Pindi Pueblo Comes Home To Roost

Reexamine New Mexico’s first registered archaeological site


On December 4, 1933, excavation began on the first site to be listed in the official New Mexico archaeological site registry—Laboratory of Anthropology 1 (or LA 1). Stanley A. Stubbs and W. S. Stallings Jr. of the Laboratory of Anthropology directed the work of dozens of Santa Fe men over the next six months on the north bank of the Santa Fe River near Agua Fria Village. Supported by the Civil Works Administration (later to become the Works Progress Administration) and the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, this was one of several important New Mexico archaeological excavations that were carried out as the nation struggled out of the Great Depression. More than 250 rooms were excavated with state-of-the-art methods, all just a scant six miles from the Palace of the Governors.

The El Palacio of the time, published every two weeks, was filled almost exclusively with articles on archaeology and anthropology. The November 22–29, 1933, issue was dominated by a detailed account of a multiday visit to Jemez Feast Day, with short articles on tomb excavations in the northern Caucasus, the death of the last speaker of the Mohican language, religious concepts of the Cree, a debate about whether the Egyptian pyramids were made of stone or concrete, and “First Aid for Southwestern Ruins”—all articles assembled from the Science Service wire. The first-aid article celebrated the allotment of Public Works Program funds for the repair of ruins at Mesa Verde and Aztec Ruins, but there was no mention of the pending LA 1 excavations. The next two issues of El Palacio describe a trip to Acoma and include cross-cultural articles on religion by Robert Lowie (excerpted from the American Mercury). The silence about the local excavations persisted until February 1953, when it was noted in a single line that the excavation manuscript had been completed.

El Palacio’s importance to archaeology is evident in bibliographies from current professional journals, books, and theses. This was especially true the first seventy-five years or so of publication, when articles on artifacts, excavations, or new research were found in nearly every issue. In this context, the lack of articles describing the results of the excavations at LA 1—or Pindi Pueblo, as it was named by its excavators—is remarkable. With this issue, eighty years after it was excavated, Pindi Pueblo has finally made it into El Palacio.

The Museum and the Lab

Stubbs and Stallings’s work at Pindi Pueblo was a shining example of how archaeology could be done. The staff of the newly minted Laboratory of Anthropology, Inc., executed a salvage investigation of a threatened site, drawing on the multidisciplinary expertise of specialists from universities and museums from around the nation. The result was a detailed study of an Ancestral Puebloan village that had been occupied at the formative time of migration and the coalescence of distinct Pueblo populations in the Northern Rio Grande. Migration of Ancestral Puebloan peoples was a hot topic in Southwestern archaeology in the 1930s, as it still is today.

The intellectual and even political context of New Mexico archaeology in the early 1930s was shaped by differences between the established Museum of New Mexico and its young rival, the Laboratory of Anthropology, Inc. The Museum grew out of Edgar Lee Hewett’s monumental or top-down perspective on sites, regions, and big ideas about the history of Southwestern cultures. In contrast, the Lab was incremental and systematic, building upward from data toward interpretation in a scientific and academic approach. “Academic” is used carefully, since the Museum was closely allied with University of New Mexico archaeology, both established by Hewett, while the Lab was closely allied with East and West Coast universities and museums.

The site’s official name, LA 1, reflects this institutional difference. Dr. Harry P. Mera joined the Lab as staff archaeologist and director of the State Archaeological Site Survey Program. Dr. Mera, a Public Health Service physician, had conducted a long-term study of archaeological sites while visiting clinics throughout New Mexico. He mapped, collected potsherds, and made observations about the sites he visited, cataloguing and organizing the information as any good scientist would. When hired by the Lab in 1931, his collections and records came with him, and by his retirement in 1948, the LA registry had increased to 2,400 sites. Today, Mera’s work is carried on by the Archaeological Records Management Section (ARMS) of the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division in collaboration with the Museum. At last count, ARMS has nearly 180,000 sites in its data-base, and the ARMS system is a national leader in archaeological site management. Although the Museum could have created a site registry during its first decades of existence, that sort of systematic approach was not part of Hewett’s vision.

The completion and publication of the Pindi report happened soon after the end of the rivalry between the Museum and the Lab. As the Lab was failing financially in the 1940s, Hewett did nothing to help. Hewett’s death in 1946 ended his tenure, not only as the only director the Museum had ever known, but also as the founding director of the School for Advanced Research, originally called the School of American Archaeology. With the absorption of the Laboratory of Anthropology, Inc., by the Museum of New Mexico in 1947, rivalry gave way to cooperation, and the Pindi report was published jointly by the School and the Lab in 1953.

