on the Blue River, and this makes me want to find out more.
Q: Idea of typical size of individual grid field?
A: They are variable, but relatively small (ca. 4 to 9 square meters, I think). See Doolittle and Neely 2004 reference in the extended content.
Q: What element designs were on the boundary petroglyph boulders? How common was this practice?
A: I don’t know, but see Doolittle and Neely 2004 in the extended content.
Q: Do you see any materials (e.g. pottery or architecture) showing up from the Northern San Juan (Mesa Verde) or Chaco migrations? The Kayenta evidence is very interesting.
A: Kayenta for sure, but no evidence of Chaco or Mesa Verde migrants I am aware of.
Q: Is there evidence of the consumption of agave at the sites excavated, and was it likely that the agave was traded?
A: Very little flotation and paleobotanical analysis has been done in the Safford Basin even at excavated sites. However, agave is present in the small collections that have been analyzed. There is not enough evidence to argue one way or another for trade. If a large population was present in Safford, then they could have been consuming much of the agave produced.
Q: Are there plans to fill in the archaeological research gap?
A: Analysis of the Robinson Collection will start filling this gap. Also analyzing Eastern Arizona College collections would be useful. Besides Bob Hard’s project mentioned above, I can’t think of other work that would help fill the gap.
Q: There was 10 lbs of cotton in the cache.
A: Wow, I didn’t realize it was that much!
Q: Are there any current field trips scheduled for this area?
A: Not that I am aware of, and it is getting increasingly difficult to access those sites that are still present. The large grid field is still relatively easy to find and visit.
Q: The cotton cache pots were plain and unid. redware but capped with Mogollon R/br wares.
A: Interesting—so relatively early in time (AD 700-1100).
Q: Lex Lindsay reported that Pueblo Devol on Bonita Creek was Kayenta style architecture. Pat Gilman determined that local Mimbres ware was both imported and locally made, as you stated. Doc Haury suggested that Safford Basin might have been the origin place of Salado polychromes. Gay Kinkade
A: Yes, Pueblo Devol and the nearby Bonita Creek Cave Cache just north of Safford Basin are other good indicators of Kayenta migration. John Welch has a Kiva article 1995 Vol 61(2):121-143) on Pueblo Devol and other nearby cliff dwellings, and the cache was written up by William Wasley in American Antiquity Vol. 27, No. 3 (Jan. 1962), pp. 380-394. The Robinson Collection contains additional material from this cache.
Q: What kind of technique was used to decorate their pottery? Did they use natural dyes, such as plants, insects, etc., and how did they fire their clay and where did they get their clay?
A: Much of the pottery was fired in open fires as opposed to kilns. A variety of clay sources were used that fired brown, orange, red, or buff. Red paint is generally hematite based (Middle Gila Buff Ware and San Carlos red-on-brown) and fired in an oxygen-rich atmosphere. Black paint is either manganese-based (Maverick Mountain) or organic (Salado polychromes). The organic paint recipes are not fully known, but beeweed and black walnut are two strong possibilites. We definitely know that beeweed was used to make black paint on Salado polychromes made in the nearby San Pedro Valley.
Q: How about White Mtn Red Ware and yellow wares….and is there any general speculation about the relationship between Salado and Kachina religious traditions ?
A: White Mountain Red Ware is fairly common in the Safford Basin, especially St. Johns Polychrome. There is also some early Zuni Glaze Ware. I think Jeddito Yellow Ware is very rare in the Safford Basin. The relationship between Salado and Katsina religious traditions is an interesting question. They don’t seem to overlap much if the former is related to the distribution of Salado polychrome and the latter to Jeddito Yellow Ware. Perhaps the integrative and inclusive functions they served were so similar that they actually competed with each or at least had clear lines of demarcation.
Read Archaeology Southwest Magazine (Vol. 20, No. 2), “Archaeology on the Periphery: Recent Research in the Safford Basin,” available as a free PDF download, here.
- Following the Kayenta and Salado Up the Gila. Vol. 24, No. 4 (Fall 2010)
- Immigrants and Population Collapse in the Southern Southwest. Vol. 22, No. 4 (Fall 2008)
- What is Preservation Archaeology? Vol. 25, No. 4 and Vol. 26, No. 1 (Fall 2011/Winter 2012)
- A Complicated Pattern. Vol. 26, Nos. 3 & 4 (Summer and Fall 2012)
- Social Networks in the Distant Past. Vol. 27, No. 2 (Spring 2013)
- Before the Great Departure. Vol. 27, No. 3 (Summer 2013)
- Project Page: The Safford Valley Project
- Blog Post: Life of the Gila: Salado—Bringing Worlds Together
- Blog Post: Robinson Collection Project Update—A Successful Season of Citizen Science Collaboration, Participation, and Research
- Blog Post: The Raymond F. Robinson Collection – A Successful Collaboration to Save Safford Basin Archaeological Artifacts
- Blog Post: When Two Worlds Collide
Doolitte, William E, and James A. Neely
2004 The Safford Valley Grids: Prehistoric Cultivation in the Southern Arizona Desert. Anthropological Papers of the University of Arizona No. 70. University of Arizona Press, Tucson.
Neely, James A. and Don Lancaster
2019 The Bajada Canals of the Safford Basin, Southeastern Arizona: Excellence in Prehistoric Engineering. Journal of Field Archaeology 44(1): 52-69.
Neuzil, Anna A.
2008 In the Aftermath of Migration: Renegotiating Ancient Identity in Southeastern Arizona. Anthropological Papers of the University of Arizona No. 73. University of Arizona Press, Tucson.
Neuzil, Anna A., and M. Kyle Woodson
2014 The Safford Basin and Aravaipa Creek: A Cultural Melting Pot of the Ancient Past. In Between Mimbres and Hohokam; Exploring the Archaeology and History of Southeastern Arizona and Southwestern New Mexico, edited by H. D. Wallace, pp. 349-400. Anthropological Papers No. 52. Archaeology Southwest, Tucson; Amerind Foundation, Dragoon, AZ; and Desert Archaeology, Inc., Tucson.
Purcell, David E. (Editor)
2008 Crossroads of the Southwest: Culture, Identity, and Migration in Arizona’s Safford Basin. Cambridge Scholars Publishing; Cambridge.
Woodson, M. Kyle
1999 Migrations in Late Anasazi Prehistory: The Evidence from the Goat Hill Site. Kiva 65(1):63-84.
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