AND THE GIANTS KEEP SINGING: COMCAAC ANTHROPOLOGY OF MEANINGFUL PLACES by

AND THE GIANTS KEEP SINGING: COMCAAC ANTHROPOLOGY OF MEANINGFUL PLACES by
AND THE GIANTS KEEP SINGING:
COMCAAC ANTHROPOLOGY OF MEANINGFUL PLACES
by
Natalia Martínez-Tagüeña
_________________________________________
Copyright © Natalia Martínez-Tagüeña 2015
A Dissertation Submitted to the Faculty of the
SCHOOL OF ANTHROLOGY
In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements
For the Degree of
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
In the Graduate College
THE UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA
2015
THE UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA
GRADUATE COLLEGE
As members of the Dissertation Committee, we certify that we have read the dissertation
prepared by Natalia Martínez-Tagüeña, titled And the Giants Keep Singing: Comcaac
Anthropology of Meaningful Places and recommend that it be accepted as fulfilling the
dissertation requirement for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
_____________________________________________________Date: (April 22, 2015)
Suzanne K. Fish
_____________________________________________________Date: (April 22, 2015)
Thomas E. Sheridan
_____________________________________________________Date: (April 22, 2015)
Mary C. Stiner
_____________________________________________________Date: (April 22, 2015)
M. Nieves Zedeño
_____________________________________________________Date: (April 22, 2015)
T.J. Ferguson
Final approval and acceptance of this dissertation is contingent upon the candidate’s
submission of the final copies of the dissertation to the Graduate College.
I hereby certify that I have read this dissertation prepared under my direction and
recommend that it be accepted as fulfilling the dissertation requirement.
________________________________________________ Date: (April 22, 2015)
Dissertation Director: Suzanne K. Fish
________________________________________________ Date: (April 22, 2015)
Dissertation Director: Thomas E. Sheridan
2
STATEMENT BY AUTHOR
This dissertation has been submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for an
advanced degree at the University of Arizona and is deposited in the University Library
to be made available to borrowers under rules of the Library.
Brief quotations from this dissertation are allowable without special permission,
provided that an accurate acknowledgement of the source is made. Requests for
permission for extended quotation from or reproduction of this manuscript in whole or in
part may be granted by the copyright holder.
SIGNED: Natalia Martínez Tagüeña
3
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
This dissertation is the result of a long time effort and it was only accomplished through
support and collaboration. Any mistake or misrepresentation throughout the document is
my responsibility. The quality of the work presented here was only possible thanks to my
Co-Chairs Suzanne K. Fish and Thomas E. Sheridan, who not only believed in me and
pressured me, but took the time to correct and revise in detail this work. It was also
thanks to the rest of my committee members Mary C. Stiner, M. Nieves Zedeño and TJ
Ferguson who patiently provided me their time and amazing ideas to improve this
research. I am in forever gratitude for your teachings and all the knowledge I have
gathered throughout the years. The type of anthropological endeavor that I seek to
accomplish and promote comes from my committee members’s example of work, which
I truly admire. I am grateful for having studied the graduate program at the School of
Anthropology at the University of Arizona, and while I learned from every conversation
and interaction I had with all of its members, I will mention some key people for my
work: Diane Austin, Thomas McGuire, Jim Greenberg, Charles Adams, Steve Kuhn,
Vance Holliday, Barbara Mills, Paul Fish, Jim Watson and Dale Brenneman.
I also thank the many colleagues, teachers and friends that have contributed to my
formation in particular Douglas Kennett, Barbara Voorhies, Gregory Pereira, Karen
Adams, Jane Kelley, Jonathan Mabry, and Elisa Villalpando. To John Carpenter and
Guadalupe Sanchez for their continuous love and support. I follow your steps. Specially,
I thank Rodrigo Rentería who not only taught me about the Comcaac but also took me
there for the first time and introduced me to his friends (compa, gracias por todas las
interminables conversaciones, por compartir las pasiones por la comunidad Comcaac).
This dissertation emanates from a collaborative effort with and for the Comcaac
community. I am not the same person who first arrived there with curiosity. I have grown
and learned. I have the privilege of knowing many Comcaac who have generously shared
with me their knowledge and friendship. They trust me and for that I am forever in debt
with them. I cannot mention everybody that has contributed and participated but I will
mention some. Luz Torres and Imelda Morales have always been there for this project
and for me. All the elders have been essential for this research in particular Lorenzo
Herrera, Armando and Angelita Torres, Francisco Morales, Roberto Molina, Efrain
Estrella, Maria Luisa, Amalia and Aurora Astorga, Jesus Rojo, Juanita Herrera, Adolfo
Burgos, Antonio Robles, Carolina Felix, Adolfo Lopez, Cleotilde Morales, Francisco and
Chapo Barnett, and Pancho Moreno. Other people that have always supported me are the
members of the Hoeffer, Torres, Martínez and Astorga families. Also Samuel Monroy,
Manuel Monroy, Oscar Perales, Miguel Estrella, Humberto Morales, Martin Barnett, Luis
Miguel Lopez, Fernando Torres, and Benjamin Molina. Many young people participated
in different activities like Tito, Isaac, Kevin, Cristian, Aaron, Esteban, Mayra, Beto,
Terry, Cesar, Alejandra, Karelia, Yumeli, Diana, Otilia, Hilda, Ulises, Abraham, Poncho,
Roxana, Cesar, Eliazar, and Jesus. My apologies in advance if I am forgetting someone.
This research was possible thanks to the Comcaac.
This study was supported by funding from various sources: CONACyT (Beca por
convenio para estudios de posgrado), a research grant from William Self Associates
Consultants in Archaeology and Historic Preservation, a research grant from Thompson
Endowment Fund and various smaller grants provided by the School of Anthropology
4
Scholarship Committee. Guillermo Reitze provided lodging and support in Kino Bay
while sharing my interest on the Comcaac. GIS and field mapping assistance was granted
by Michael Brack and for the final map production support was received from the Centro
de Investigación en Geografía y Geomática (CentroGeo, CONACyT), in particular Dr.
José Ignacio Chapela, Dr. Javier Aldabe, Silvestre Zepeda Ferrer and Isidro Rangel.
Last but not least, I thank Isaac for all your patience and love (maxoqueepe ctam caziim,
ahora y siempre!). Also, I thank all my amazing friends that make it all worth it. Amy
and Matt, I simply would not have survived graduate school without you. Deanne,
Lucero, Danielle, Pete, Dana and Jacob, you set the example of good work and I follow.
Maren, we love the same and I hope we always continue to share and grow together.
Mike, Carlitta, Heather, Mark, Stacy, Sarahi and Mark, you make of Tucson my home.
I am grateful and forever in debt with all my family, for each of them in their own special
way make me a better person. Papá, mamá, Damián, Diana, Carmen, Encarnita and Inés
(prima, tu compañía estos últimos meses ha sido básica). Maite, Javier, Ximena, Hernán
and their families, you inspire me. Thank you for providing me with ample examples of
success and above everything for loving me and accepting me the way I am.
