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Cover Photo: Photo of Oak Creek Pueblo (Atkeson) taken by Prescott Photographer C.R. Allen around 1893. (Arizona Historical Society)

VERDE VALLEY, AZ | Our recent Virtual Tour Video focuses on two Southern Sinagua or Hisatsinom villages in the Verde Valley of Arizona, Sugarloaf and Atkeson Pueblos. These lonely hilltop sites are now protected by The Archaeological Conservancy, but they were once the center of excavations by pioneering archaeologists and, unfortunately, looters. Along with architecture, tools, and pottery, archaeologists also discovered elaborately created mosaics depicting animals.
A 1900 article on prehistoric turquoise mosaic artifacts published by W.P. Blake discusses a rare bird mosaic that was discovered at Atkeson Pueblo.  He believed the object represented a raptor that symbolized political standing within the tribe. Blake also mentions another common animal mosaic that is found in the area which is that of a toad.  Interestingly enough, a Prescott archaeologist named James Simmons reportedly discovered a toad pendant with a shell backing at Sugarloaf Pueblo in the 1930’s. [Read the report here.]
An article by Robert K. Liu discusses the possible Indigenous symbolism associated with these creatures.  Liu theorizes, just as Blake did, that the bird mosaics are raptors that symbolize political standing and power.  He notes that toads and frogs are often associated with water and fertility, and that many such objects were discovered in burials containing women and children.  There is also the possibility that these objects represent clan symbols, social standing, or even an occupation within a group.  There are many possibilities, but the only ones who truly know the meaning of these amazing objects are the people who left them behind hundreds of years ago.
Animal mosaics have been found in relation to a variety of Indigenous cultures across the American southwest including Ancestral Pueblo, Hohokam, Sinagua, Salado, and Mogollon. Similar objects have also been discovered throughout Mesoamerica. In the Southwest, they have been discovered primarily in mortuary contexts, which makes the artifacts rare and increasingly more difficult to study.  Several examples, like the ones pictured below, are currently housed in the Arizona State Museum, including several from the Verde Valley region.

Sinagua/Hisatsinom bird mosaic found in the Verde Valley of Arizona. Made of turquoise and jet on a shell backing. Photos by Robert K.Liu/Ornament; courtesy of the Pomona College Museum of Art, Claremont, California or The Arizona State Museum, Tucson.

Three mosaic frog pendants from the Arizona State Museum. Photo by Robert K.Liu/Ornament; courtesy of the Pomona College Museum of Art, Claremont, California or The Arizona State Museum, Tucson.

You can read more about the research at these sites in this report and more about mosaic artifacts in Liu’s article here. And, watch our new Virtual Tour Video to learn more about these fascinating preserves! 


| The Archaeological Conservancy 2022