WITHIN THE UNDERWORLD SKY: MIMBRES CERAMIC ART IN CONTEXT
BARBARA L. MOULARD
Contextual analysis, ethnographic analogy, iconographic investigation
1. Contextual analysis - the archeological context in which the object appears, sociological consideration of the object as a cultural artifact, the internal relationships between the motifs themselves
2. The ethnographic analogy assumes that there is a direct and definable link between past and present cultures. Requires basic criteria: a) close temporal association, b) similar social and cultural levels, 3) similar subsistence economies, 4) contiguous geographic areas, 5) conservatism, 6) similar linguistic roots [Western pueblos of the Hopi, Zuni, Acoma]
3. new iconographic interpretations - the form, function, technique of manufacture of the vessels, the use of line and color in the design motifs [parallels amongst historic pueblos]
The appearance of Classic Mimbres Black-on-white and Polychrome wares during the eleventh century A.D. was a result of a long indigenous development and a syncretism of concepts and technologies drawn from various sources and shaped to conform to existing limitations and traditions of Mimbres society.
Geographically contiguous groups: Mimbres (southeast), Hohokam (southwest), Anasazi (north), Casas Grandes, Salado
Mimbres is a regional branch and a chronological period of Mogollon development. The boundaries of the Mogollon culture developed below the Colorado Plateau included the Southern Rockies in southwestern New Mexico, parts of southeaster Arizona, and extended into parts of northern Mexico east of the Rio Grande and west of the Sierra Madre Occidental. Mimbres development within the Mogollon region concentrated along the upper Gila, San Francisco and Mimbres River valleys.
The Early Pit House Period - 200-500
The Late Pit House Period - 550-1000
Classic Mimbres Period - 1000-1150
The Black Mountain - Animus Phase 1150-1300
The Cliff Phase - 1300-1500
* determining factors are changes in architectural construction and the movement of site locations
Switch from Mogollon Red-on-brown Ware (650-750) to Boldface Black-on-white pottery around 800. The difference in coloration was obtained by a switch in the firing technique from oxidation firing to reduction firing. Oxidation/reduction generally refer to the atmosphere in the kiln and how much air you allow in while firing. To get certain colors, they need oxygen to chemically react and create the desired color. Others need the opposite (less oxygen) and sometime even carbon. Controls on this have to deal with piece placement before firing as well as in/out flow air openings.
During the eleventh century the Hohokam influence gradually withdrew from the Mimbres region. By the beginning of the Hohokam Classic Period (1100 to 1400) a general inward geographic collapse occurred and most of the region settled during the Sedentary Period was depopulated and abandoned leaving only the area between the Gila and Salt Rivers as characteristically Hohokam. It is at this time (1000) that Classic Mimbres culture begins. The Mimbres area underwent major social and organizational changes at this time:
1. The move from the pit house to surface cobblestone masonry pueblos
2. Multi-storied villages, encompassing an open plaza, were set up along a straight north-south axis.
3. Rectangular kivas and later great kivas were used for the ceremonial functions of these villages.
4. Advances in subsistence technology - more reliant on the cultivation of plants (corn, beans, squash, and cotton)
5. Move from small, single family settlements to multi-extended family villages.
The rise of Classic Mimbres is tied to the rise of the major Anasazi ceremonial and trade center in Chaco Canyon in northwestern New Mexico (1000 - 1150). This location was the center of a vast cultural system which was linked for hundreds of miles by roadways. This was a center for the storage, trade, and distribution of goods from Mesoamerica and the local surrounding region. The Mimbres region was in the path of trade routes between Mexico and Chaco Canyon. It is during this period that Classic Mimbres Black-on-white and Polychrome ceramics were refined and developed multi-figural compositions.
Classic Mimbres Pottery painting is generally distinguished by the presence of a thick framing rim band followed by a series of fine-line concentric bands placed just below the rim on the interior of the bowl. These fine-line bands are often enclosed by one or two thick framing bands. The design layouts of the Classic Mimbres often place emphasis on the center of the form. Compositional lines either radiate or spiral out from the center which is often left blank left blank and enclosed by a thick decorative band. The pictorial surface is usually quartered, though multiples of three-way divisions and pentagonal compositions are not rare. Overall or wallpaper designs and unidirectional banding are also common compositions. Motifs used as fill elements include serated lines, offset triangles, rhomboids, diamonds, stepped figures, checkerboard patterns, circles, dots and spirals. The overall effect of the painting style is a tension of opposites: dark and light, solid and hatched, open and closed, and curved and straight.
Although representational painting exists in Boldface style compositions, the Classic Mimbres style departs most radically from other Southwest prehistoric painted ceramics by the development of complex representational scenes in which figures often interact with one another.
In the Hohokam and Anasazi area, a broadening of the economic base to include trade with Mesoamerican-based cultures resulted in the stratification of society and the building of complex urban centers. However, by the thirteenth century, these power centers had failed to maintain their control in the Southwest. Both the Chaco complex and the Classic Mimbres society declined during the middle of the twelfth century. Whether by drought or by the cessation of trade from the south, it is geenrally accepted that the economy which supported the Chaco system was disrupted. Most of the Anasazi population relocated to more hospitable areas, some of which continue as Pueblo villages today. At the same time, in the Mogollon-Mimbres area, many Classic Mimbres sites were being assimilated by the Casas Grandes culture located in the former region in present day Chihuahua, Mexico.
The Casas Grandes and Mimbres ceramic paintings share note only the use of specific geometric and no-figurative motifs which are not used elsewhere in the the Southwest prehistoric region, but also the manner in which many human and animal forms are rendered on these ceramics. Mimbres archeology reveals that the Casas Grandes culture gradually took over many Classic Mimbres sites as early as 1130, but that the two peoples coexisted for a time.
After 1300, the Southwest region as a whole experienced a major environmental change which may have resulted in a shift in rainfall patterns, drought and erosion. Many areas were depopulated while others, such as the present-day Pueblo villages, experienced rapid growth. There is also evidence that the trade network from Mesoamerica failed at this time. Major Casas Grandes sites throughout the territory were apparently violently destroyed. Although the Anasazi persisted in the northern area, both the Hohokam and the Mogollon rapidly declined during the fourteenth century.
There are no surviving decedents of the Classic Mimbres known today. By the end of the thirteenth century, the last vestiges of what might be identified as the Mogollon-Mimbres in the northern regions of the Mogollon ceased to exist. Yet the culture shared a similar economy with the Anasazi based on the cultivation of corn as well as the importation and trade of esoteric goods such as turquoise, shell, parrot feathers, and copper with Mesoamerica in order to support a ceremonial cult that centered around subterranean kiva and open plaza architecture.