Maya and Andrés you are light in my life.
Thanks, Gracias, Haxa tiipe!
5
DEDICATION
A mis padres por hacer todo posible
A Jade por lo que ya es y será
A los Comcaac
6
TABLE OF CONTENTS
LIST OF FIGURES ............................................................................................................... 9
LIST OF TABLES................................................................................................................. 9
ABSTRACT .......................................................................................................................... 10
CHAPTER 1. INTRODUCTION .......................................................................................... 11
1.1 Background .......................................................................................................... 11
1.1.1 Deep time and vast landscapes .......................................................... 11
1.1.2 Agricultural villages and their mobile neighbors .............................. 15
1.1.3 Archaeological traditions and their social interactions...................... 19
1.1.4 Comcaac bands .................................................................................. 21
1.1.5 The Comcaac today ........................................................................... 23
1.2 Theoretical Framework........................................................................................ 25
1.2.1 From ethnoarchaeology to anthropology ........................................... 25
1.2.2 Materiality framework and cultural landscape approach .................. 30
1.2.3 Space, time and place ........................................................................ 34
1.3 Methodology ........................................................................................................ 38
1.3.1 Collaboration throughout research .................................................... 38
1.3.2 Landscape survey .............................................................................. 40
CHAPTER 2. PRESENT STUDY ........................................................................................ 50
2.1 Walking the Desert, Paddling the Sea: Comcaac Mobility in time ..................... 50
2.2 Blood and Pearls: Cazoopin (Colonial Spaniards) in the Comcaac Region ........ 51
2.3 Marriage, Fiestas and Daily Life: Comcaac Social Interactions with their
O’odham neighbors through time ........................................................................ 52
CHAPTER 3. CONCLUSION .............................................................................................. 53
3.1 Future research .................................................................................................... 65
REFERENCES ...................................................................................................................... 68
APPENDIX A. WALKING THE DESERT, PADDLING THE SEA: COMCAAC
MOBILITY IN TIME ............................................................................................................ 83
A.1 Introduction......................................................................................................... 85
A.2 Background ......................................................................................................... 85
A.3 Comcaac cultural landscape ............................................................................... 90
A.4 Methodology and research objectives ................................................................ 92
A.5 Comcaac mobility ............................................................................................... 94
A.5.1 Landscape knowledge and meaningful places ................................... 94
A.5.2 Multilayer movement: Incentives and camp selection ...................... 98
A.6 Conclusion .......................................................................................................... 107
A.7 Acknowledgements............................................................................................. 109
A.8 References........................................................................................................... 110
7
APPENDIX B. BLOOD AND PEARLS: CAZOOPIN (COLONIAL SPANIARDS) IN
THE COMCAAC REGION .................................................................................................. 120
B.1 Abstract ............................................................................................................... 121
B.2 Background ......................................................................................................... 121
B.3 A collaborative Comcaac ethnohistory ............................................................... 126
B.4 Research approach for a Comcaac collaborative endeavor ................................ 128
B.5 Comcaac ethnohistory ......................................................................................... 130
B.5.1 Summary for the Spanish Colonial period in the region.................... 130
B.5.2 Comcaac narratives: Early encounters ............................................... 138
B.5.3 Comcaac narratives: Missionization and the invasion of Tiburon
Island ................................................................................................. 142
B.5.4 Comcaac narratives: Assassination of Father .................................... 147
B.5.5 Comcaac narratives: Leadership and spiritual power ........................ 148
B.6 Conclusion .......................................................................................................... 151
B.7 References ........................................................................................................... 156
APPENDIX C. MARRIAGE, FIESTAS AND DAILY LIFE: COMCAAC SOCIAL
INTERACTIONS WITH THEIR O’ODHAM NEIGHBORS THROUGH TIME .............. 164
C.1 Introduction ......................................................................................................... 165
C.2 Background ......................................................................................................... 166
C.2.1 Deep time and vast landscapes .......................................................... 166
C.2.2 Agricultural villages and their mobile neighbors............................... 168
C.2.3 Intensification of shell manufacture and its regional exchange ......... 171
C.2.4 Post-Colonial Comcaac social interactions ........................................ 175
C.3 Commonly employed models of exchange and regional approaches ................. 177
C.4 New insights for collaborative research .............................................................. 182
C.4.1 Comcaac cultural landscape and meaningful places .......................... 182
C.4.2 New methodology for collaborative research .................................... 183
C.5 Comcaac landscapes of Interaction ..................................................................... 186
C.6 Research results through combined lines of evidence ........................................ 187
C.6.1 Social interactions among Comcaac bands and with the neighbors .. 189
C.6.2 Social interactions among Xiica hai iic coii (Tepocas and
Salineros) and O’odham groups ........................................................ 192
C.7 Conclusion .......................................................................................................... 210
C.8 References ........................................................................................................... 216
8
LIST OF FIGURES
FIGURE 1. Ancestral Comcaac cultural landscape............................................................... 12
FIGURE 2. Geographic areas of Comcaac bands in the past ................................................ 22
FIGURE 3. Research area in Sonora, Mexico ....................................................................... 24
FIGURE 4. Location of survey transects, scale enhanced for representation ....................... 43
LIST OF TABLES
TABLE 1. List of main social practices determined by collaborators .................................. 41
TABLE 2. List of recreated social practices in manufacturing workshops ........................... 42
TABLE 3. List of recorded objects and features ................................................................... 45
TABLE 4. Main purposes for selected transects ................................................................... 45
9
ABSTRACT
In collaboration with members of the Comcaac (Seri Indians) community of the central
coast of Sonora, Mexico, it has been possible to join oral historical evidence with
archaeological, ethnographic, and documentary data towards a better understanding of the
Comcaac past and its continuity into the present. Collaborative research creates
opportunities for innovative frameworks and methodologies that can integrate diverse
historical narratives while responding to Comcaac perspectives and desires. The research
approach emphasizes the historical and social context-dependent dialectical nature of
material culture and its acquired meaning through social practice. It defines a cultural
landscape as an environmental setting that is simultaneously the medium for, and the
outcome of, social action. The Comcaac cultural landscape is tied to history, culture, and
society, where places localize, commemorate, and transmit traditional knowledge derived
from the people’s historical memory that is anchored to the land.
This study formally, spatially and temporally documented a vast range of social
practices that constructed and continues to construct the Comcaac cultural landscape. In
tandem with standard archaeological survey techniques, we developed a distinctive
methodology for simultaneously recording oral histories and traditions along successive
landscape segments. This project improves the discipline of anthropology through
methodological advances to build theory that better understands object and people
relationships in the past and today. The results not only exemplify a productive
collaboration endeavor but also enhance archaeological knowledge of the poorly known
Comcaac region.
