Sometime around 450 A.D. (at the beginning of what is called the Jornada Mogollon Tradition), a strong religious influence diffused to this region from Mesoamerica (Mexico and Central America), possibly through merchant traders searching for precious turquoise. They were followers of the cult of Quetzalcoatl. Quetzalcoatl took the form of a plumed serpent and incorporated the characteristics of a bird, serpent and jaguar, all of which were associated with the priesthood and ruling class as far back as 1500 B.C. in Mesoamerica.  The plumed and horned serpent appeared in southwest New Mexico at 1000–1150 CE, hen in the Jornada Mogollon (southern New Mexico) and the Casas Grandes region (Chihuahua) between ad 1200–1450, and finally along the upper Rio Grande (New Mexico) by ad 1325 (Schaafsma 2001: 142–143; figures 2a, 2b). The horned and feathered serpent of the Southwest is also closely tied to Venus, stars, and warfare.    

All these attributes of horned and feathered serpents are characteristic of the feathered serpent deity Quetzalcoatl, a being who is of much greater antiquity in Mesoamerica. For example, portrayals of feathered serpents date from the Formative-period Olmec culture through the present day (Taube 2001). A number of scholars generally accept the historical connection between the horned and feathered serpent of the Southwest and northern Mexico and the Mesoamerican feathered serpent Quetzalcoatl (for example, Crown 1994: 166; McGuire 2011: 43; Mills and Ferguson 2008; Taube 2001). The identification of imagery of the feathered serpent and Quetzalcoatl-related motifs in the art of the earlier and then largely contemporaneous Aztatlán culture (ad 900–1350) of west Mexico, where southwestern people likely obtained these ideas, has helped substantiate the Mesoamerican origins of this southwestern being (Mathiowetz 2011: 365–76; figure 2c). . In Mesoamerica the feathered serpent Quetzalcoatl is closely linked to breath, clouds, the return of the rains, gusts of wind accompanying oncoming rainstorms, and the rain deity Tlaloc (Taube 2001). Art from Classic-period Teotihuacan shows the maw of the feathered serpent conveying Tlaloc. Similar scenes involving the analogous Maya rain deity Chaak and the feathered serpent are present at the Classic period Maya site of Uxmal. Even among the Contact-period Aztec, the winds of the feathered serpent ushered in the rain god Tlaloc (Taube 2001: 110–111). 

Rock art depicting a Horned Serpent, at Pony Hills and Cook’s Peak, New Mexico

Tie-snakes on a Mississippiansandstone plate from the Moundville Archaeological Site

Jay Sharpe writes about the Plumed Serpent in Rock Art

The Plumed Serpent The plumed serpent, portrayed with a feathered crest and sometimes with either a wolf-like or a hooked nose, symbolized Quetzalcoatl, a deity who emerged among the great city states of Mesoamerica in southern Mexico and northern Central America some 2,000 years ago. His depictions, names, character, religious roles and spiritual associations evolved and changed among cultures and through time. In many incarnations, however, Quetzalcoatl was a benevolent god born of a virgin mother. He rescued humankind from the netherworld by dripping his blood onto the bones of men, women and children, giving them renewed life. According to the Aztec Gods & Goddesses Internet site, “He taught men science and the calendar and devised ceremonies. He discovered corn, and all good aspects of civilization. Quetzalcoatl is a perfect representation of saintliness.” Lord of hope, healing and the planet Venus, he glorified learning, arts, poetry and thought—“all things good and beautiful.”  Presided over by the planet Venus – the sacred evening and morning star – Quetzalcoatl’s priests beat their drums at twilight and dawn to separate daylight and darkness. His plumed serpent symbol represents a visualization of the name, Quetzalcoatl, which combines the terms for the quetzal bird, and the coatl, the mythical serpent of storm clouds and lightning. His symbol and its derivatives, which appear on the rock art and ceramics of the prehistoric Southwestern desert, signify the extent of his spiritual reach outward from Mesoamerica. As it moved northward, his imprint varied with time, distance and cultural differences, apparently evolving from images of true plumed serpents to plumed and horned serpents to horned serpents (some with the horn pointing forwards over the head, others with the horn pointing backwards away from the head). 

As suggested by Dr. Kay Sutherland, an authority on Mesoamerican and Southwestern art, his image’s evolution from plumed to horned serpent may have represented his transformation from a deity of Mesoamerican city states to a deity of desert hunting peoples.

