Project name: Casas Grandes
Location: Northern Chihuahua
Site type: Prehistoric settlement and trade center
Project directors: Timothy D. Maxwell, Rafael Cruz Antillón, Robert D. Leonard
The Archaeology of the Casas Grandes Region
The Casas Grandes region of northern Chihuahua holds evidence of perhaps the last great economic and political system in the prehistoric Southwest and northern Mexico. Since archaeologist Charles Di Peso excavated the prehistoric Casas Grandes town of Paquimé, the site has been interpreted as the nexus of a trade system bridging the great civilizations of Mesoamerica and the smaller Pueblo communities of the Southwest. Di Peso made much of the importance of the site—its political and economic subjugation of the region, its vast wealth, and its complex religious structure. However, Di Peso said next to nothing about the nature of the many sites surrounding the great town.
Since 1994 OAS has been working with the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia in the study of Paquime's surrounding settlements. From the Villa Ahumada site, long thought to be the easternmost Casas Grandes site, to Casas de Fuego, a small enigmatic residential site, the study is contributing new knowledge to our understanding of the Casas Grandes region.
Through the collaborations of a Mexican colleague, Rafael Cruz Antillón; former University of New Mexico professor Robert D. Leonard; and graduate students from the University of New Mexico, we have gained new insights into past settlement patterns and regional interaction. It appears that the Villa Ahumada site was not directly affiliated with Paquimé, though it was likely a trading partner. Large quantities of turquoise on sites in the Villa Ahumada area also suggest the existence of a turquoise trade route. At the Casas de Fuego site, archaeomagnetic dates indicate that abandonment of the region may have begun earlier than commonly thought.