By Tamara Jager Stewart
These El Paso Polychrome sherds were found in the northern roomblock at Gila River Farm. The Mogollon people produced this type of pottery. | Credit: Karen Schollmeyer
The raised cobble and adobe pedestal of a fourteenth-century granary base in this room at Gila River Farm was once topped by a very large basket for storing food. A trash pit from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to the right of the cobbles cut through the edge of this granary base. | Credit: Karen Schollmeyer
A fragment of a perforated plate that was recovered from Gila River Farm. Perforated plates were a household item used by people from the Kayenta area and by their descendants in Salado villages. | Credit: Karen Schollmeyer
For decades archaeologists have sought to understand what they refer to as the Salado Phenomenon, which occurred between roughly A.D. 1275 and 1450 in what is now south-central Arizona and southwestern New Mexico. The term Salado is derived from Rio Salado, the Spanish name for the Salt River, which runs from the White Mountains in eastern Arizona to the canyons in the central part of the state. Salado-period settlements in southwestern New Mexico show a combination of the cultural and material traits of the Mogollon area groups living in the Upper Gila River valley and those of northern immigrants from the Kayenta area in northeastern Arizona, who moved into the area in the late 1200s.
Researchers with Archaeology Southwest, a non-profit preservation and research organization based in Tucson, Arizona, have been studying the Salado Phenomenon for more than twenty years. “We had a really hard time figuring out what Salado was,” said Karen Schollmeyer, an archaeologist with the organization. They concluded that, in addition to its signature polychrome pottery, Salado was also an ideology with religious and socio-political connotations that served to unify different peoples. “Although Salado ideology may have emerged within the Kayenta community, it quickly spread to local groups who had long inhabited the basins and valleys of the central and eastern Gila Watershed,” wrote Jeffery Clark, a colleague of Schollmeyer’s. “By the late 1300s, it had become the dominant ideology across much of this region, reaching into the lower Salt River Valley of the Phoenix Basin and just beyond the watershed to the Mimbres Valley. Which groups—Kayenta descendants, local groups, or both—were responsible for the spread of this ideology to other areas is unclear.”
This is an article excerpt from the Winter 2021 edition of American Archaeology Magazine. Become a member of The Archaeological Conservancy for your complimentary subscription.