Plumed Serpent Rock Art



“The Venus Symbol in Southwest Rock Art”

The Maya symbol for Venus (Lamat) In 1996, the great John B. Carlson wrote a paper titled “Transformations of the Mesoamerican Turtle Carapace War Shield, A Study in Ethnoastronomy”, that looked at war shields from Mesoamerica and the American Southwest. A common subject for the decoration of these symbols of conflict was the crucifix representing the planet Venus. From Late Formative times in Mesoamerica, the planet Venus was viewed as a powerful male god of warfare and sacrifice. Carlson realized that Mesoamericans fought wars on the cycles of the planet. This Venus-regulated warfare and sacrifice theme comes from various inscriptions and iconography, from Spanish chronicles and ethnohistorical sources, and from Pre-Columbian codices. Carlson noted a frequent portrayal of a turtle carapace used by a god or important person as a shield. Here is a turtle carapace decorated with the Maya Lamat Venus glyph. The war shield as the celestial symbol of Venus.

The planet Venus was viewed as a powerful male god of warfare and sacrifice whose rays were feared as deadly spears, particularly when the planet appeared in the east before sunrise as Morning Star or in the west after sunset as Evening Star. Nahua and Uto-Aztecan-speaking peoples may well have been the principal cultural agents who carried this cult of warfare and sacrifice north into the American Southwest and perhaps also into the Plains and Southeast. From 900 CE in West Mexico, to 1200 CE in Northwest Mexico in the Casas Grandes region, and by 1300 CE in the American Southwest, the Venus symbolism spread. Among these changes in the American Southwest is the dramatic florescence of Morning Star and warfare-related symbolism in Pueblo rock art and kiva murals. 

(Red Rocks, Arizona) In the art and iconography of Mesoamerica, the depiction of plumed serpents in association with stars is widely interpreted as representing portrayals of Quetzalcoatl in his guise as the Morning Star, both being closely related to the dawn and the eastern directional point.

The Casas Grandes Cultural complex conveyed Mesoamerican related themes from the site of Paquime in Chihuahua including the transmission of a Mesoamerican-derived Morning Star warfare complex to the American Southwest. Ball courts, horned serpent imagery, and the cross-shaped architectural features at the Mound of the Cross all suggest possible manifestations of and links to the Quetzalcoatl-Venus complex.

(The Venus Symbol related Mound of the Cross at Paquime) The symbol of the outlined cross is commonly identified as a representation of Venus. In Mesoamerica it symbolized Quetzalcoatl in his aspect of the morning star and indeed the Mayan glyph for the planet Venus includes an outlined cross. The rising of the Morning Star of Venus is symbolic of the rising of the creator from death to rebirth. The very same relationship exists between the Morning Venus and multi- named Native American creator gods. Mesoamerica researchers have been successful in identifying several Venus Star symbols which were used by the Maya, Toltec, and Aztec cultures to identify the Creator One of the symbols used by these cultures to identify the rebirth of the creator Quetzalcoatl is an outlined cross. the Aztec creation god after being on earth, became a sky god who is seen in the Mexican iconographic system in both anthropomorphic and serpent form, and he is also symbolized by the Morning Star, often in the form of an outlined cross”

This same interpretation of a similar Venus star is traceable back to Mesoamerica and the death and rebirth of Quetzalcoatl, the Sky God of Creation. In some of the legends of the ancestors of the Aztec, Quetzalcoatl is represented by the Morning Star, while his twin brother Xolotl is represented by the Evening Star. Together they symbolize the passage of Venus into the underworld in the evening, and then its emergence again into the Eastern sky in the morning. Below is a clear illustration of Quetzalcoatl’s influence in the SW in the photo below, a serpent becoming Venus; with a second Venus star (death-rebirth/spiritual); a pregnant (earthly/physical) lizard; and an anthropomorph wearing New Fire Ceremony headgear.

