Two 13th-Century Settlements in Santa Fe, New Mexico
By Jason S. Shapiro, Ph.D.
During the early twelfth century Santa Fe was home to a number of small pueblo style settlements with at most only a few dozen rooms, but by the mid-thirteenth century things had dramatically changed. Pindi Pueblo had no less than 175 rooms (and probably many more) and Agua Fria Schoolhouse Pueblo had grown to upwards of 500 rooms. As with many large pueblos, not all of the rooms were built or occupied at the same time but these settlements were still larger than any other pueblo in the Santa Fe area. In addition to their own expanding dimensions, Pindi and Agua Fria also anchored a line of settlements along the Santa Fe River that gave the impression of a single, linear community almost three miles long. These settlements exploited some of the best arable land in what was to become Santa Fe.
The Coalition Period (1200-1325 C.E.) in the Santa Fe area was a time of large-scale social and economic amplification where the defining elements of Pueblo life, namely agriculture, sedentism, and village-scale organization, matured in size and complexity. This period was so named because earlier generations of archaeologists were convinced that non-local Puebloans, primarily from the Four Corners or other areas in western New Mexico, moved into the northern Rio Grande where they “coalesced” with the local populations. This coalescing drove some of the cultural growth noted during this period. Large population centers like Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde began to dissipate in the 12th and 13th centuries and one theory posits that people left the Colorado Plateau for areas like the Rio Grande Valley because of its relatively low population density, arable land, and adequate water supplies. So, this “coalescence” may refer to the migration and coming together of disparate groups or from an amalgamation of existing local populations into larger settlements. Archaeologists have subdivided the Coalition into an early stage (Pindi Phase 1200–1300 C.E.) and later stage (Galisteo Phase 1300–1325 C.E.) based upon changes in pottery styles and architecture that were less dramatic than the kinds of changes that distinguished broader cultural periods.
Despite their sometimes-impressive size, Coalition pueblos often appear more like an agglomeration than carefully designed settlements. Indeed, archaeological reconstructions of Pindi Pueblo, located within the present village of Agua Fria south of Santa Fe, make it look a bit like a creeping amoeba as it stretched along the ridge on the west bank of the Santa Fe River. Pindi was occupied for more than two hundred years (1200-1425 C.E.) and although its occupation history spanned the entire Coalition and extended into the Classic Period, readers should understand that large pueblos such as Pindi and those that followed, were the result of complicated and changing sequences of construction, maintenance, abandonment, and reuse. In that sense, a pueblo is as much a process as an architectural entity. To focus upon any specific point in the pueblo’s existence, an “archaeological snapshot,” may not tell us very much about the sequence of growth and development of that pueblo. The oldest part of Pindi was built on top of a small residential cluster dating to the 1100s. This is significant because pueblos were often abandoned after two or three generations and this settlement may have been occupied for at least eight or nine generations! At its greatest extent, Pindi was a large, multi-storied (two or three stories) pueblo consisting of more than 175 rooms, with at least two plazas, and five kivas.
The name Pindi means “turkey” in the Tewa language: the name derives from the discovery of four turkey pens, identified by the presence of turkey manure, eggshells, and bones located, in the main plaza. Turkeys were an important source of food, feathers for blankets, and bone for tools and ceremonial items. While the size of this presumed turkey-breeding operation is noteworthy, Pindi was not unique in this regard. Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of turkey breeding from both the prior and subsequent local settlements, suggesting that a significant level of turkey domestication was probably coincident with the local agricultural expansion that occurred after 900 C.E.
Pindi was partially abandoned in the mid-14th century but not because of warfare: there is no evidence of substantial room burning or extensive trauma associated with human remains. There was during this period of very high rainfall and it is more likely that Pindi may have been victimized by flooding that destroyed agricultural land and possibly even parts of the pueblo. Stubbs and Stallings reported “a portion of the pueblo has been washed away by the Santa Fe River, and old inhabitants of [the village of] Agua Fria report that years ago many burials were washed out by the eroding river.” It would not be the first or last time that a flood destroyed a village, but I have always found it ironic that in this “land of little rain” water can be a destructive as well as a creative force. The people of Pindi were persistent, had strong leadership, or both. By the 1340s, the pueblo had reestablished itself on a smaller scale and remained occupied until the 1420s.
