Community reorganization in the southern zone of the Casas Grandes culture area of Chihuahua, Mexico

Karin Burd Larkin
Dept. of Anthropology, University of Colorado at Boulder
July, 2006


This research examines local responses to the pan regional phenomenon of cultural reorganization during the 13th century in the Casas Grandes culture area. Between AD 1150 and 1300, inhabitants throughout the culture area witnessed a dramatic transformation in social organization. Alterations in community layout, site distribution, architectural styles, and material culture strongly suggest shifting economic ties, new religious/political ideologies and/or changing community identities. This social reorganization resulted in increased socio-political complexity and changing community organization. Previous models explaining reorganization in the Casas Grandes culture area have either discounted the cultural historical trajectory of the period leading to these changes, or ignored macro-regional patterns that could have significantly impacted the local population. The end of the 13th through the 15th centuries was a period of mass migration and reorganization throughout the Greater Southwest. Unfortunately, these macro-regional patterns have not been taken into account in previous explanations for the Casas Grandes culture area. In addition, all previous explanations for culture change have focused on explaining this reorganization from the perspective of the largest and most spectacular site in the region, Paquimé. This research was designed to fill in gaps in archaeological understanding of social and community reorganization by investigating the dynamics of culture change and its affects on local and regional community and tradition. I use the concepts of community, memory, and tradition to study how reorganization affected communities at different scales. I examine changes in ceramic technology and decoration to understand the dynamic tension involved in the social reorganization of the 13th century. By looking at changes in hidden and visible attributes on ceramics from the Casas Grandes culture area, I identify cultural continuity and discontinuity in the ceramic traditions over time in different community networks at different scales. This research demonstrates that local traditions played a vital role in mediating social changes during reorganization in the Casas Grandes culture area and that different communities were affected in different ways. Reorganization is not a standardized process that can sweepingly cover a large geographic scale. Even though reorganization happened over large areas at roughly the same time, change was manifest differentially in various regions depending on local history and tradition.