(Red Rock, Arizona) Taube, Schaafsma and Taube makes the convincing argument that the association of Quetzalcoatl as Morning Star in Postclassic Mesoamerica is associated with the east, the rising sun, as well as with rain-bringing winds of the gulf linking Venus to rain and agricultural fertility. In addition researchers present evidence that warfare and the taking of captives destined for sacrifice among the Maya was coordinated with the movements of Venus (Carlson, Lounsbury, Milbrath, Schele and Freidel. The Mesoamerican Venus was connected to a war/fertility complex that goes back to Teotihuacan (Carlson). In Mexico Tlaloc-Venus warfare was the means by which blood offerings were transformed into water through the capture of prisoners for ritual sacrifice. Carlson asks the question of whether the association between Venus, rain, maize, and fertility is rooted in the ancient mythic/cultural tradition of the transformation of blood into water via Venus-linked war and sacrifice, or whether where is an astronomical/calendrical basis for these beliefs – or both? In general, in Mesoamerica and in the cosmologies of West Mexico and the American Southwest, stars are feared, regarded as dangerous, and their association with conflict is pervasive. Morning Star is often perceived as the Sun‘s warrior, defeating darkness as it rises, and both the Sun and Morning Star are implicated in sacrificial rites that, in turn, serve to maintain cosmic balance.

Below is a slide show of this symbolism in Mesoamerica and the Southwest; Venus in Southwest Rock Art


The Problems of Claiming Pre-Clovis Proof Based on only Stone Tools

An archaeological team, excavating at Chiquihuite Cave in northern Mexico, have found evidence of a human presence in that cave dating back to 30,000 years ago. They took 46 radio-carbon dates from sediment, animal bones, and charcoal on 1,930 stone artifacts and found that 239 of these artifacts dated to 33,000 years ago. And they claimed these artifacts were made by humans. This story spread across news sites like wildfire, and most of the news sites billed this as a true revolutionary Pre-Clovis find. The team published their research in the journal Nature, thus garnering more attention.

But these stories and the claims made by the team quickly came under much closer scrutiny quickly. When claims like this are presented, archaeological science takes over. At this point, the best archaeologists in the field begin to look very closely at the proofs presented. In this case, a whole group of expert archeologists like Vance Holliday at the University of Arizona, David Meltzer at Southern Methodist University, Loren Davis at Oregon State University and a host of others began to speak about their skepticism about this claim and why.

Here are the major critiques they made;

1) They do not see in the proofs presented in the research any convincing proof that these stone artifacts were actually made by humans. The presenters have to show the stones they see as made by humans are not natural but man made. One rock hitting another rock and breaking that rock into pieces can produce shards that look like man made tools. The artifacts in question have all been from very rocky places in the cave which supports a natural hypothesis.

2) The artifact styles do not change over 30,000 years which is suspicious when in all other areas of ancient human occupation styles evolve, and why are these artifacts that are supposedly 30,000 years old not seen anywhere in the area outside of this cave? Something this old would spread over time to at least nearby sites. All the supposed “tools” look the same. No evidence that there was use of local and non-local stone of varying quality is found at this site. And this area is rich in other kinds of stones that do not appear at this site. That dynamic is missing.

3) Humans living in one spot, a cave, for that long would leave behind evidence like hearths and butchered animals, and many other human proofs. How can it be that humans using the same cave for 30,000 years leave no trace of human DNA. The chances of that are astronomically small.

I write this article to point out the problems of positing a Pre-Clovis find based only on stone “tools” with no supporting evidence. As you can see from the critiques from the experts, this find is far from proven and looks very shaky. The news media should not sensationalize claims like this without consulting with others in the field first and moderating their coverage.

When the first posited proven Pre-Clovis find at Monte Verde was published, it took the team leader at the site, Tom Dillehay, 20 years to prove his case. Archaeological science is a tough, precise field where very definitive proofs have to be tested before they can be proven.


In my first article in a series on Mesoamerican rock art themes in the Ancient Southwest, I will cover the importance of the Mesoamerican Rain God Tlaloc in the rock art of the Southwest. There are many Mesoamerican motifs found in Southwest rock art, among them, the rain god, the plumed serpent, the outlined cross, the thunderbird, the Hero Twins. Rock art associated with this iconography appears in all of the cultures of the Southwest; The Ancestral Puebloan people, Salado, Hohokam, Mogollon, Mimbres cultures among them.

Most of this Mesoamerican related rock art was created between 600-1200 CE. A time period in the Southwest where long distance trade routes were being developed and expanded deep into Mesoamerica to the south. Long distance scarlet macaw trade into the Southwest, stretched 1000 miles into Mesoamerica all the way to the Gulf Coast jungles.

