Mogollon-Mimbres culture

The Mogollon culture appears to have evolved from the Archaic Cochise and developed around 200 to 1400/1450 AD a time period that is largely correlated with the appearance of the agriculture and the rhythm of cultural and chronological changes in other Southwestern cultures. This culture was flourishing mainly in the uplands and mountainous areas with small valleys, as well as lower lying semiarid areas, from central-eastern Arizona and central-western and southern New Mexico in the Little Colorado River basin to northwest Texas and the northern parts of the Mexican states of Sonora and Chihuahua. The name of the Mogollon culture comes from the mountains of the same name, the Mogollon Rim, on the border of Arizona and New Mexico, which is named after Don Juan Ignacio Flores Mogollón, a governor of New Mexico in the eighteenth century. The Mimbres culture developed as a part of the Mogollon culture in a relatively short period from 1000 to about 1130/1150 AD (the whole of this cultural phenomenon falls within a maximum time of 750–1200 AD) in the southwestern New Mexico and adjacent areas of Arizona in the upper and in the northern part of Chihuahua state in northern Mexico.

In the beginning Mogollon societies were living in subterranean pithouses and in later phases in aboveground pueblo-type masonry consisting of many interconnected stone rooms and plazas between groups of buildings. Mogollon/Mimbres settlements were characterized by a considerable number of homesteads in one village (especially in later phases of cultural development). Buildings were most often constructed from river cobbles held together with clay mortar and sometimes the rooms were built with adobe and sandstone.

The Mogollon economy was based primarily on agriculture, although hunting and gathering likely played an important role in obtaining food, particularly by those living in upland areas surrounded by forests inhabited by wild animals and deer. Not all Mogollon groups immediately adopted large-scale agriculture, in part because the short growing season and greater variability of precipitation at high altitudes hampered these efforts so that some settlements resembled hunter-gatherer communities.

Richly decorated pottery is one of the most distinctive features of the Mimbres culture. Mimbres pottery was decorated with geometric and figural designs in the so-called Mimbres Black-on-White style. The ceramics were made of red clay and covered with white slip, upon which red or black decorations were painted. Geometric designs account for approximately half of the representations painted on Mimbres, with abstract and highly complex patterns and designs. The dominant motifs are circles, spirals, squares, diamonds, sometimes forming checkerboards, as well as triangles, wavy lines and straight or zigzag lines perhaps running parallel, often creating the so-called hachure motif. About one-third of known Mimbres bowls have representational designs that depict animals and sometimes humans.

The basic forms are hemispherical bowls, pots, ollas (water containers) and zoomorphic vessels, all richly decorated. Some data suggest that potters were women. Many Mimbres bowls have been found in graves. Bowls would be placed next to the head, or more often used to cover the heads or faces of the deceased. A hole called a kill-hole was made in the center of the vessel/bowl, possibly to entice the soul of the deceased to leave the body and travel to the afterlife.

There are four rock art styles of Mogollon/Mimbres culture. It includes Jornada rock art style with depictions of animals—mountain lions, jaguars (?), bighorn sheep, snakes, fish, tadpoles, insects, birds (including parrots, thrushes, cuckoos, and eagles), and anthropomorphic figures with bodies richly decorated with step motifs, perhaps symbolizing clouds, zigzags, lines, and masks. There are numerous motifs of paw prints, claws of various animals, and human footprints. As a rule, zoomorphic figures are presented statically, with attributes such as antlers and feathers clearly marked, and bodies decorated with geometric motifs; snakes feature attributes of other animals, such as feathers and horns resembling some Mesoamerican deities.

The extraordinary iconography of Mimbres pottery has attracted treasure hunters who have been destroying many Mimbres sites for over a hundred years and plundering these richly decorated ceramics. The Mimbres Foundation was established and led by Steven LeBlanc in the 1970s to protect sites and recover Mimbres cultural heritage. Currently we are aware of just over ten thousand of the Mimbres vessels (data from the Mimbres Pottery Images Digital Database—MimPIDD—https: //, although it is not fully known how many more bowl and other pottery types might be dispersed in private collections and museums worldwide.

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