Why LA 1?

LA 1 was ideal for the Civil Works Program, consistent with nationwide examples of labor-intensive archaeology projects that put able-bodied men and women to work. The site was privately owned, and the local owners fully supported the excavations. The pueblo was actively being destroyed by the erosion of the Santa Fe River, and the owners hoped to turn the exposed ruins into tourist income—a Depression-era entrepreneurial dream. By excavating and leaving the adobe walls open to the elements (rather than back-filling), Stubbs and Stallings knew they were dooming the site to eventual destruction, a fate that had largely come to pass by the time of publication.

Scientifically, LA 1 was one of the largest known black-on-white-pottery pueblos in the greater Santa Fe area. A. V. Kidder had excavated at Forked Lightning Ruin near Pecos in 1926–1929, but the other major excavations by Kidder at Pecos Pueblo (1915–1929) and by Nels Nelson in the Galisteo Basin (1912) had focused on later, larger pueblos of what we now call the Classic period. From LA 1, Stubbs and Stallings expected to learn about the founding, growth, and dynamic changes leading up to the Classic period. They hoped to further document the evolution of black-on-white pottery into the later, multihued, lead-glazed pottery, and they wanted to explore the descendant relationships between Northern Rio Grande communities and the earlier settlements in neighboring regions, including Chaco and Mesa Verde. A. V. Kidder, who was on the board of Lab, Inc., heartily endorsed the work, and offered to raise funds for the publication of its results.

The Excavations: Village Layout and Architectural History

Six months of excavation at LA 1 revealed a complex village history and fascinating glimpses of life during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The archae-ological team systematically dug into and through adobe wall rubble, collapsed roofs, remodeling debris, superimposed floors, and layers of trash. The excavators exposed and documented 253 rooms, eight kivas (subterranean ritual structures), and five rectangular ceremonial rooms. A plaza area included a series of turkey pens with abundant eggshells, bones, and droppings, leading Stubbs and Stallings to name LA 1 after the Tewa word for turkey—Pindi. The stratigraphic relationships, changing pottery styles and technologies, and careful documentation of bonded or abutted corners of the coursed adobe walls allowed them to identify three main building periods (First, Second, and Third Periods) and a fourth period that predated Pindi Pueblo.

The pre-Pindi occupation underlay the main village and consisted of a circular pit structure (a subterranean house) and an adjacent above-ground pole, brush, and mud storage or living room. The distinctive mineral-painted pottery had been named Kwahe’e Black-on-white by Mera, and a few tree-ring dates derived from fuelwood suggested that the rooms had been occupied in the late twelfth or early thirteenth century. This single-family dwelling was typical of Ancestral Puebloan farm settlements during what Rio Grande archaeologists today call the Late Developmental period. Other sites from this era are scattered within and overlooking the Santa Fe River Valley between Pindi and the Santa Fe Plaza.

This small homestead was abandoned and replaced by a substantial settlement beginning between AD 1250 and 1270 (First Period). About forty adobe rooms of varying sizes were arranged one to three rows deep, forming a linear apartment complex with perhaps a few second-story rooms. The roomblock was oriented north to south with three kivas in the open space to the east. Rooms with interior fire pits were interpreted as living spaces, whereas rooms lacking floor features were used for storing food, goods, and raw materials. Santa Fe Black-on-white bowls and textured utility jars were represented in the abundant potsherds. The room suites housed eight to ten families, and Stubbs and Stallings observed that the building style and layout were typical of the Northern San Juan and Northern Rio Grande regions.

Following a short and unexplained abandonment, the original forty-room apartment was remodeled. Portions were razed and leveled, and the kivas were filled to accommodate the next building phase (Second Period). The “new” Pindi Pueblo experienced changes in village layout, spatial organization of ritual structures and spaces, and size, more than doubling to a village of more than 200 rooms inhabited by twenty to thirty families. Four roomblocks, each growing in two or three episodes, incorporated and replaced the remnant First Period rooms. Stepping down toward enclosed plazas from their two- to four-story heights, roomblock layouts were somewhat helter-skelter, suggesting unplanned expansion of the core buildings over a twenty- to forty-year period between AD 1310 and 1350.