There are two forms of rock art found in the Southwest, Pictograph Art is art that has been painted on a flat rock surface, Using hematite or ocher for red, kaolin or gypsum for white, charcoal for black – with a base of plant and animal oils, created colored pigments. The paint was then applied with brushes made out of animal hair or yucca leaf fibers, or smeared on with fingers. Petroglyphs are rock carvings made by pecking directly on the rock surface using a stone chisel and a hammerstone. When the desert varnish (or patina) on the surface of the rock was chipped off, the lighter rock underneath was exposed, creating the petroglyph.

In Mesoamerica, Tlaloc is the god of rain and thunder, fertility, caves, springs and mountains. He is depicted with goggle eyes and fangs. If angered, he inflicted destructive storms, hurled thunderous lightning bolts, and imposed disastrous drought.

In Mesoamerica, mountains were containers of water and were the home of Tlaloc. They generated clouds and underground water. Pyramids were symbolic mountains. The Hohokam culture platform mounds are associated with rain priests, similar to the rain priests in Mesoamerica.

The Tlaloc images on rock art typically depict an anthropomorph with large eyes, presumed to represent the goggles worn by the Storm God in Mesoamerican examples, and these are typically associated with a trapezoidal or rectangular body. The relation of “Tlaloc” imagery in the Southwest to storms and rain is found in associated symbols such as lightning and the stepped fret (terrace), which is considered to represent clouds 

Tlaloc was characterized by goggle eyes and a blunt, rectilinear body with no arms or legs. The Tlaloc figure fused with the trapezoidal spearpoint-shaped body of Archaic hunter art, a natural fusion because both concepts were associated with masculine forces (hunting and the destructive part of rain). Along with examples of Quetzalcoatl and Tlaloc at Hueco Tanks, there are many symbols associated with water, crucial to planting corn in the desert.

The most common of these are the “step-fret” or “step wedge” designs representing flowing water, energy and lightning.

The gallery of rock art Hueco Tanks were drawn by settled agriculturists of the Jornada Mogollon Tradition. Their religion centered around the desire for and control of rain essential to the growth of crops. One can see water symbolism in many paintings, such as the rain altar, which consist of two lightning symbols coming together and the step-fret designs on the Tlaloc figures. Representations of this deity show the dualism of celestial abundance, represented by water from the sky, and terrestrial abundance, represented by water stored underground.

At Hueco Tanks, Mesoamerican gods, many of whom manifested different aspects of the same elements, combined with the earlier animistic concepts of the desert Archaic peoples to create a new religious force, manifesting itself in a religion of masked spirit beings that evolved into the Kachina cult in later centuries and rituals that are part of this cult continue today among the Southwest Native Americans

The Rain God in the Southwest


New Ancient Americas Archaeological Discoveries and the Critiques

   Recently, I posted the news of an amazing discovery of ancient rock art found in the Colombian Amazon. You can see the post here: 


   And as soon as I posted the story, the critiques came pouring in. The critiques were centered on these observations:
   1) It is impossible to date rock art so the 10,500 BCE date cannot be correct.
   2) The Peruvian team were not the first researchers to see this rock art; indigenous people had already seen it.
   3) The rock art site was seen by researchers decades ago.
   4) The site is not as long as the new researchers say since there are gaps in the paintings.
   5) There are much newer rock art depictions at the site which bring us right up to post-colonial times.

   New and striking archaeological discoveries need critiques to point out possible errors in the description of the discovery and even the scientific basis behind the claims made by researchers. As an example, when the first scientifically verified Pre-Clovis site was found at the site of Monte Verde in Chile, critiques from the archaeological community flooded the archaeological world. The Clovis First community would not accept that their theories of the First Americans could be challenged. Others pointed out discrepancies in the proofs made by the research team led by Tom Dillahey. It took 20 years to verify the discovery after many international teams went to visit the site over many years to try to disprove the Pre-Clovis dates at Monte Verde, and finally, the Clovis First idea was proven wrong.

   In the article, it states that the research team dated the paintings by finding the remains of human meals at the site which included the remains of extinct animals dating back to 10,500 BCE. So those stating you cannot date rock art did not read the article that closely.

