Archaic Period

The beginning of the Archaic period was closely related to climate change, above all to a shift in the extent of the ice sheet to the north, that marked an increase in the average temperature and,  consequently, the complete flooding of the land connection between Asia and America when Beringia disappeared under water. It was the beginning of the Holocene.

It is generally accepted that the Archaic lasted in the American Southwest from 10,000 years ago to even around 500 BC/BCE (Before Christ/Before Common Era). Basically, the Archaic period can be defined (Willey and Phillips 1958) as the time between the period of specialized Pleistocene megafauna hunts and the emergence of agriculture in an complex form, with greater settlement stabilization thanks to the specialization of the economy (e.g., fishing, gathering), the growing importance of plant gathering (although recent studies have shown that Clovis communities already

used a wide variety of wild plants) and other factors, like the differentiation between stone and flint tools (compared to earlier periods), with products of slightly lower quality (in terms of the techniques of their production) than in the Paleoindian period.

Rock art from the Paleoindian period may have partially survived and continued in the Early and Middle Archaic period. Later on, the Barrier Canyon Style, also known as the Barrier Canyon Anthropomorphic Style, was one of the most important and widespread styles of Late Archaic rock art in the Southwest. This style developed in the central, western, and northern parts of the Colorado Plateau. Barrier Canyon–style rock art, mainly paintings, and the petroglyphs that occur far less frequently, occur at fairly high altitudes, around 1,200– 2,100 meters above sea level and are located primarily on the walls of canyons, but also in shelters and rock niches and on individual boulders, and often close to water sources. The most characteristic representations of the Barrier Canyon style are mainly paintings of trapezoidal and rectangular elongated anthropomorphic figures of significant size, often ranging from one meter to almost three meters tall giving the impression of being unrealistic or “supernatural”. They may represents shamans, ancestors, or supernatural deities. Some of the most spectacular examples of rock paintings are found in the lower part of the Pecos River valley in Texas.

The beginnings of agriculture was taken place in the Southwest in the Late Archaic Period, ca. 2000 BC. The first and main crop in the Southwest was corn, which based on genetic studies and molecular biology, evolved from wild teosinte grass. Other crops most likely to come to the Southwest from Mesoamerica are squash-around 1100 BC, which provide nutritious seeds, flowers, and pulp, and are also used as containers. There were also various types of beans estimated to have appeared sometime around 500/300 BC (in the Colorado Plateau only after 200 AD). Somewhere between 300 and 500 AD new Mesoamerican crops were grown, but unlike the first “wave” of corn and squash adopted by hunter-gatherer communities, these crops now found their way into the hands of farmers, enriching the “set” of crops. Here we can include, among others, cotton, extremely important to weaving and trade for many pre-Hispanic communities in the Southwest, as well as new types of beans and squash plants.

Some plants were probably first domesticated in the Southwest, including some types of beans, amaranth, agave which was widely used both as food and for plant fibers for weaving and making cloth and sandals, a kind of small barley, so-called devil’s claw and Rocky Mountain beeweed, which provided both nutritious edible parts and pigments to decorate ceramics. An interesting plant is tobacco; there are still disputes as to whether it was a plant grown in the Southwest or whether wild tobacco was harvested, a practice followed by many native groups in this area, including the Hopis from Arizona.

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