Archaeological Zone of Paquimé, Casas Grandes
Archaeological Zone Of Paquimé, Casas Grandes
Cultural Mexico Latin America And The Caribbean Municipality Of Casas Grandes, State Of Chihuahua

PaquiméCasas Grandes bears eloquent and abundant witness to an important element in the cultural evolution of North America, and in particular to pre-Hispanic commercial and cultural links. The extensive remains illustrate the development of adobe architecture in North America, and in particular the blending of this with the more advanced techniques of Mesoamerica.

The so-called Pueblo Culture of the south-west United States, based on agriculture, spread slowly southwards during the 1st millennium AD. A village of pit houses was founded at the site of Casas Grandes, in north-western Chihuahua, during the 8th century by Mogollon people from New Mexico. It developed slowly until the mid-12th century, when it underwent a dramatic expansion and cultural shift. The pit dwellings were replaced by more elaborate above-ground adobe structures on a complex layout. The presence of features such as platform mounds, ball courts, a sophisticated water-distribution system, and specialized storage buildings for exotic products such as macaws and turkeys, shell and copper artefacts, and agave indicates influence from the more advanced civilizations of Mesoamerica. It is uncertain whether this represents an invasion from the south or an indigenous expansion to handle a greatly increased volume of trade. Paquimébecame a major mercantile centre, linked with a large number of smaller settlements around it. It has been estimated that the population during its peak period of prosperity, in the 14th and early 15th centuries, was of the order of 10,000, making it one of the largest proto-urban agglomerations in northern America.

Following the Spanish conquest of Mexico, a new social and economic structure on the European model was imposed upon the region, in which Paquiméplayed no part. It rapidly declined, and early Spanish explorers reported only small farming communities living in north-western Chihuahua. The final break-up came in the later 17th century, when intensive Spanish colonization of the area resulted in the displacement of the surviving inhabitants.

The archaeological site is located at the foot of the Sierra Madre Occidental range near the headwaters of the Casas Grandes River. It is estimated to contain the remains of some 2,000 rooms in clusters of living rooms, workshops and stores, with patios. The predominant building material is unfired clay (adobe);stone is used for specific purposes, such as the lining of pits, a technique from central Mexico. Typical of these is the House of the Ovens, a block made up of a single-storey room and four stone-lined pits, with a mound of burnt rocks alongside. It forms part of a larger complex consisting of nine rooms and two small plazas. The pits were used for baking agave or sotal, using heated stones. The House of the Serpent consisted originally of 26 rooms and three plazas. It was later extended and adapted to provide enlarged facilities for raising macaws and turkeys, which seems to have been its primary function. A similar sequence can be observed in the House of the Macaws, so named because 122 birds were buried beneath its floors.

The Mound of the Cross, close to the House of the Ovens, consists of five low stone-lined and earth-filled mounds. The central mound is in the shape of an uneven cross, the arms of which roughly correspond with the cardinal points, which suggests that it played a role in celebrations to mark the equinoxes and solstices. The function of the Mound of the Offerings is less clear. It consists of a multilevel structure of rammed rubble, a puddle adobe precinct, and a ramp leading to one of the water-storage cisterns. The central portion contains seven rooms containing altar stones, statues and secondary burials. The Mound of the Bird takes its name from its outline, which resembles a headless bird facing east. No structures were found within it.

The water system consists of reservoirs linked by channels which distributed water to each of the room-blocks. The House of the Wells takes its name from the large storage cistern in one of its plazas that was fed from the common network. The sophistication of the system is shown by the presence of silting ponds at the entrance to each reservoir.