   Of course indigenous peoples in the Americas saw these paintings first, just as they saw all the pyramids first, later found by modern researchers. The team did not say that indigenous people were unaware of these paintings.
   Yes, researchers saw these paintings decades ago but no research papers were published as a result. This team are the first to do so.
   Yes, there are gaps in the paintings. The researchers did not say there were not.
   Yes, there are much newer rock art paintings contained in these murals. And again, the researchers did not say there were not.
   But the new research found the remains of human consumed meals dating back to 10,500 BCE, and they pointed out that some of the paintings are so high, humans could not reach them without some device. And they found these wooden tower murals which explain how these ancient peoples reached those heights for their paintings. This is ground-breaking.

   So often modern critiques are based on a misreading of the reports and biased assumptions that needlessly criticize new findings with critiques that are simply not valid.

   The real critiques will come from the professional community when the team publishes their research. And those critiques will be made and answered, which is important in the scientific method.


The Enigma of the T-Shaped Doors in Southwest

If you have been to Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon, you have seen many T-shaped doors at that site. What they represent and why they were designed that way is still a mystery in Ancient Southwest studies today. The foremost expert on this phenomenon is Steve Lekson, Professor Emeritus at the University of Colorado. The T-shaped doors phenomenon stretches from Chaco Canyon to Aztec Ruins and Mesa Verde 160 miles north of Chaco, and all the way south to Chihuahua, Mexico, 700 miles south, and into the high cliffs of the Sierra Madre north of the site of Paquime in Chihuahua.

The first T-shaped doors constructed at Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico were built between 850-1125 CE. The Chacoan complex disintegrated and the next construction of T-shaped doors appeared at Mesa Verde and Aztec Ruins 160 miles to the north, constructed between 1110-1275 CE. The last set of T-shaped doors were constructed 700 miles south at the site of Paquime between 1250-1450 CE, and high up in cliff houses in the Sierra Madre in the same time period.

Steve Lekson has written about a concept he calls the Chaco Meridian to explain these time periods. The Chacoan complex population emptied out at around 1125 CE. North for 160 miles, there is a florescence of big construction including T-shaped doors at Aztec Ruins and Mesa Verde starting at the time Chaco was depopulated. Construction techniques including the T-shaped doors were similar to Chaco. In 1275, that complex collapsed and 700 miles to the south at the large site of Paquime, T-shaped doors appear again from 1280-1450 CE. And there are more T-shaped doors there – hundreds appear there. Lekson can show with his Chaco Meridian theory that if you walk directly south from Aztec ruins to Paquime, it is a very straight line just as it is from Chaco to Aztec. So large populations from these three areas walked in straight lines between one complex to the other over 150 years.

The T-shaped doors at Chaco are found only in the Great Houses at Chaco in prominent exterior places looking out over plazas. When new construction took place at Aztec and Mesa Verde, a democratization of the doors took place. They then appear in big houses and smaller houses as well, and some are interior doors rather than all being exterior doors. At Paquime in the last phase, they become universal.
In the cliff sites of the Sierra Madre at the same time, there is room for one T-shaped door in these cliffside spaces. In some, murals of the serpent are painted around the doors. Murals of these serpents have been found at the sites to the north. There are also a few cave drawings in this general area of these T-shaped doors. And at Mesa Verde, mugs have been found with the T-shape carved into the ancient cups. At Paquime, there are T-shaped smaller altars that are portable.

So What Do They Mean?
Obviously, the doors mean something socially. The early construction was at Great Houses only at Chaco. So they were meant only for the elite. So they are socially important. But then they became democratized at phase 2 and 3. So the elite were not the only ones that could make these doors for their abodes, perhaps indicating a change in political and/or religious structure. But beyond that, we find the serpent murals surrounding these doors in some places, and the T-shaped portable altars and in ceramic mugs. So the meaning behind this shape has to still come into view.

A Maya Origin?
And finally, the newest research being done in this shape comes into view far to the southwest at the Maya site of Palenque in Chiapas, Mexico by archaeologist Mark Callis. There are several T-shaped windows found there dating to 600 CE that certainly look like the same T-shape from the southwest. Callis believes this is related to the God of wind, spirit and water,  reminiscent of the plumed serpent. Wind and water would be important at the Ancient Southwest sites as well.

