Anasazi (Ancestral Pueblo)
Late Pueblo III Period–Early Pueblo IV Period
Showlow Ruin, AZ P:12:3(ASM), East-Central Arizona
Scale relative to a human hand
Length: 7.5 in. (18.9 cm.), Width: 3.9 in. (9.8 cm.), Height: 2.4 in.(5.9 cm.)
Gift of Gila Pueblo Archaeological Foundation, 1950
(ASM Catalog No. GP6788)
Text by Patrick Lyons, Head of Collections
May 7, 2010
This is a fired clay model (effigy) of an ancient, cone-shaped carrying basket with three painted pottery jars stacked inside. The loop between the two lower jars represents a strap used in loading and securing the basket’s contents. Other straps, not depicted on this object, would go around the carrier’s shoulders, like those of a modern backpack. The half-circle of clay bearing squiggled lines that juts out below the jars is meant to represent a tumpline—a strap that ran across the carrier’s forehead, helping to support and to stabilize the basket.
This rare object was made by immigrants from the Kayenta region of far northern Arizona or southern Utah who moved to the area around what is now Show Low, in east-central Arizona, more than 700 years ago. Similar items have been found dating as early as 600 C.E. in northern Arizona. The use of this particular artifact is uncertain, as there is no record of where in the site or with what other things it was found. Archaeologists believe that similar objects were used by ancient women for ritual purposes. Some have been found in burned houses alongside human figurines made of clay and elaborately decorated, full-size sandals and menstrual aprons.*
This object was excavated from the Showlow Ruin (Holbrook:12:2[GP]; AZ P:12:3[ASM]) by a member of the Whipple family, who owned the site. The artifact was then sold to a person identified in collections records only as “L. Jennings.” Gila Pueblo Archaeological Foundation then bought the object from Jennings in 1928, adding it to their collections for the purpose of research.
Prehispanic objects are no longer purchased by most museums as this practice encourages the looting of archaeological sites and contributes to the loss of irretrievable information about the past. When Gila Pueblo Archaeological Foundation dissolved, in 1950, all of its collections—including this object—were donated to the Arizona State Museum (ASM).
Examples of clay burden basket effigies have been found at Pueblo Bonito and Pueblo del Arroyo—both of which are Great Houses in Chaco Canyon, northwestern New Mexico—and Broken Flute Cave and other Basketmaker caves in northeastern Arizona. Another has been recovered from an unknown site in Chaco Canyon, and two were found in the vicinity of Houck, in northeastern Arizona. One of the effigies from Pueblo Bonito, the specimen from the unknown site in Chaco Canyon, and those from Houck each bear a single miniature pottery jar on top. Most examples of this form, however, do not have attached vessels.
Besides the example from Showlow Ruin, which dates to the late 1200's or early 1300's C.E., ASM curates very early specimens, lacking attached vessels, from the Prayer Rock District of northeastern Arizona. These early specimens most likely date to the period between 600 and 700 C.E., indicating that the traditions associated with these objects were long-lived.
This object is most interesting to me, an archaeologist who studies ancient migrations, because it is a clue marking the movement of people. Such migrations created the ethnically diverse late prehispanic communities that were directly ancestral to the Pueblo Indians who live in the region today.
* Menstrual aprons are thong-like woven garments stained with traces of menstrual blood.
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Byers, Douglas S., and Noel Morss
- 1957 Unfired Clay Objects from Waterfall Ruin, Northeastern Arizona. American Antiquity23(1):81-83.
Chapman, Kenneth M.
- 1966 Three Ceremonial Objects. El Palacio 73(3):31.
Guernsey, Samuel J.
- 1931 Explorations in Northeastern Arizona: Report on the Archaeological Fieldwork of 1920–1923. Papers of the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology, Vol. XXII(1). Harvard University, Cambridge.
Haury, Emil W., and Lyndon L. Hargrave
- 1931 Recently Dated Pueblo Ruins in Arizona. Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections 82(11).Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
Judd, Neil M.
- 1954 Material Culture of Pueblo Bonito. Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, Volume 124. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
See pages 316-320, Plate 88, and Figure 100
Full text viewable online from the University of Virginia Library.
Lyons, Patrick D.
- 2003 Ancestral Hopi Migrations. Anthropological Papers of the University of Arizona No. 68. University of Arizona Press, Tucson.
Morris, Earl H.
- 1927 The Beginnings of Pottery Making in the San Juan Area: Unfired Prototypes and the Wares of the Earliest Ceramic Period. Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History, Volume XXVIII(2). American Museum of Natural History, New York.
See page 154 and Figure 6f
Full text version available online from the American Museum of Natural History Research Library
Morris, Earl H., and Robert F. Burgh
- 1941 Anasazi Basketry, Basket Maker II Through Pueblo III: A Study Based on Specimens from the San Juan River Country. Publication 533. Carnegie Institution of Washington, Washington, D.C.
Morris, Elizabeth Ann
- 1980 Basketmaker Caves in the Prayer Rock District, Northeastern Arizona.Anthropological Papers of the University of Arizona No. 35. University of Arizona Press, Tucson.
Tanner, Clara Lee
- 1976 Prehistoric Southwestern Craft Arts. The University of Arizona Press, Tucson.