10
CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION
1.1 Background
1.1.1 Deep time and vast landscapes
The ancestral territory of the Comcaac extends along the western desert coastal plain of
Sonora, México, encompassing a wealth of natural and cultural resources (Figure 1). The
extreme aridity and summer heat that characterize the Central Coast have greatly
influenced, and limited, human occupation in the region (Bowen 1976). No streams with
perennial surface water occur in the area (Shreve 1964), with the exception of portions of
the Bacuachi River (Sheridan 1999) where, due to bedrock elevation, water remains at
the surface yearlong. The Comcaac mainly relied in the past on springs and seasonal
tinajas (bedrock tanks that collect rain water). For the knowledgeable, tide cycles draw
people to the ocean and its shores twice a month during new and full moons. The desert
provides diverse seasonal resources and the intertidal marine habitats along the coast are
among the most diverse of the world (Álvarez-Borrego 2002). The shoreline consists of
estuaries, sea cliffs, wave-cut bluffs, and broad sandy beaches with high and unstable
dunes, many of which are culturally significant for the Comcaac as locations of social
practices, including settlement and resource extraction.
Human presence in the ancestral Comcaac territory dates back to the Paleoindian
(Clovis) Period (Bowen 2009; Di Peso 1955:13; Robles and Manzo 1972:201) between
11,050 and 10,800 14C yrs BP (Waters and Stafford Jr. 2007) when a land bridge may
have connected Tahejcö or Tiburón Island to the Sonoran mainland (Coleman 2008;
11
Fairbanks 1989), making it accessible by foot (Bowen 2009; narrated by several Comcaac
elders). Few Clovis points have been found on the coast of central and south Sonora (Di
Peso (1955:13; Robles and Manzo 1972:201). Two possible Paleoindian points were
discovered on Tiburón Island (Bowen 2009). Recent evidence has led scholars to suggest
models about the peopling of the New World through dispersal along the Pacific coast via
a “kelp highway” (Erlandson et al. 2007). Off the western shore of Baja California,
archaeological deposits on Isla Cedros, extend back to at least 12,000 cal years BP with
evidence for a selective focus on marine resources exploitation and navigational skills
(Des Lauriers 2011).
Figure 1. Ancestral Comcaac Cultural Landscape.
Bowen (2009) reinforced this idea based on his work on the midriff islands
connecting Baja California with the Sonoran mainland. It would have been easier to cross
the Gulf here than crossing to Sinaloa from southern Baja California, especially if the
12
people were adapted to a coastal environment more than venturing onto the open sea.
Comcaac oral tradition and linguistic evidence further support this model (Di Peso and
Matson 1965:5; Felger and Moser 1985; Marlett et al. 1998; Martínez-Tagüeña and
Torres 2013; Moser and Marlett 2010). The deep time oral tradition (used to differentiate
it from more recent oral tradition as it will be explained later) of the Comcaac
distinguishes between two kinds of ancient people referred to as “Giants.” The older Hant
Ihiyaxi Comcaac, (lit. Land its edge people), were very tall and lived in Baja California.
Little is known about them. Comcaac oral tradition is more detailed about the later Xicca
Coosyatoj (lit. things singers) who inhabited the whole Comcaac region, some of whom
died during confrontations while gambling. Others were transformed during the great
flood into hills and various animals and plants. Still others intermarried with the Comcaac
(Felger and Moser 1985:10).
Carpenter and colleagues (in press) compiled evidence for the state of Sonora to
suggest that early Holocene hunters and gatherers evolved directly from the local Clovis
tradition as the environment of the Sonoran Desert changed. Paleoclimatic evidence
indicates that the Sonoran Desert took shape with characteristics like today about 8000
years ago when mesquite woodlands replaced juniper and oak communities and plants
adapted to an arid climate (Van Devender and Spaulding 1979:709: Van Devender et al.
1994). Although it is slowly increasing, the present-day sea level of the Sonoran coast is
estimated to have been reached around 5,000 yrs ago (Davis 1990; Foster et al. 2008).
Therefore archaeological remains on the surface of the extant shoreline and in the
sediments of these Holocene landforms are younger than that time (Waters 1992). For the
northern part of the Sonoran coast, Foster et al. (2008:278) obtained radiocarbon dates
13
from buried deposits exposed in erosional cuts corresponding to the late Archaic period
(or Early Agriculture period depending on the presence of maize) like a very early fish
otolith date with a range between 3630-3520 cal BC (5711 ±42 BP).
The Archaic period in the area was previously assigned to San Dieguito and
Amargosa components of the Pinacate region and southern California deserts based on
several types of stone features and a complex of choppers and scrappers with patina on
desert pavements (Bowen 1976; Hayden 1967). However, the present research disagrees
and establishes affinities with the Cochise Archaic of Sonora and south-central Arizona
based on a variety of characteristic features, including the presence of several projectile
point types (Cordell 1997). Research in the Comcaac region mapped 48 projectile points
and 57 bifaces, distributed from coastal dune sites to inland bajadas. It also documented
several private collections with an additional 35 objects. From this assemblage, eight
artifacts correspond to San Jose type projectile points, whose style dates to between 3500
and 1500 BC (Sliva 1998). Four were Gypsum type (3500 to 2100 BC: Sliva 1998).
Twenty-three correspond to Cortaro bifaces (3500 to 2100 BC; Roth 1992). Twenty-eight
were San Pedro points from 1200 BC to 150 AD (Sliva 1999) and one Elko type point
was mapped (with a broad time span from 6000 BC to 200 AD).
The same types of projectile points have been found in central and southern Baja
California (Ritter 2007:111), Sonora (Carpenter et al. in press), the Papaguería in
southwestern Arizona (Altschul and Rankin 2008), Arizona and the Great Basin (Sliva
1999). In the Comcaac region, projectile points and site composition with lithic debris,
manos and metates, and various roasting pits and hearths, plus a wide range of rock
features and rock art, indicate similarities with sites in a vast region from the Great Basin
14
to the Papaguería and Sonora. Archaic hunters and foragers inhabited a wide range of
landscapes from coastal dunes, estuaries and playas to the plains and lowlands of the
Basin and Range province (Carpenter et al. in press). This regional homogeneity led
Carpenter and colleagues (in press) to contend that the Archaic people of Sonora were
affiliated with the Proto-Uto-Aztecan family. However, the Comcaac speak an isolate
language named Cmiique iitom (Marlett 2007), indicating deep time in relation to their
neighbors belonging to the Hokan stock and predating the arrival of the Uto-Aztecan
people in northernmost Mexico (Marlett ms.26 quoted in O’Meara 2010:16). Archaic
projectile point types are not indicative of cultural affiliation. Instead, they represent
technologies that worked but changed through time, where individuality or group
distinctions depended on raw material sources and skill. Regional material cultural
differentiation is evident later in time with the establishment of agricultural villages.
1.1.2 Agricultural villages and their mobile neighbors
Evidence indicates that domesticated plants not only arrived through a highland corridor
(the uplands of the Sierra Madre Occidental) (Ford 1981), but also across the lowland
river valleys of Chihuahua, Arizona, and New Mexico, and the Sonoran Coast (Huckell et
al. 2002:139; Mabry 1998:79). Debates have centered on whether they arrived through
diffusion or with migrants to the region (Berry and Berry 1986). Carpenter et al. (2005)
suggest that the late Archaic Period or Early Agriculture Period (divided by an unnamed
early phase (2100 to 1200 BC) the San Pedro (1200 to 800 BC) and Cienega (800 BC to
AD 150) phases) reflects a northward migration of maize-bearing Uto-Aztecan groups.