So here is a new piece of the puzzle that I do not have space to discuss now. I have created a photo album for you so you can see all that I have talked about here 


Who Built Serpent Mound

The phenomenal archaeological site of Serpent Mound in Ohio has been the subject of a growing recent controversy among Midwest archaeologists as to who built Serpent Mound and when.

There are two important cultures in ancient times in the area, the Adena culture and the Fort Ancient culture. The Adena culture spanned 1000 BCE-100 CE and lived in the area of the site then, while the Fort Ancient culture lived there from 1000-1650 CE, a thousand years later.

The Adena lived in what is now Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Kentucky, and surrounding areas. They created elaborate earthworks, including sacred circles, as well as mounds. So they were capable of constructing this huge effigy.

The Fort Ancient people were a farming culture, and many believe they introduced maize farming to the area. They were also mound builders. They constructed low, plateau-like mounds used to defend their villages or as ceremonial places. Some are thought to have been used to record solstices and other important astronomical events. So some of the signatures of the effigy match Fort Ancient iconography and build.

Serpent Mound is the largest effigy mound in the world, stretching 1,348 feet, built from thick layers of ash and clay anchored by rocks over the top, and then a thick layer of soil over the stones so that grass and vegetation could cover it. It was built in the shape of a serpent with its head directly aligned with the setting sun on the summer solstice. It is built at the edge of a four mile wide meteor crater.

The controversy centers on the construction dates for the effigy mound. Those believing it was constructed by the Fort Ancient culture believe it was built at 1070 CE. The other group of archaeologists believe it was constructed by the Adena culture at 320 BCE. There are three burial mounds adjoining the serpent, one Adena and two Fort Ancient and a Fort Ancient village. The largest group have a large number of radio-carbon dates from the mound and surrounding areas indicating that the Fort Ancient culture built the effigy mound. They also have Mississippian related dates and iconography contemporaneous with the Fort Ancient culture showing similarities in the serpent style.

The team believing the much earlier Adena culture built Serpent Mound have recent radio-carbon dates in the mound itself dated to the Adena culture, but these findings are questioned.

The head of the giant serpent is constructed in a U-shape looking like it is ingesting an egg. The serpent has seven coils which may align with the phases of the moon. Since the head aligns with the sun on the summer solstice and the body could represent phases of the moon, this structure combines both solar and lunar alignments.

The Fort Ancient adherents base part of their proof on the art and iconography of the Mississippian Civilization to the east. They look to Picture Cave in Missouri for the Fort Ancient design styles of the serpent. Radio-carbon dates from Picture Cave match radio-carbon dates taken at Serpent Mound. Immigrants from the Mississippian Civilization were making their way into Ohio to escape severe droughts at that time. They would have brought with them Mississippian religious ideas. One of the main ideas would have been the idea of a great serpent, Lord of the Beneath World, who would help in productive harvests. The intertwining of the Great Earth Goddess with the serpent in the Mississippian world is a constant theme. And there is a cave painting at Picture Cave (which I was able to find after a lot of research) showing a serpent figure with the head shaped in a U-shape just like the head of the serpent at Serpent Mound. There is also the Mississippian chunky ball game where the round chunky stone is associated with the sun, which may have something to do with the head of the serpent swallowing a round object representing the sun.

Both cultures would have seen eclipses of the sun, so the head of the serpent swallowing a round object may be a religious depiction of those events in the iconography of the serpent swallowing the sun.

After having done extensive research for this article, I strongly believe Serpent Mound was built by the Fort Ancient culture. Finding the Picture Cave, Missouri coiled serpent cave painting with the U-shaped mouth which was contemporaneous with the Serpent Mound construction, and with Mississippians entering that area at the same time, it is pretty certain the builders are Fort Ancient – despite the serpent burials and an Adena artifact you can view in the slide show I created for this article: 


Chocolate Trade Between the Ancient Southwest and Mesoamerica

Trade between Mesoamerica and the Ancient Southwest in macaws, parrot feathers, copper bells, turquoise, turkeys, pottery was well known to archaeologists for some time.  

Only recently have we become aware of the large chocolate trade between Mesoamerica and the Southwest from the 9th Century on.

Researcher Patricia Crown had seen cylindrical vessels at Maya sites that previous researchers discovered contained chocolate. Using sophisticated new technology, the chemical building blocks of chocolate, theobromine and caffeine, were found in these vessels.

