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Long before the arrival of Europeans, the inhabitants of this region became relatively sedentary and built permanent structures of stone and mud. Examples of their architecture abound at locations such as Chaco Canyon in present day west-central New Mexico as well as Casa Grande, Arizona and Paquimé, Chihuahua. In the northern sections of the Southwest, where the Winters were colder, native people continued to live in permanent buildings, up to and after the arrival of the Spanish. The pueblos in northern New Mexico are examples of this type of settlement pattern and are currently inhabited by descendents of the original builders. In the more arid southern areas, by the time of the Spanish Entrada (entry), the people were less sedentary; and their shelters were often lightweight, built of thin members of wood and covered with brush, mud or animal hide. Historian, Bernard Fontana, writing about the native people of Southern Arizona and Northwest Sonora, Mexico, states,

"O'odham architecture, moreover, was a practical consideration in an arid land. Mesquite, grass, ribs of saguaro cacti, and similar plant materials were used in building structures. … To build them was not labor intensive and to give them up, either permanently or temporarily, caused no great sacrifice to individual or community. O'odham, who slept and cooked out of doors except in inclement weather, rested lightly upon their landscape."

Reconstructed building at Chaco Canyon, New Mexico [28K]
      O'odham structure [39K]

Reconstructed building at Chaco Canyon, New Mexico


O'odham structure (1894. William Dinwiddie). Courtesy of Special Collections, University of Arizona Library

Suggested readings:

Lister, Robert Hill, and Lister, Florence Cline. Those Who Came Before: Southwestern Archeology in the National Park System, 2nd ed., Tucson, Arizona: Southwest Parks & Monuments Association, 1994. SABIO RECORD

Nabakov, Peter, and Easton, Robert. Native American Architecture, New York: Oxford University Press, 1989. SABIO RECORD

Reid, J. Jefferson, and Whittlesey, Stephanie Michelle. Archaeology of Ancient Arizona, Tucson: University of Arizona Press, © 1997. SABIO RECORD

By the middle of the 17th century, substantial colonization by Spaniards had taken place along the upper Rio Grande drainage of northern New Mexico and in the Rio Sonora Valley of north central Sonora, Mexico. For these earlier settlers it was necessary to construct shelter from local materials, stone (piedra), mud (tierra), and wood (madera). The Spanish had learned how to make sun dried bricks (adobe) from the Arabs who had occupied parts of Spain for almost 800 years. While the Pre-Hispanic cultures of the Americas utilized mud in their constructions, arguably they did not process this type of brick unit that could be stacked in various linear configurations. Their earthen structures were puddled or molded in place by hand. The "Big House" at Casa Grande in southern Arizona and the magnificent complex at Paquimé in Chihuahua, Mexico are two examples of this puddling technique.

Pre-Hispanic ruins at Paquime, Chihuahua [19K]
Close-up at Piquime [29K]

Pre-Hispanic ruins at Paquimé, Chihuahua


Close up at Paquimé

View a QuickTimeVR panorama of Casas Grandes at Paquimé, Chihuahua