Roomblocks were one to five rooms deep in plan and one to four stories tall, defining three enclosed plazas and a smaller placita. This pattern of small plazas was also found in more recent excavations in the Santa Fe area at Arroyo Hondo Pueblo. These plazas are early versions of the large, enclosed communal plazas of the fifteenth-century Classic-period villages of the Tewa and Galisteo Basins. Kivas were incorporated into the Pindi residential roomblocks, leaving plazas as open space. Rectangular rooms with interior features similar to those in kivas were also scattered throughout the village. The combination of open plazas, enclosed kivas, and other ritual spaces reflects changes in the organization of ritual practice as kivas and ceremonial rooms served smaller segments of the population, and the plazas were settings for more communal and less esoteric ceremonies and activities.

In addition to their roles as public spaces for ceremonies, dances, meetings, and daily work, the main Pindi plaza contained the turkey pens for which the site is named. On the south and east side of the plaza, impressions in the plaza fill defined four enclosures of small poles and twigs appended to the exterior walls of the roomblocks. Inside the pens, yellowish soil was mixed with abundant eggshell and turkey bone, evidence that led Stubbs and Stallings to conclude that the residents were raising and keeping turkeys. Turkeys were valued for their feathers and important for blankets and ritual; they were also a source of dietary protein. Wild turkeys had been kept by Northern Rio Grande residents since the early 800s, but the evidence from Pindi suggested intensive domestication at least by the thirteenth century.

By the end of the fourteenth century, Pindi had been abandoned again, and the buildings fell into disrepair. A few tree-ring dates suggested to Stubbs and Stallings that there might have been a final building episode (Third Period), and later researchers have reinforced that suspicion, suggesting that Pindi may have seen a short resurgence in the early 1400s. This rhythm of occupation and abandonment is consistent with what we know today of neighboring village sites— Agua Fria Schoolhouse, Santa Fe Community Convention Center, and Arroyo Hondo—where occupations by smaller, vestigial populations ended by AD 1420, coincident with a major regional drought.

What Pindi Villagers Left Behind

Stubbs and Stallings’s careful documentation of architecture and stratigraphy provides a remarkable framework for the story of Pindi Pueblo, but it’s the artifacts they recovered that provide substance, meaning, and even beauty. The Pindi excavations occurred at a time of transition in American archaeology. The appreciation for the exotic that had driven excavation and collection a generation earlier had given way to systematic and detailed description of form, function, and variety. Specialists were brought in to identify bone and plant materials (including pollen), making use of the wide-ranging academic connections that were a hallmark of the Laboratory of Anthropology. The 1930s volumes on Pecos Pueblo artifacts set a high bar for scientific description, and the Pindi studies built on that foundation, including collaborations with many of the same researchers.

Typical of open-air sites, nature had applied a filter of preservation to the excavated materials at Pindi. Clothing, housewares, and tools of perishable materials, which make up the majority of both ancient and modern possessions, were eliminated by decay except in the rare cases where fragments were preserved by burning or their impressions were detected during excavation. Thorough excavation recovered esoteric artifact types with the common material remains of daily life. Pottery was singled out for extensive analysis, and the remaining types of artifacts were individually described in their remarkable variety. Pipes,

pendants, pigments, picks, and pins form an alliterative list of personal possessions, while plugs and piki stones are household accessories. Plugs, often found in place, were large, carefully formed adobe stoppers used to control air flow through vent holes between interior rooms. Piki stones were carefully prepared griddles installed or supported over hearths. Abundant large, hafted stone tools, including axes, mauls, picks, and combination tools, ranged in quality of workmanship from the crude-but-effective to exquisitely finished polished axes. The latter were often fashioned out of visually stunning raw materials, suggesting that appearance was as important as function. Tool kits for crafting turquoise and other fine stone and shell jewelry included raw material, cut blanks, drills, drilled blanks, and lapidary abraders. Finished beads and pendants were made from sherds, shell, bone, pumice, shale, travertine, selenite, schist, and mica.

Bone, a versatile raw material, was used to manufacture the most delicate of pins as well as wedges that appear to be robust enough for splitting wood. Awls, in a bewildering variety of forms and from many animal species and body parts, hint at the incredible variety of textiles (baskets, clothing, etc.) that would have adorned residents and residences. Of seventeen glimpses of coiled basketry preserved as impressions on pottery sherds, quality ranged from a coarse nine stitches per inch to an extremely fine workmanship of twenty stitches per inch. Bone tubes were shaped and drilled for a variety of flute-like whistles, including a composite form that included a vibrating diaphragm.