In 2009, Patricia Crown was looking at cylindrical vessels that looked like the ones she saw at Maya sites at the Ancestral Pueblo site of Pueblo Bonito. She saw these vessels contained pigment decoration that was applied in the same manner as the Maya used in decorating their vessels. She then ascertained that these vessels may also contain the chemical proof of chocolate. So she and her team analyzed the vessels in the lab.

In Room 28, at the Site of Pueblo Bonito, she found layers of these types of jars, and with further digging, found an astounding 200,000 ceramic items. She sorted out the ones that came from the cylindrical type and had them tested for theobromine and caffeine. Sure enough, the tests came back positive, and we now know that the Ancient Puebloans were trading for chocolate grown 1,200 miles to the south in Mesoamerica. These date to 1000 CE.

The Mesoamericans were drinking chocolate as a valuable beverage going back at least 3,500 years. They were using chocolate beans as currency. And we have recently found that they were using chocolate as a means of payment for work and services.

Further studies in smaller housing units in Mesoamerica, where poorer people lived, contain those cylindrical vessels that have tested for the presence of chocolate. So chocolate was a huge commodity in the Mesoamerican economy.

Patricia Crown followed up on these studies and did the same research on these vessels in smaller units in the Chaco Canyon, close to Pueblo Bonito and further afield, and found the same phenomena. Poorer folks had access to chocolate, probably as payment for services.

The Chaco culture had its florescence from 850-1150 CE. So chocolate was finding its way to the Chaco culture from Mesoamerica as early as 1000 CE, as we know from dating the Chaco vessels.

Then came the huge surprise, still a mystery. Dorothy Washburn, from the University of Pennsylvania, tested shallow “Abajo Red on Orange” bowls at the site of Alkali Ridge, far to the north of Chaco in Utah. And to her surprise, they contained theobromine and caffeine – in other words – chocolate!

The folks at Alkali Ridge were an extension of the Ancient Puebloan culture far to the south, and these Red on Orange bowls were different from the usual pottery found in the area. And they date to 780 CE, a full two centuries before chocolate at Pueblo Bonito.

This is an astounding find for many reasons. How did this happen? Why is this so much further north from Mesoamerica and yet the dates are 200 years earlier than the Chaco Culture dates? Why have there been no finds of chocolate between this Utah site and the New Mexico sites on the way to Utah? How did it arrive there? Who transported it? Mysteries now abound.

New and Dynamic Research on the Peopling of the Caribbean

Previous non-genetic studies of the ancient settlers of the Caribbean Islands pointed to perhaps a single immigration of the Caribbean by people from either Central or South America. Since earlier research depended on non-genetic study of artifacts like tools, pottery, bone and shell fragments, these studies did not have the advantage of the more sophisticated genetic and DNA analysis. Now these techniques have been applied to this question for the first time, and the results are far reaching and dynamic in answering the questions of who the first Caribbean peoples were.

Two new studies using advanced genetics in Copenhagen, Leiden, and Harvard Medical School have been published recently in the journal Nature, and in the journal Science. While both papers differ in only one important aspect which I will discuss, both have reached the same overall conclusions independent of each other.

The two groups of researchers studied the genomes of 263 individuals. The genomes researched were of people in the Caribbean and Venezuela. The genome study revealed that the Caribbean was populated in two waves from Venezuela and Central America, and the first wave came into the Caribbean 3,100 years before the second wave. They extracted DNA from the bone protecting the inner ears of these individuals since the humid weather decayed the rest of the DNA in their systems.

The first people to enter the Caribbean were a stone tool using tribe that entered Cuba 6,000 years ago and expanded eastward to other islands, probably originating in Belize because their artifacts look like Belize artifacts.

The second wave entered 2,500-3,000 years ago and were farmers and potters related to the Arawak of northeast South America who traveled to the Venezuelan coast and then to Puerto Rico and westward starting in what is called the Ceramic Age.

Traces of the oldest inhabitants from the first wave can be found in western Cuba. These two groups rarely mixed, the genetic record shows. The settlers spread to some 700 islands in the Caribbean. And although European diseases and conquest wiped out the small populations on these islands, researchers found 4% of their genes in Cuba, 6% in the Dominican Republic and 14% in Puerto Rico.