Newer direct radiocarbon dates on maize place it between 3780-3650 BC (Vint 2015:
15
Table 1.13: 488) on the US Southwest attest to earlier and earlier well-defined
agricultural occupations. Later throughout the period, population grew and on occasion,
occupied larger and more permanent settlements (Carpenter et al. 2005; Carpenter et al.
in press; Hard and Roney 2005; Mabry 2005).
Scholars have established that continuity from the San Pedro phase is evident in
terms of Cienega phase settlement locations and material culture. However, much larger
Cienega phase settlements are reported with the earliest known examples of large
communal structures, courtyard house groups, cremation burials, new types of ground
stone, pottery vessels, and shell ornaments, denoting social organization above household
level and long-distance trade (Mabry 2005). The present research surveyed places along
the coast and towards the bajadas inland associated with Cortaro and San Pedro type
points; however, a lack of Cienega points was notable. Previous investigations in the area
and several private collections also indicate this pattern, where only two Cienega points
have been observed (Bowen 1976). Coastal sites for this period are yet to be excavated so
any inference is tentative. This pattern can reflect lack of evidence but it can also mean
that Cienega projectile points are indicative of cultural affiliation for agricultural
villagers. Nevertheless, the Cienega point further attests to the technological transition
from dart point to bow and arrow (Sliva 1999), which surely happened in the Comcaac
region as well. Comcaac oral tradition describes that a subgroup from the Sonoran
mainland used bow and arrow, and eventually introduced it to the Tiburón Island groups
(Herrera quoted in Bowen 2000:8).
Archaeological evidence from these early villages established on alluvial fans,
streams and rivers throughout the region, attests to the importance of shell ornaments in
16
their assemblages (Mabry 2005). During the late Cienega phase at the site of La Playa,
located less that 100 km east from the Sonoran coast, evidence reveals that these people
had a well-developed irrigation system and an important manufacture process of
Glycimeris shell bracelets, plus the consumption of fish, crab, sea urchin and other shell
from the coast (58 shell species have been identified (Carpenter et al. 2008). Nitrogen
isotope analysis for fourteen individual burials indicates use of aquatic resources,
although it can also reflect local ecological conditions with high nitrogen soils (Jones et
al. 2014). While animal and plant resources come from the vicinity of the site (MartínezTagüeña 2008; Martínez-Lira 2006), some mineral evidence like obsidian and red
argillite originate from around 350 km north, and a pipe from scoria sourced to the
Pinacate region. Whether shell was procured directly by the occupants of the site or
through trade with coastal fisher foragers has not been established (Carpenter et al. in
press). This dissertation examined the possibilities and contributes to the understanding
of this important research question.
During this time period certain populations chose a more settled agricultural life,
while others continued to pursue a more mobile subsistence pattern. Several ‘cerros de
trincheras’ (terraced hills) became popular residential locations with ample domestic
structures throughout the region. And while agriculture intensified through vast systems
(Fish et al. 1992; Hard and Roney 2005; Mabry 2005), logistical mobile task groups and
a high dependence on wild resources remained. A mixed subsistence defined as low level
food production (based on Smith 2001) of foraging and farming suited well for desert
survival (Martínez-Tagüeña 2008). However, through time further irrigation investment
required more and more sedentary people at villages to manage farming, preventing their
17
direct procurement of marine resources and further necessitating the development of
social practices that warranted their marine resources’ acquisition through exchange. This
dissertation explores the development of these exchange mechanisms and for the first
time places the focus of research on the coastal people and the surrounding mobile
groups. Diverse sources of evidence from the Comcaac region demonstrate that resource
acquisition varied at different times and places. Although maize remains at coastal sites
have yet to be recovered and dated, it is likely that coastal people desired maize since its
arrival to the north.
It is well known that a clear-cut boundary between sedentism and mobility cannot
be drawn. Evidence from these early villages indicates gendered division of labor where
males participated in more frequent foraging activities at long distances than females
(Watson and Stoll 2013), and males were representative of multiple biological affinities
compared with females (meaning that men resembled more biological populations
implicating they had a common origin with members of distant places) (Byrd 2014).
Nonetheless, in hunter and gatherer populations, men are also more mobile than women
(Kelly 2007; Martínez-Tagüeña and Torres, in review; Woodburn 1968). This study
highlights that in addition to sedentary communities with mobile men, it is important to
consider all the surrounding hunter-gather families that inhabited the region. From this
time onward these populations grew in numbers and through various pulses of isolation
and interaction developed culturally differentiated groups (linguistically expressed by the
many dialects that have been identified in the region), reflecting varied types of resource
obtainment (from exchange to directly travelling to a resource). This study acknowledges
varying cultural boundaries in time and space but by no means seeks to define them (i.e
18
Wilk 2004). Instead it explores landscapes of interaction where people associated with
different cultures would have initially come into contact with one another while obtaining
resources and objects with symbolic value, thus developing various social interactions
through time.
1.1.3 Archaeological traditions and their social interactions
The establishment of agricultural villages includes a plainware pottery tradition
associated with a storage function (Heidke 1999) and in some locations, the transition
from inhumation to secondary cremation (Mabry 2005; Carpenter et al. 2008), suggestive
of emerging group identities with strong social cohesion (Cerezo-Romano and Watson,
manuscript on file). Settlement types ranged from clustered villages to dispersed
rancherías, mainly distributed along rivers or water sources (Villalpando 2000) and semipermanent residential campsites along the coast (Martínez-Tagüeña and Torres, in
review). Several archaeological traditions have been described for Sonora that are
believed to reflect in situ developments. McGuire and Villalpando (1993) group a set of
distinct traditions under the designation “Desierto Brownware”, all of which are
characterized by relative thin-walled vessels with pronounced scrape marks produced by
coil-and-scrape manufacture. These traditions include Trincheras, Ancestral Comcaac
(based on Bowen 1976 but also corroborated through the present project), Huatabampo of
southern Sonora and northern Sinaloa (Alvaréz 1991; Carpenter 1996), Rio Sonora
(Pailes 1984) and Serrana (Carpenter 2014).
Previous scholars in the Comcaac Region defined the area as the Central Coast
Archaeological Tradition. This tradition extends along a coastline from just north of the
19
city of Guaymas on the south to Puerto Peñasco on the north, with an inland area that
extends towards the city of Hermosillo. The Central Coast Archaeological Tradition also
includes the islands of Tiburón and San Esteban in the Gulf of California (Bowen 1976;
Villalpando 2000) (see Figure 1). Unlike the territory of most mobile people, the
Comcaac ancestral cultural area is defined by the presence of Tiburón Plain pottery type:
a thin, light and hard well-fired ware made without added temper (Bowen 1976). Form
and function reflect similarities with Yuman Wares (Tizon Brown and Lower Colorado
Buff wares) of neighbors along the Colorado River to the north, while its coiled and
scraped manufacture resembles the Trincheras Wares of adjacent inland farmers to the
east in Sonora. Cross-dating indicates the appearance of the Tiburón Plain pottery type as
early as AD 150, although absolute dating is still needed (Bowen 2000; 2009).