A seamless continuum between the secular and the sacred is reflected in modern Pueblo culture, so that many of the artifacts from Pindi have ceremonial implications that can only be imagined by archaeologists. Clusters and associations of objects that came to light during excavation are suggestive of the importance of, or perhaps just an interest in, found objects such as fossils and minerals. Fascinating examples of a more clearly ceremonial artifact type are carefully shaped quartz pebbles or “lightning stones.” These hand-held pebbles exhibit “tribo – luminescence,” the emission of light from the interior of the stone or crystal when the pebbles are rubbed or impacted with sufficient force to physically deform the crystal lattice.

Pottery: Keys to Local and Regional Trends and Relationships

Due to its abundance and interpretive potential, pottery was singled out as the most important of the artifact categories. Kidder had published the basic framework for pottery classification in the Northern Rio Grande in 1915, and by the 1930s pottery sequences were defined for most of the northern Southwest. During the study of the Pindi pottery collections, Stubbs and Stallings benefited from detailed technical and stylistic analyses of Pecos and Forked Lightning collections conducted by Anna O. Shepard and others. Meanwhile, at the Laboratory of Anthropology, Mera was finalizing his synthesis of pottery variation across the broad sweep of the New Mexico landscape. With well-established definitions of the basic decorated pottery types and sequences in place, the Pindi assemblages provided an unparalleled opportunity to test prevailing typological sequences while adding to their descriptive and interpretive potential.

Stubbs and Stallings and their peers believed that the pottery sequence in the Northern Rio Grande was strongly influenced first by the Chaco region (eleventh and twelfth centuries) and later by the Mesa Verde region (thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries). These influences were seen in the decorated pottery: the black-on-white, black-on-red, polychrome, and glaze-paint wares. Since the occurrence of these different decorated wares changed through time, their relative frequencies across the site were used to both date the building episodes and examine regional relationships and influences. Utility or cooking wares exhibited more gradual change in textured surfaces and were seen as less sensitive and less useful for temporal or regional studies.

Taking advantage of the preexisting frameworks and expertise of Lab staff members Anna O. Shepard and Kenneth Chapman, and the huge collections from Pindi Pueblo, Stubbs and Stallings chose to focus on the details of design style and the wealth of creativity within the established pottery types. They painstakingly compiled a catalogue of the design motifs and decorative layouts employed by the ancient potters in hopes of teasing out patterns that might reflect detailed changes through time. Changes were expected to provide clues to the direction of origin or influence, potter identity, and local or nonlocal production, but they were stymied by the dizzying array of geometric and linear combinations. Without clear trends, they chose to illustrate and describe the pottery in hopes that future work would bring clarity to the situation.

As anticipated by Stubbs and Stallings, Pindi Pueblo fit nicely into the period leading up to the regional dominance of lead-glazed pottery south of Santa Fe and biscuit ware to the north. Pottery from the lowest levels of the site was dominated by locally produced mineral-painted Kwahe’e Black-on-white, but with significant amounts of white, red, and even utility pottery imported from as far away as the Zuni and Chaco regions between AD 1000 and 1200. More recent studies suggest that Kwahe’e decorative styles also exhibit strong influences from Salinas, Chupadero Mesa, and Tijeras areas to the south. This more holistic view portrays early Santa Fe River villagers as engaged with all their neighbors, not just those to the west. Essentially, the bewildering diversity and cross-pollinating of decorative styles emerged out of the local mineral-paint tradition.

The village periods at Pindi Pueblo coincided with a change to carbon-based paint on decorated pottery. Five distinct types were defined based on subtle variation in clays and tempers, and the types fell into two geographic groups. Santa Fe Black-on-white, Pindi Black-on-white, and Wiyo Black-on-white were made from high-iron clay deposits that are characteristic of the Rio Grande and Santa Fe Valleys and the Tewa Basin. Galisteo Black-on-white and Poge Black-on-white were made from Galisteo Basin clays, tempered with crushed potsherds and sands. Pindi Black-on-white vessels were made locally (within the Santa Fe River Valley). Poge Black-on-white was produced in the local region. Galisteo Black-on-white was imported from communities to the south.

Despite the lack of coherent patterns in the black-on-white designs, distinct changes in the pottery-type mixtures were associated with each of Pindi Pueblo’s village occupations. Collections associated with the First Period were dominated by Santa Fe Black-on-white sherds with small amounts of Wiyo Black-on-white but limited occurrences of the other types. They had expected to find evidence of Mesa Verde pottery in this late thirteenth-century context, but the few candidate sherds were classified as Galisteo Black-on-white. In terms of connections and relationships, the pottery of the first villagers was linked with the Rio Grande Valley and the Tewa Basin.