The researchers who published their paper in Science found genetic traces of Channel Islanders off the coast of California, which has a record of settlement going far back in history to at least 12,000 years ago. They would have traveled south in the Pacific and then their tribe would have traversed Venezuela to the Caribbean.

The group that published their paper in Nature did not find these genetic materials. The full Nature research paper is published online for free here: <https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-03053-2>.  The dense genetic science in that paper gives you an idea how complex these genetic studies are.

So just with the publication of these papers recently, we now have a much more complete and detailed history of the first migrations into the Caribbean and exactly who these people were over time. We see that the migrants were a mosaic of cultures spreading out over 1,000,000 square miles and 700 islands going back 6,000 years or maybe even earlier; the genetic research continues using lab equipment that only those who study in Eurasia had before.

There are sixteen archaeological sites in Cuba, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Guadeloupe, and St. Lucia — classified as ‘Archaic’ or ‘Ceramic.’  The later Arawak-related people settled in the Bahamas, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Guadeloupe, St. Lucia, Curaçao, and Venezuela.

Some archaeologists pointed to dramatic shifts in Caribbean pottery styles as evidence of new migrations.  But the Caribbean DNA study shows all of the styles were created by one group of people over time.  Pictured: These effigy vessels belong to the Saladoid pottery type, ornate and difficult to shape. Source: Corinne Hofman and Menno Hoogland/Florida Museum of Natural History

Ancient Southwest Hohokam Ball Courts

The Hohokam settled in desert territory in present day Arizona 2,500 years ago, growing corn, beans, squash, cotton, putting 70,000 acres under cultivation in the desert, building a huge and sophisticated irrigation system that yielded 2 harvests a year.

Starting at 600 CE, the colonial period began in the ancient Southwest as extensive trade began with Mesoamerica to the south. Copper bells, Scarlet Macaws, pyrite mirrors, cacao beans, Mesoamerica religious ideas, construction techniques, social ideas entered the southwest. And one of the ideas was the ball game. The Hohokam began to build ball courts between 700-1100 CE across the Hohokam homeland over 22,000 square miles. So far, 220 of these ball courts at 181 sites have been found in the Hohokam area. Ball courts stretched from present day Flagstaff to northwestern Mexico border areas. There are courts near present day Phoenix and Tucson.

The game itself diverged from the Mesoamerican model right away. The Mesoamerican courts were built of stone and in an I-Shape. The Hohokam courts were round and oblong and constructed of dirt dug up to make 6 foot high walls, and nine feet deep. Some of these courts reached 250 feet in length and 100 feet wide. Some 500 Spectators sat on the dirt walls to  watch the game. A lack of stone in the desert would lead to the walls being made of dirt.

We know this much for certain. But mystery surrounds the game itself. We do not know the rules of the game. We do not know how many players on the team. We do not understand the relationship of the balls used to play the game to the game itself. In Mesoamerica, they used rubber balls to play the game with hoops on the side of the walls to score.. There are no hoops on the Hohokam courts. And only 2 rubber balls emanating from Mesoamerica have been found at these 220 ball courts.There are a larger number of stone balls. Heavy and unwieldy. What look like ball game paddles have been found made of stone, but they do not look sturdy enough to hit these very heavy stone balls. So even that part of the Hohokam game is a mystery.

Archaeologists theorize folks from a wide array of villages would gather at trade fairs and religious events and the ball game would be played at very complex courts for these occasions. There could have been local teams, and the sport would tie the villages together. Perhaps disputes would be resolved through the game. Pottery and other goods would be sold on market days tied to the games. Some of the courts have a ritual orientation, so perhaps the games were played on a ceremonial calendar.

Around 1100, ball courts were no longer built and ceremonial mounds replaced them. We do not know why. Perhaps a religious change.

I have seen reports of Hohokam ball player figurines and Hohokam ball player rock art but in the over 100 articles and research papers I studied for the article, no one has posted pictures of this art. And the figurines would tell us something about the game. Like the topic of the enigma of T-shaped doors in the ancient Southwest and Mexico, which was a huge phenomena, very little is really known for certain about the Hohokam ball courts and game, despite the 220 courts that have been found.

I have created a photo gallery for you on the fascinating archaeology of the ball game. And again, like the dearth of substantial research on the topic, even putting together a photo gallery as a task, was not easy.

Hohokam Ball Courts