Previous research in the Comcaac region registered the following foreign pottery
types: Trincheras lisa, Trincheras púrpura sobre rojo, Trincheras Polícromo, and Papago
red (Bowen 1976; Villalpando 1997). Bowen (1976) remarked that the presence of
Trincheras wares is documented in small quantities but in many sites, suggesting that it
was a trade item. This evidence in conjunction with the scarcity of Tiburón plain outside
the Central Coast has lead to the belief that the only significant contact maintained by the
Comcaac with outsiders was with members of the Trincheras Tradition (Bowen 1976).
Current research suggests broader networks of interaction. Although the exact timing is
uncertain, oral tradition together with linguistic evidence and colonial Spanish archival
documents indicate that the Comcaac lived in small, shifting, dispersed family groups
that belonged to a number of subdivisions or bands reflecting geographic areas (Moser
1963; Smith 1947) as recognized by the Spaniards in late 1600s and early 1700s
20
(Sheridan 1999). Across time and space these bands had varying social interactions
among themselves and also with their mobile and agricultural neighbors, the O’odham
people to the north and east, the Eudeve to the east, and the Yoeme (Yaqui) to the south.
1.1.4 Comcaac bands
Through processes of colonization, missionization, and warfare, the Comcaac settlement
pattern and social organization changed profoundly during the Spanish colonial period.
Those processes resulted in their band structure consolidation into a more general
Comcaac identity and their confinement to a small stretch of coastline and Tiburón
Island. In the 1940s, some members still belonged to different bands although they
continued to lose access to their former territory. The bands were Xiica hai iic coii or
Tepocas or Salineros (recognized as separate bands by the Spaniards (Sheridan 1999)),
Tahejcö comcaac or Tiburones or Seris, Heeno comcaac or Tiburones who lived in the
central valley of Tahejcö or Tiburón Island, Xnaa motat or Guaymas and Upanguaymas,
Xiica xnaii iic coii or Tastioteños, and Xiica hast ano coii or the people from San Esteban
Island (Moser 1963). Other small bands were the Soosni itaa iic coii or Bahía Kino, and
Hona iic coii or Campo Hona (Smith 1947). The Spaniards also reported Carrizos and
Bacoachis bands (Sheridan 1999) (Figure 2).
During the 19th century, due to confrontations with the Mexican army and local
ranchers, the bands were broken and entire families were killed; by the 1920s it is
estimated than only 130 Comcaac remained (estimated number reported in Felger and
Moser 1985; see Sheridan 1999 and Rentería 2006 for details regarding this time period).
In 1944 the Comcaac were divided into three main groups no longer living as bands. The
21
largest group lived at Haxöl Iihom (lit. ‘where there are multicolored clams’), or
Desemboque de los Seris. The second largest group was located at Hajhax (lit. ‘any
water’), or Tecomate on the northern part of Tahejcö; and the smallest group lived at
Zoozni Cmiipla (lit. ‘bad zoozni’), close to the base of Punta San Miguel east of Tahejcö
(Smith 1944).
Figure 2. Geographic areas of Comcaac Bands in the past
(Northwest section of Sonora, Mexico).
22
1.1.5 The Comcaac today
Today, the Comcaac mainly reside in two villages called Haxöl Iihom (Desemboque) and
Socaaix (Punta Chueca), which was established in the late 1950s (Smith 1966)) (Figure
3). They continue to visit certain traditional camps during hunting, fishing or gathering
expeditions. In 1970, the Mexican government recognized a portion of their territory as
an ejido, the most common form of communal land tenure in post-Revolutionary Mexico.
They also obtained formal title with restricted use of Tahejcö as it became a federal
natural protected area. Commercial fishing of pen shell (Pinna rugosa), crab (Callinectes
bellicosus) and various fish is the main economic activity, while at the household level
hunting and gathering still continues. Substantial revenue for some people also comes
from the sale of traditional crafts like ironwood carvings and shell necklaces and, more
recently, bighorn sheep hunting permits (See Rentería 2009 for details on sheep hunting).
Currently many members of the community still remember the band affiliation of
their family ancestry. And while they do not refer to the band structure to talk about their
knowledge of the past, it is evident that Comcaac knowledge is not generalized
throughout the community. On the contrary, families possess differing knowledge about
their land, reflecting the different territories of the Comcaac bands to which they
belonged. It is very important not to consider the Comcaac as a homogenous group. The
present research placed particular emphasis on providing information on how many
persons shared a specific oral history and when relevant acknowledging the individual
who recounted it. When complete stories were presented, the Comcaac elder was a coauthor of the publication in which it appeared and his source of knowledge was
described. Even though contemporary Comcaac have lost much of their homeland, they
23
relate to the ancestral landscape through long-term continuity. They have retained
knowledge of their cultural landscape and a deep connection with the archaeological
record. They also possess a rich oral tradition and complex views of the natural order
expressed in stories, poetry, and songs (Di Peso and Matson 1965:5; Felger and Moser
1985; Marlett et al. 1998; Martínez-Tagüeña and Torres 2013; Moser and Marlett 2010).
Figure 3. Research area in Sonora, Mexico.
Comcaac oral traditions indicate a three-part temporal framework for the past. The
oldest part corresponds to a deep time when giants were present, as indicated by Xicca
Coosyatoj or Giants’ objects (Tiburón Plain pottery, among others), and as referenced in
24
words, songs, and stories. The most recent division of the temporal framework
corresponds to their more immediate ancestors. Previous scholars have generally thought
the recent division represents an accurate account back to the 1800s (i.e. Felger and
Moser 1985), but our research indicates that these traditions can be extended back to
1750 or earlier. With generational changes, information tapers off and few details are
available for the middle period between the time of the giants and the time of more
immediate Comcaac ancestors, resembling what Vansina (1985:23) calls a “floating gap”.
Thus, with community participation it was possible to integrate evidence gathered from
an archaeological survey with ethnographic and ethnohistorical information obtained
through interviews and document searches, respectively.
1.2 Theoretical Framework
1.2.1 From ethnoarchaeology to anthropology
A plethora of archaeological studies have employed ethnographic information to interpret
material culture and to construct frameworks and models to explain human behavior,
social interactions, and cultural change in the past (Trigger 1989). Therefore, it cannot be
argued that archaeological interpretation is founded and dependent upon ethnographic
analogy. Analogy is taken to be a form of inference that if something is like something
else in some respects it is likely to be similar in others (Trigger 1989). The explicit
recognition of the need for ethnographic material from which to derive analogies gave
rise to a subdiscipline named ethnoarchaeology. It was defined as the ethnographic study
of living cultures from archaeological perspectives. ‘It is not a theory or a method but a
research strategy embodying a range of approaches to understanding the relationships of
25
material culture to culture as a whole, both in the living context and as it enters the
archaeological record’ (David and Kramer 2001:2).
