the Anasazi were busy moving from pit houses to building complex stone
pueblos and cliff dwellings up on the Colorado Plateau, another group
of Ancient Peoples were developing their own unique lifestyle and art
nearby. The Mogollon Rim is the transitional area between the high elevation
Colorado Plateau in the Four Corners and the lower elevation deserts
to the south. Along the faces of this rim, forests of pinon and juniper
grow, and in some areas pine and fir. The Rim area is cut through by
river erosion and has created a few valleys with fertile soil and river
waters – especially valuable in a land that is still very arid with
the period of about 1000 to 1200 AD in southwestern New Mexico, a distinctive
culture called the Mimbres arose that is now world famous for the elegant
ceramics they produced. Along the Rio Mimbres, one of the few year round
rivers along the Rim, the Mimbres also moved from pit houses to pueblos,
but built a different type of pueblo than we have seen before. Theirs
were not pre-planned monumental structures. They grew spontaneously
to accommodate new families and were built from rounded cobble and adobe.
Their homes did not have doorways on the walls – they entered from the
roof tops by ladder and spent a good deal of their time on the rooftops
as open air workplaces. Their homes were most often grouped with 3-4
families, each with their own individual living and storage rooms, clustered
into one building – what we would consider a four-plex today. Some of
their structure were larger – up to 200 rooms, but most were smaller
is truly the most unique about the Mimbres is the refined pottery they
white clay and white slip as their glaze, the bowls most often made
are decorated with fine, precise black lines and figures. Geometric
and human shapes, flowers and animals were all depicted in a distinct
and surprisingly consistent style of painting - bats, lizards, hummingbirds,
grasshoppers, deer, antelope, coyote, fish, water bugs and more. All
of the wildlife around them was depicted on their pottery with a very
sophisticated style of representation. Other pots depict mythological
figures, or figures involved in an action that probably is retelling
a tribal legend or supernatural event.
of these beautiful pots have been found hole. Most that have been recovered
were found at burial sites and have been punctured (to help the soul
escape) and then placed over the man or woman’s head for protection.
The implements of the potter – her tools – have only been found in the
burials of women, so scientists believe women were the pottery makers
in their society.
their Anasazi neighbors to the North, around 1200 AD the Anasazi culture
began to dissolve at these river drainage sites. They did not leave
en masse as the Anasazi did, but took their belongings with them and
slowly moved elsewhere.
caused the Mimbres to leave ?
studying the area have noticed that the Mimbres had depleted the forests
around them – possibly for firewood to cook food, and firewood to make
their pottery, or possibly to open more land for farming. With this
loss of forest, their food sources also changed. The deer who provided
such ample food and resources moved to other forests for shelter and
the Mimbres found only smaller wild game like rabbits and birds. The
loss of the forests also disturbed the soils and changed the wild foods
available – more weeds and less wild grains are found from the later
years of their village life. With this decline, the spectacular pottery
also declined and was no longer made with the quality and skill of their
peak pottery period.
learn from the Mimbres two important lessons. First, that the natural
world around us is the source of our nourishment and a source of inspiration
to create images and objects that honor nature’s beauty and mysteries.
And second, we can realize that protecting the forest as an essential
resource is very important to human society, and its loss causes a grave
imbalance than can destroy a people’s ability to survive in a few short