By the early 1300s, during the Second Period, a different pottery-production trajectory was apparent. Collectively, Galisteo, Poge, and Pindi Black-on-whites were more abundant than Santa Fe Black-on-white. Galisteo and Poge Black-on-white were similar in appearance to San Juan Basin pottery because of the white-firing clays and slips used in their production. This similarity reinforced the belief that Mesa Verde people had migrated into the Northern Rio Grande Valley, and the subtle differences between the two pottery types reflected the incorporation of local designs into the original Mesa Verde–derived tradition. Pindi Black-on-white was distinct in raw materials, and as the name implies, it was seen as the locally produced analog of the suite of contemporary pottery types. It was clear that between the the First and Second Periods, the geographic extent of connections and relationships had changed, in that the second residents interacted more intensively with communities to the south in the Galisteo Basin than with the Rio Grande Valley or the Tewa Basin. While these implications of the pottery-type frequencies seemed clear, there was an underlying and unexplored conflict with the striking decorative variety of black-on-white pottery. All of the decorative elements and their organization were shared to a remarkable degree across the types, contrasting with the accepted model of mass population movements to the Northern Rio Grande Valley. If the migration scenario were correct, it would require mechanisms for the rapid acceptance and integration of the decorative aspects of pottery even as people were on the move throughout the Southwest and as communities established and changed their social and economic networks.

The pottery mixture of Pindi Pueblo changed again in the final occupation of the site, after the second village was largely or totally abandoned.

This observation is limited by a small number of sherds, but Santa Fe and Wiyo Black-on-white return to dominance over the local and Galisteo Basin types. However, glaze-ware pottery started to appear as another indicator of interaction with the region to the south.

Since the publication of the Pindi Pueblo results, investigations of the Agua Fria Schoolhouse, Santa Fe Community Convention Center, and Arroyo Hondo Pueblo sites have strengthened our perspective. Pottery studies yielded results similar to those from Pindi Pueblo, suggesting that all villages were involved in a tightly knit local network of production and exchange. This work has also demonstrated that the mix of Pindi, Santa Fe, and Galisteo Black-on-white pottery continued well into the fifteenth century, when many villages were producing glaze-paint pottery to the south and biscuit-ware pottery to the north. Amidst these regional trends, the Santa Fe River potters continued their traditions until they were forced to leave by worsening drought. Clearly, no one site holds the key to understanding how populations from many regions were incorporated and accommodated through the fourteenth-century migrations. But the documentation of stylistic variability across types at Pindi Pueblo is a solid contribution to our understanding of how diverse peoples incorporated new ideas and ways, as well as each other, while maintaining identities that had structured their lives for generations.

Final Thoughts

The excavation of Pindi Pueblo in 1933–1934 was an opportunity created by a federal make-work project with a nod to the development of local tourism. It became an exercise in unraveling the architectural and spatial complexities of a village with a two-century-long history. While expecting simplicity, Stubbs and Stallings defined the birth and growth of a village that we now know was one of a tightly knit family of communities along the Santa Fe River and its tributaries between the middle 1200s and early 1400s. Detailed architectural and artifact recording left a legacy of information that influenced and guided later excavations at Pindi’s sister pueblo communities at Agua Fria Schoolhouse, Santa Fe Community Convention Center, and Arroyo Hondo.

When the report was published, Stubbs and Stallings were convinced that Pindi Pueblo had been influenced by the movement of people out of the greater Four Corners region into the Santa Fe River Valley and Northern Rio Grande. On the other hand, they had to explain the strong pattern of local, in situ origin and growth of Pindi Pueblo and the Santa Fe River Valley communities. The Santa Fe River Valley was a crucible of accommodation, acceptance, and compromise. Those mechanisms were fine tuned in the later large villages of the Galisteo Basin and the northern Tewa Basin, eventually forming the basis for the Pueblo villages the Spanish encountered when they first arrived in New Mexico. With the arrival of the Spanish, the processes of accommodation, acceptance, and compromise started again.

Welcome back, Pindi Pueblo! Your recognition in El Palacio has been a long time coming.

The authors would like to acknowledge the friendly staff at the Archaeological Records Management Section, New Mexico Historic Preservation Division; and the Archaeological Research Collections, Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, for their professional assistance in support of this article.

Stephen S. Post is a deputy director emeritus of the Office of Archaeological Studies. He began his career in contract archaeology at the Laboratory of Anthropology in 1977. Since 1988 his research has focused on the archaeology of the Santa Fe area and the Northern Rio Grande region.

Eric Blinman is the director of the Office of Archaeological Studies. His studies have focused on the northern Southwest since 1979, and he has been on the Museum of New Mexico staff since 1988.