During the origins of ethnoarchaeology and with the development of
Processual/Behavioral Archaeology, its approach sought to define cross-cultural
regularities or law-like statements in order to apply them to the reconstruction of past
phenomena and their development, hopefully to generate new regularities regarding
cultural change (Schiffer 1976). However, the majority of studies employ ethnography
and when available oral history and tradition, only to delimit behaviors and relationships
involving material culture. A range of approaches have been employed and definitions
described, and while they mention the value of gathering traditional knowledge for
archaeological interpretation, as well as for the people being studied and their
descendants (David and Kramer 2001), surprisingly, there is no partnership with
indigenous communities in a collaborative effort to study their ancestral past. Plus,
ethnography is not used in other useful ways as it has been employed lately and will be
explained below.
In the United States, repatriation legislation has forced archaeologists to
reexamine their ties and relationships with indigenous populations, and archaeologists
have made great strides involving American Indians in their research. However, the
discipline still needs to make a stronger effort to expand and strengthen such
collaborations, not only with indigenous people but also with local community members.
In some countries, archaeology as a privileged form of expertise, occupies a role in the
governance of cultural heritage and the regulation of a national identity. The objectivity
discourse that frames archaeological knowledge can and does have a direct impact on
26
people’s sense of cultural identity, and has been a point of contention for a range of
interests. Conflict between indigenous people and archaeology needs to be considered in
a context that exposes not only the privileged position of archaeological discourse, but
also how this discourse has come to be privileged. It is the relationships between
archaeology, governments and their bureaucracies, and indigenous communities in postcolonial contexts that determines and defines the political nature of archaeology (Smith
2004). The same concern has been eloquently stated for the discipline of ethnohistory
(Galloway 2006).
Colwell-Chanthaphonh proposed to go beyond traditional ethnoarchaeology and
reorient it to include contemporary culture. Ethnographic methodology enables direct
engagements with living communities; “it allows the creation of strong commitments to
contemporary situations, the role of the state and new forms of governmentality, a
recognition of the political embeddeness, and expanded possibilities for ethical
participation, advocacy, and outreach” (2009:197). Similarly, for Castañeda and Mathews
(2008) the hybridization of ethnography and archaeology allows the study of diverse
aspects like social contexts, historical effects, political roles, and economic ramifications
of archaeology. Therefore ethnographical methods and the resulting information can be
employed to address the political, ethical, epistemological, and social issues of
archaeological practice, thus developing a discipline of archaeology that is engaged with
the sociopolitical and economic dimensions of its own enterprise. Additionally, as this
dissertation demonstrates, the use of ethnography can concede recognition of the
processes of memory and history in the construction of a community’s past.
27
Initiatives to build collaboration with indigenous communities were initially
named Indigenous Archaeology (Watkins 2000; Bruchac et al. 2010) and later
Collaborative Archaeology (Colwell-Chanthaphonh and Ferguson 2008). They transcend
mere “consultation” as the various stake-holding publics become actively involved in the
prior planning and execution of mutually beneficial archaeology projects. The processes
of inclusion and trust building, an honest and respectful discussion, and cooperation
between community members and archaeologists will lead to a more insightful and
accurate pursuit of the past through a co-production of knowledge (ColwellChanthaphonh et al. 2010; Colwell-Chanthaphonh and Ferguson 2008; Hamilakis and
Anagnostopoulos 2009; Heckenberger 2008; Smith 2004; Watkins 2000; Zimmerman
2008). Furthermore, this type of research contributes to building a discipline of
anthropology that blurs sub-disciplinary boundaries. In addition to ethnographic and in a
few occasions linguistic data, archaeologists should integrate other sources of past
narratives like oral history and tradition, and documentary history, into explanatory
models to interpret human behavior.
As archaeologists employ oral accounts as evidence from the past that can be used
to reconstruct cultural histories, they have realized the challenges of reconciling
inherently and profoundly different ways of conceptualizing the past without violating
the integrity of one or the other or both (Echo-Hawk 2000; Damm 2005; Whiteley 2002).
Two polarizing opinions range from the rejection of oral tradition when information
cannot be testable in the manner of archaeological hypotheses (Mason 2000), to the
recognition that oral tradition contain historical narratives that do not need legitimization
from other forms of knowledge (Damm 2005). Whiteley (2002:406) argues that objective
28
archaeological explanation gains by treating oral traditions as a primary source of
evidence and interpretation of past social forms. This dissertation argues that
collaboration between the carriers of oral tradition and archaeologists is essential for an
interpretative research, since a hermeneutic pre-understanding of the motifs, codes, and
morals inherent in the oral accounts is needed (Basso 1996; Damm 2005) and the
communicated concepts depend on local metaphor and narrative conventions
(Cruikshank 2002).
Over the last two decades, an approach for collaboratively bridging traditional
knowledge and archaeological inquiry has been unfolding in work with Native American
communities in the US Southwest (i.e. Anyon and Ferguson 1995; Dongoske et al. 1993;
Ferguson 2007). The studied populations offer insights that will make the discipline
stronger and more relevant to everyone, allowing the development of alternative means
of viewing the past (Watkins 2000). Collaborative endeavors establish new kinds of
interpretative frameworks with new ways to translate the patterns of material culture
(Colwell-Chanthaphonh and Ferguson 2008). Some theoretical advances focus on
material objects and cultural landscapes, and their sensuous and sensory, embodied,
mnemonic properties (Hamilakis and Anagnostopoulos 2009:73).
The present research is a collaborative endeavor with the Comcaac community
that employs oral tradition (alongside linguistic information), documentary history, and
archaeological and ethnographic data to reconstruct a past that is relevant for their
present. The Comcaac project seeks to blur subdisciplinary boundaries while conducting
a respectful anthropological endeavor in synchrony with the community’s needs and
requests. For the development of the present dissertation, Comcaac participants were
29
essential throughout all stages of research, as well as considered in the appropriate
dissemination of the results. It employed a materiality framework and a cultural
landscape approach, and specifically contributes to improve theory-based ethnography
and our interpretative frameworks to better understand other peoples’ concepts of time
and space. Additionally, it promotes the creation of improved methodologies to gather
and integrate multi-temporal data but also to build substantial theory to better understand
relationships between people and objects in the past and today.
1.2.2 Materiality framework and cultural landscape approach
To elucidate the connections between indigenous ontology and the archaeological record,
the proposed research focuses on materiality, or the understanding of material forms as
active participants in social practices and complicit in the construction of culture. Practice
is inherently material, because it is a manifestation of the embodied knowledge of a
social actor, and social reproduction is not possible without practice (Bourdieu 1977).
Thus, this approach conceives objects and places as possessing social agency (e.g.
