Early Hunters and Gatherers in Southeastern Arizona – part 1

November 24, 2015 Off By Robert Pechie

During the summer, 1970, the Arizona State Museum, in cooperation with the State Highway Department and Cochise County, excavated an ancient pre-pottery archaeological site and remains of a mammoth near Double Adobe, Arizona.. Although highway salvage archaeology has been carried out in the state since 1955, last summer’s work on Whitewater Draw, near Double Adobe, represented the first time that either the site of early hunters and gatherers or remains of extinct mammoth had been recovered through the salvage program. In addition, excavation of the pre-pottery Cochise culture site on a new highway right-of-way has revealed vital evidence for the reconstruction of prehistoric life-ways in southeastern Arizona, an area that is little known archaeologically, yet which has produced evidence to indicate that it was early one of the most important areas for the development of a~;riculture and a settled way of life in the Southwest.

Early Big Game Hunters

Southeastern Arizona is also important as the area in which the first finds in North America of extinct faunal remains overlying cultural evidences of man were scientifically excavated. In 1926, fragments of a mammoth tusk were discovered by school children in Whitewater Draw, a short distance from Double Adobe. The find location was subsequently visited by Byron Cummings, Dean, University of Arizona, and the remainder of the skull uncovered and artifacts revealed in a geologic bed underlying the mammoth remains (Cummings 1927, 1928). The geologic positions of the mammoth skull and artifacts indicated at least their contemporaneity if not the possibility that the artifacts predated the mammoth.

During the same year, 1926, finds of extinct bison and associated projectile points near Folsom, New Mexico, brought closer to the scientific community the idea that man had indeed coexisted with extinct animals in North America (Wormington 1957: 23-29). Subsequent finds of mammoth in association with evidence of early man at Blackwater Draw near Clovis, New Mexico (Sellards 1952), in Greenbush Draw near Naco, Arizona (Haury 1953), on the Lehner Ranch near Hereford, Arizona (Haury 1956) and in other areas of the western United States and Mexico have left no doubt that man not only coexisted with extinct animals at the close of the last Glacial Period, but hunted them as well. Some of the best documentation for this conclusion has come from the Naco and Lehner sites, although many other find localities in the New World have upheld it.

The Cochise Culture

Shortly after the original find of mammoth remains and stone implements by Cummings in 1926, E. B. Sayles, Emil W. Haury and Ernst Antevs began a reconnaissance of Whitewater Draw to discover further evidence of an early culture that was associated with extinct fauna and which apparently relied heavily on gathering and processing wild vegetal foods. The published work of Sayles and Antevs (1941) and unpublished manuscript of Sayles and others (1958) forms the basis for this review of their work in southeastern Arizona.

Results of the early archaeological surveys along Whitewater Draw in the Sulphur Spring Valley indicated a long succession of prehistoric hunting and gathering groups beginning at about 10,500
B.C. and ending with the establishment of fully-settled village life that was dependent upon agriculture (cf. Sayles and others 1958: 114, and Martin and others 1952: 504). Sayles and Antevs postulated three stages of cultural development for the newly-defined Cochise culture, beginning with the SUlphur Spring stage which was found in part to be contemporaneous with now-extinct animals such as the mammoth. Recent skepticism of the idea that the early part of the Cochise culture coexisted with the mammoth has been alleviated by Haury’s statement of the circumstances under which the discoveries were made (1960: 609-610). The following stage, Chiri· cahua, was for the most part economically based on the hunting of modern forms of game and gathering wild herbs and seeds, although there are indications that cultivation of some domesticated plants was introduced at this time. Occupation of specific sites was most likely on a seasonal basis, as was probably the case during the Sulphur Spring stage. By the time the last stage (San Pedro) began, maize and squash were being cultivated to a greater extent-supplementing a greater part of the previously exclusive diet of wild vegetal foods and game than during the Chiricahua stage. The end of the San Pedro stage, shortly before the beginning of the Christian Era, marked a significant step toward a settled way of life that was to become characteristic of much of the prehistoric Southwest. Later work in the SUlphur Spring Valley brought to light the existence of a fourth cultural stage, the Cazador, which is apparently transitional between Sulphur Spring and Chiricahua stages. Archaeological work in other parts of southern Arizona has added to our knOWledge of the Cochise culture, but has not greatly modified the archaeological sequence defined by Sayles and Antevs. Sayles had early recognized the continuous evolution of Cochise material culture and by expressing it in stages, successive changes were easily illustrated.

Recent work in the southeastern Arizona-southwestern New Mexico region has added explanations for some material culture changes, specifically the introduction of maize presumably from Mexico by 3,500 B.C. (cf. Dick 1965: 100, and Martin 1963: 50). Thus, Sayles has summarized patterns of change within the Cochise cuI· ture tool inventory to illucidate the general trend in diversification of vegetal processing implements. The generalized forms of grind· ing stones and chipped stone tools that characterized the Sulphur Spring and Cazador stages became more complex and numerous during the Chiricahua stage. Shallow basin metates and shaped handstones that replaced the earlier flat stones, slightly modified for use, are according to Sayles indicative of the growing importance of grinding in the Cochise economy and possibly related to the increasing dependence upon primitive maize.

The advent of the San Pedro stage saw an intensification of patterns introduced during the previous Chiricahua stage, including use of the mortar and pestle. To date, archaeological evidence from Cochise culture sites indicates that at least by the beginning of the San Pedro stage, prehistoric hunters and gatherers in southeastern Arizona were becoming more sedentary and adapting to agriculture and, by the end of the stage, semi-permanent pithouse villages had become established along streams and wet meadows of mountain bajadas or slopes.

Besides external social pressure or contact that led to use of domesticated plants by the Cochise culture, there is paleoclimatic evidence to support the inference that a changing environment in southeastern Arizona over the past 10,000 years may have been an additional impetus for culture change that is reflected in the archae· ological record. According to Ernst Antevs, geologic evidence points to the existence of a warming and drying period at the close of the last Glacio·pluvial Period, or from about 13,000 B.C. to 8,000 B.C. During the latter part of this period, the Datil Interval (c. 10,500 B.C. to 8,800 B.C.) has left evidence in the aluvial geology of the Sulphur Spring Valley to suggest that the climate was cooler than present, but possibly as dryas today. It was during the latter period that geologic studies have dated the Sulphur Spring stage and extinction of the mammoth at about 9,500 B.C. The end of the Datil Interval saw a period of increasing aridity until about 2,000 B.C. when a time of increasing moisture began. Antevs has postUlated several relatively brief periods of aridity since 2,000 B.C., notably the Fairbank Drought (c. 500 B.C.), Whitewater Drought (c. A.D. 330), the Great Drought (A.D. 1276·1299), and the Pueblo Drought (A.D. 1573·1593).

Paul S. Martin (1963: 70) has presented fossil pollen evidence that suggests a more moist environment for southeastern Arizona during the period of the Altithermal (c. 5,500 B.C. to 2,000 B.C.) than has been indicated by Antevs. Martin continues by suggesting that under a climate similar to the present, early hunters and gatherers of the area were able to cultivate introduced plants that gradually led to a greater reliance on agricultural products.

Whatever the climate during the Altithermal, the intensification in diversification of tool forms associated with plant seed processing and increasing use of cultigens during the San Pedro stage coincides with Antevs’ climatic reconstruction of the beginning of a relatively moist period by 2,000 B.C. Cultural reprocussions of brief periods of drought suggested by Antevs shortly before and after the time of Christ are not well known, but it is likely that any change was not as dramatic as those associated with longer periods of aridity as during the Altithermal.