For comparison, the occupation sequence of Pindi’s “sister” pueblo, Agua Fria Schoolhouse, is both similar and different from that of Pindi. Situated on the east side of the Santa Fe River, Agua Fria Schoolhouse comprises half of a “paired settlement” complex. These “paired settlements” are often separated by a river or stream and appear to have developed locally during the late 13th century. This settlement pattern is not unique to Pindi and Agua Fria Schoolhouse.
Detailed knowledge of this site has been limited. Only recently have archaeologists, working in conjunction with a Santa Fe County Transportation Improvement Plan, understood just how much of the pueblo has been preserved. Although much of the later Classic Period sections of the pueblo have been destroyed by a couple of hundred years of construction activity, substantial portions of the earlier Coalition Period component still lie under well-traveled portions of Agua Fria Street and near the surface on the south side of the road. Sequences of recovered ceramics indicate that occupation began around 1200 C.E. and continued uninterrupted until around 1315-1320 C.E. at which time a large portion of the pueblo was abandoned, probably as a result of flood damage. Not everyone left however: tree-ring dating from recovered beams suggests that people continued to repair and expand the pueblo through the 1320s. There is evidence of new construction at the site through the 1360s and some people may have continued to live at the site until around 1420 when it was completely abandoned. Some archaeologists believe that during the early Classic Period, between 1,000 and 2,000 people may have resided at Pindi and Agua Fria Schoolhouse making this paired settlement complex the largest settlement in Santa Fe.
In the early 1990s two pit kilns, possibly for the production of pottery, were discovered during an archaeological survey of the Las Campanas area, approximately seven miles west of Santa Fe. What was most surprising was that the kilns were found at least four miles from Pindi and Agua Fria Schoolhouse, the closest Coalition Period sites. The kilns are relatively small (approximately 5½ by 3½ feet) and could have easily been overlooked during previous surveys. The pits may be part of a yet undiscovered settlement area lying under the rolling piedmont west of the city or be part of the Pindi/Agua Fria School House complex. Why kilns would have been located literally out of sight of the nearest pueblos remains unexplained but may be answered with reference to the three things needed for pottery production: a clay source, lots of fuel, and a water source. It is possible that by the 1200’s deforestation in the vicinity of both Pindi and Agua Fria Schoolhouse required residents to look further afield for fuel sources. It may have been easier to simply produce pottery at some distance from the villages rather than carry both raw clay and fuel wood back home.
Subsequent investigations have identified a clay source at Canada Ancha on the Rio Grande River that may eventually be recognized as the single, major clay source for a substantial portion of Coalition Period Santa Fe Black-on-white ceramics. If this research holds true, the discovery could result in a major reconsideration of the economic and social networks operating in Santa Fe from the late 12th into the early 14th centuries. It is conceivable that Pindi and Agua Fria Schoolhouse may have secured a dominant position in the local production and distribution of Santa Fe Black-on-white pottery. The significance of this hypothesis is that nominally autonomous Coalition communities may have been tied more closely together in ways that archaeologists have not previously considered.
If the archaeologists are correct about the origins of this high quality pottery being distributed throughout the Santa Fe region, the people at Pindi and Agua Fria may have controlled the pottery market. Assuming such control existed, it may not have lasted more than a few decades in the 13th century. Excavations at Agua Fria Schoolhouse have revealed that by the early 14th century the amount of Santa Fe Black-on-white pottery was substantially diminished and the frequency of two new varieties, Galisteo Black-on-white and Wiyo Black-on-white, had substantially increased. Whatever the ultimate conclusions regarding pottery production and distribution, it is clear that the paired settlements of Pindi and Agua Fri Schoolhouse pueblos represent an apogee of Ancestral Puebloan settlement in and around Santa Fe during the 13th century.
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 This essay is excerpted from Shapiro, Jason S., Before Santa Fe, The Archaeology of the City Different. Museum of New Mexico Press, 2008.