Appadurai 1986; Brown 2005; Meskell 2004; 2005; Mills and Ferguson 2008; Mills and
Walker 2008; Pauketat 2001). It also challenges Western epistemological dualisms
commonly applied to the study of material culture and society (like subject/object, Latour
1993; nature/culture, Viveiros de Castro 2004; ritual/secular, Bradley 2005; among
others), emphasizing instead their historical and social context-dependent dialectical
nature. Accordingly, the project aims to identify the materialization of these interactions
in the archaeological record and to uncover those that are critical to the reproduction and
30
transformation of social relations, meanings, and cultural traditions (Dobres and Robb
2005).
For example, places and objects are causal agents in human behavior (Brown and
Walker 2008) where social practices are constantly constructed, maintained, and
modified (Zedeño and Bowser 2009; Stewart et al. 2004). Different social practices
produce different spatio-temporal structures that entail different formations of meanings
and value (Munn 1986; Harvey 1996; Tuan 1977). Key to the research inquiry is the
study of how and why specific meanings become attached to particular social contexts.
Meaning-making practices vary from direct relation with objects and places, to the
remembrance of past events and place uses through oral tradition, and from marking
social presence with permanent features, to avoiding a place or object altogether. All
these social practices served to build connections among people in the past but also
among the people and objects that thereafter inhabit the cultural, inscribed, and storied
landscape (Basso 1996; Carroll et al. 2004; Ingold 1993; Mills and Walker 2008;
Rodman 1992; Van Dyke and Alcock 2003; Whitridge 2004; David and Wilson 2002;
Zedeño and Bowser 2009). The Comcaac cultural landscape is an essential focus for
identifying and interpreting meaning-making practices that reproduce or transform
society.
This research implements a cultural landscape approach, as successfully applied
on other projects (i.e. Ferguson and Colwell-Chanthaphonh 2006; Stewart et al. 2004). It
defines cultural landscape as an environmental setting that is simultaneously the medium
for, and the outcome of social action. It has relation to multiple chronologies where
specific historical events can be perceived, experienced, and contextualized by Comcaac
31
people (based on Bender 1993; Ferguson and Colwell-Chanthaphonh 2006). Cultural
landscapes are history because they situate people in time and space. They are part of the
memory of the past and form the historical consciousness realized in people’s present day
lives (based on Dinwoodie 2002:60). The accumulation of experiences, associations, and
histories in the land can become social memory, embodied in individual and group
experiences as well as in mnemonic sites like objects and places, and in practices like
language, songs, stories, rituals, bodies and bodily practices (Basso 1996; Bender 1993;
Cattell and Climo 2002; Darling 2006; Ingold 1993; Mills and Walker 2008). These sites
and practices occur worldwide, but the communicated meaning in each case depends on
local narrative conventions: they have social histories that acquire significance in the
particular situations in which they emerge, in the situations where they are used, and in
interactions between members of a community (Cruikshank 2002).
Additionally, this research uses the concept of place because it is an ideal
analytical unit to describe, reconstruct, interpret and explain form, structure and
temporalities of meanings or values that humans ascribe to their cultural landscapes
(Tilley 1994; Zedeño and Bowser 2009). Objects and places are centers of value (Tuan
1977:18). Places are distinguished from space by individual and social appreciation that
defines their meanings, outlines historical trajectory, explains the connection with other
places, and lays out the articulation with the broader landscape (Zedeño and Bowser
2009). Places, as permanences, are internally heterogeneous dialectical and dynamic
configurations within the overall spatio-temporal dynamics of socio-ecological processes.
They are symbolic and redolent of values (such as fame, identity, power) (Harvey
1996:306). Value creation can be understood as the discourses, power relations, memory,
32
institutions, and the tangible forms of material practices through which human societies
perpetuate themselves (Harvey 1996:231).
Therefore, the Comcaac cultural landscape is tied to history, culture and society,
where places localize, commemorate, and transmit traditional knowledge derived from
the people’s historical memory anchored to the land. The Comcaac region is an ideal
setting for an archaeology of meaningful places, where articulations of layered meaning
in the past and present can be revealed by drawing upon historical narratives from
archaeology, ethnography and oral tradition. Together, these narratives that represent
multiple spatial and temporal configurations document the role of subject/object-place
relationships and practice in cultural continuity, tradition and cultural transformation.
It should be acknowledged that archaeologists have always been interested in
studying space and consequently in studying landscapes. Myriad archaeological studies
have pursued reconstructions of social organization using the archaeological record,
based on an understanding of how artifacts and features are distributed across space (e.g.
Binford 1980; Flannery 1972; Trigger 1967). However, what continues to change is how
this landscape is thought about and understood, and therefore studied. Where settlement
patterns offer evidence of large-scale processes linking groups of humans with
geomorphological and ecological contexts, cultural landscape is more securely focused
on a human perspective (Joyce et al. 2009), taking into account the “dispositions and
decisions” involved in making place (Ashmore 2002).
As a final remark, materiality theorists have suggested two distinct but
complementary analytical approaches. First, it is necessary to understand where our
scientific taxonomies end and the taxonomies of the people we study begin; ontology and
33
folk taxonomies that inform the ways in which people engage with their surroundings and
introduce permanent and visible modifications should be employed with archaeological
assemblage classifications to better inform analysis and interpretation (Gell 1998;
Meskell 2004; Mills and Ferguson 2008; Schiffer and Miller 2004; Zedeño 2008a; 2008b;
2009). And, second, scholars have suggested an emphasis shift from conventional site
typologies to depositional practices (the practices and effects of putting together,
bundling or gathering objects in specific contexts) (Brück 1999; Bradley 2005; Groleau
2009; Mills and Walker 2008; Owoc 2005; Pollard 2001). Consequently, an analytical
approach rooted in materiality and cultural landscape theories is ideal for the present
research because it allows for the combination of two modes of interpretation:
archaeological epistemology and indigenous ontology. A focus on indigenous meaningmaking practices further helps to discriminate substantive similarities and differences
between the material past as understood and remembered by contemporary indigenous
descendants or occupants of a cultural landscape and the past as reconstructed and
interpreted by the scientific community.
1.2.3 Space, time and place
As my mother, a nano-physicists, once taught me, “…we all have an intuitive notion of
time and space, but as is usually the case, experiencing something is very different than
explaining it. We feel time in our bodies and through experiences as we age but to define
it we need to find ways to measure its periodicity. Certain cultures employ a clock while
others refer to the passing of the sun, stars and moon. Our obsession with measuring time
up to the knowledge of nanoseconds is making us live faster”. Upon my arrival to live
34
with the Comcaac community I felt time was slower. By no means do I pretend to define
Comcaac spatio-temporal conceptions: I can only comment on what struck me as
different when developing the collaborative process. When planning activities with
collaborators for the project, clock time became irrelevant. Social practices on the land
depended on the sun and the heat that in turned determined the probability of
encountering rattlesnakes while walking about. Sometimes drinking coffee among other
eventualities determined our departure time. For the ocean-related activities it was even
clearer how the tide cycle determined the timing for fishing and gathering. No matter at
what clock time a researcher might want to leave, if water depth was insufficient to lift
the boat off the sand, it was obviously necessary to wait. Asking for a precise clock time
became irrelevant.
