Archaic Peoples

Southwest Archaeology


Archaic Period (ca. 5500 B.C. to A.D. 400)

This section is drawn from the BLM Farmington Field Office's Proposed Resource Management Plan and Final Environmental Impact Statement EIS. We will rewrite this section as we get an opportunity.

The Archaic period is signaled by the extinction of earlier Pleistocene fauna, due to the combined effects of the drought noted earlier as well as hunting by PaleoIndian peoples. Although hunting continued to be important throughout the Archaic period, there was greater reliance on gathering of wild plant resources. Consonant with this subsistence shift is the appearance of new classes of artifacts, notably ground stone implements that were used to process plant foods for consumption. Projectile points decrease in size consistent with hunting of smaller animals.

As in the PaleoIndian period, Archaic hunting-and-gathering groups seem to have remained small in size, probably consisting of no more than a few co-residential, extended families. Archaic sites are more visible than PaleoIndian sites, but, with some exceptions, remain relatively ephemeral. This is again consistent with high mobility when groups move to take advantage of geographic and seasonal variations in the availability of plant and animal resources.

Archaic sites are found throughout the San Juan Basin. Most are found north and east of the Chaco River. Sites tend to alternate between semi-permanent (winter) base camps that were repeatedly occupied from year to year and more ephemeral (summer) sites related to the completion of specific seasonal hunting or gathering activities. Sites are found in canyon heads and cliff tops. Based on ethnographic analogies, the size of territories exploited by Archaic groups was inversely proportional to environmental diversity: where diversity was higher, territories probably were smaller and the converse.

General trends in the number of Archaic sites across the planning area are interpreted as reflecting gradual, sustained population growth throughout the Archaic period. Specifically, beginning with relatively few early Archaic Jay phase (ca. 5500 to 4800 B.C.) sites, there is a progressive increase in the number of later Bajada (ca. 4800 to 3200 B.C.), San Jose (ca. 3000 to 1800 B.C.), Armijo (ca. 1800 to 800 B.C.) and En Medio (800 B.C. to A.D. 400) phase sites over the planning area. As well, sites are larger by the San Jose phase and are accompanied by the first evidence of structures, probably constructed of poles and brush. The number and size of sites increases steadily in succeeding phases, all of which is consistent with the aggregation of larger groups of people, population growth, and repeated occupations of larger base camps.

The earliest evidence of domesticated crops, notably maize, appears in the Armijo phase. This presages the much greater reliance on domesticated crops that characterizes the later prehistory of the planning area. At the same time, reliance on domesticates implies the need to maintain fields, as well as store any surpluses that might be generated. Not surprisingly, the appearance of maize in the archaeological record is accompanied by the almost simultaneous appearance of more permanent structures and storage facilities. At the same time, there is some suggestion that maize did not appear in all parts of the San Juan Basin at the same time. Specifically, maize seems to appear earlier in the eastern part of the basin, but is largely absent in western parts of the basin. However, this may reflect an absence of surveys in the western region rather than any fundamental underlying variability in subsistence patterns across the planning area. Archaic components account for less than 4 percent of the total components in the planning area. Numerous lithic scatters in the planning area lack diagnostic artifacts and assemblages indicating the cultural and temporal association of the sites. These sites comprise approximately 1 percent of the sites in the planning area. Many of these are site


components potentially dating to the Archaic period. While comprising a small percentage of the sites in the planning area, they remain an important class of sites for research involving the hunter-gatherer occupation in the region, and the transition to agricultural lifeways.

On FFO and AFO lands, there are 2 ACECs or SMAs that are actively managed to protect outstanding examples of cultural resources from this period. These include:

1. Jones Canyon ACEC (AFO)

2. East Side Rincon Site SMA (FFO)

Other examples may be found that merit special designations. Still other examples of resources from this period are managed according to continuing management guidelines.







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