Today the Comcaac use regular calendar months but in the past, twelve moons
defined their cyclical seasonal time. The beginning of the cycle is Icoozlajc iizac (lit.
‘when one sprinkles moon’), derived from the sprinkling of hot sand on mesquite pods, to
aid in toasting before grinding them in a metate. The monsoon season begins and many
desert scrubs and trees drop their seeds. Other moons refer to the general greenness of the
desert, the season or time for the eelgrass harvest, the ripening cacti season, the moon for
few turtle hunters, the following moon of many hunters, and the moon for leisurely sitting
under the shade, while all the rest are related to diverse stars positions (Felger and Moser
1985:57-58). Their selected names indicate the important value of these social practices
for their survival; a mechanism that warrantied continuity of those cultural experiences
across time, as well as their stable periodic nature for measuring time and space.
35
The position of the stars, landmarks on the land, and the direction of the wind
were essential for Comcaac spatial recognition (see O’meara 2014 for examples). Today,
it continues to be essential for fishing activities; they can place themselves and remain
safe. It is also used for hunting deer and bighorn sheep or to locate gathering patches in
the coastal tideline or farther inland into the desert. Their linguistic categorization of the
landscape is dominated by a system involving lexical compounds that involve four main
substances (hant-earth, hast-stone, xepe-sea water, hax-freshwater) plus secondary lexical
items to provide descriptive information. A few exceptions to these compounds are standalone referents like xatj or reef, caail or dry lakebed, xtaasi or estuary, zaaj or cave, and
yaaij or long dune (O’Omeara 2010), indicating their importance for cultural and social
reproduction (meaning that these stand-alone terms served as a successful mechanism to
transmit from generation to generation the significance and value of the social practices
conducted at these localities). The Comcaac also have a preference for object location
and object orientation descriptions with less use of landmarks and geomorphic
descriptions that would have tied them to an environmental anchor (for example,
villagers tend to orient themselves based on the same mountain that is situated next to
their town) (O’Omeara 2010; 2014), attesting to their high mobility. As highly mobile
people, their sense of space is conceptualized through movement on or across the land.
Oriented space and historic time are aspects of a single experience (Tuan 1977).
The Comcaac past is constructed around spatiality more than chronology. It
therefore, constitutes a spatio-temporal history (i.e. Green et al. 2003). Such a historical
vision is primarily about place and place-making and thus principally about dwelling –
present-continuous – in the land (based on Heidegger 1971). “It is through the land that
36
the past takes form. The land is the past and it brings the past into the present” (Ferguson
and Colwell-Chanthaphonh 2006:28). By embedding events in the land through naming
places, those places become materialized history charged with personal and social
meaning that shapes peoples’ personal imaginary of themselves and perpetuates their
cultural identity (Basso 1984:44; Harvey 1996:265; Mignolo 1994). Reference to places
in traditional knowledge may describe specific locations or be used as a symbol to mark
movement, directionality, context or even time itself (Ferguson and ColwellChanthaphonh 2006).
For the Comcaac community, more than six hundred place-names have been
documented (Felger and Moser 1985; Marlett and Moser 2002; Martínez-Tagüeña and
Torres 2013; in review; Moser and Marlett 2010). Such naming indicates not only deep
history and long-term continuity on their ancestral land but also indexes knowledge about
encounters with people, animals, and other beings while living and travelling across that
land. Place-names further provide knowledge about how their land is interpreted and
communicated. Their structure and semantic study indicates that they derive from the
description of morphological attributes, resources gathered at a location, or events
associated with that place (Marlett and Moser 2002; O’meara 2014). This dissertation
exemplifies how some place-names are very old, passed down through various
generations, while others continue to be developed today. It also shows how their
knowledge is not generalized throughout the community, for example, sometimes
dependent on the elders’s mobility route when young. Even though some exceptions
exist, the younger members are not as knowledgeable in place-names as the older
generations.
37
The way communities remember and reiterate space represents a unique
interpretation of material remains that intersects at points with official archaeological
narratives and forges an integral community history of place (Ferguson and Chip
Colwell-Chanthaphonh 2006). It is through collaboration that scholars are challenged to
fuse different ways of knowing the past, and that to find possibilities for bridging diverse
historical narratives and practices with different epistemologies. Furthermore,
collaboration provides an opportunity for Western scholars to gather insights to
understand and unravel other (different from their own) sociocultural constructions of
space and time.
1.3 Methodology
1.3.1 Collaboration throughout research
Inspired by a community-based participatory research methodology (Austin 2004), I
devoted the time to initially consolidate active partnerships with different members of the
community. A first small ethnographic project searched for interested people who wanted
to collaborate with me, and also explored their general familiarity and knowledge about
their landscape and ancestral remains. Their insights and questions about what
archaeology could bring to them were considered in the development of this dissertation
research. Collaborators have been involved throughout all research stages; not only were
they part of the development of research objectives, but they also have been crucial in the
creation of methodologies for creatively documenting places and objects, as well as in
socio-cultural interpretation. Comcaac elders have willingly shared their knowledge and
oral tradition. While collaborators appreciate the emphasis on recording in their native
38
language, they generously translate many accounts for me and there is an agreement as to
what gets published for broader audiences. Several elders and some members of younger
generations perceived this project as an opportunity to educate and learn, respectively,
oral traditions and others social practices that have begun to be put aside in this time of
escalating change.
As mentioned above, through collaborative research, archaeologists have engaged
with Indigenous communities in a way that benefits all participants (ColwellChanthaphonh and Ferguson 2008; Ferguson 1996). People raised within Indigenous
cultures are the only ones who can provide indigenous perspectives (Sheridan 2005:76).
Besides their important contribution of traditional and historical knowledge, they also
have a distinctive manner of interpreting objects and places. Their ontology provides
conceptual pathways for interpretation and this research valued their inferences and the
processes through which they achieved them. Therefore the methodology not only
provided better ways to understand past objects but also to understand the relationship
between people and those objects in the past and today. This knowledge can be used to
build better anthropological theory.
Co-produced knowledge removes the boundaries between its production and its
communication (based on Hamilakis and Anagnostopoulos 2009). The dissemination and
storage of its materials, products, and knowledge have to be consider, alongside the
important aspect of intellectual and cultural property rights (Heckenberger 2009). In
addition, this type of research contributes to the construction of an archaeological
discipline that is relevant to contemporary issues promoting the transcendence of
subdisciplinary boundaries in anthropology. Important efforts have been made to
39
incorporate collaboration and community-based models as explicit methodologies to
build holistic modes of knowledge production (i.e. Atalay 2012). Archaeologists need to
continue developing new and creative methods that adequately combine scientific
archaeological epistemologies with indigenous and local modes of knowledge
production. In the following section some methodological propositions are presented.
1.3.2 Landscape survey
This research documented formally, spatially and temporally a vast range of social
practices that constructed and continue to construct part of the Comcaac cultural
landscape. Collaborative research began with informal workshops to establish mutual
language and knowledge exchange among participants. Archaeological survey methods
and classification systems were presented and then were compared with the Comcaac’s
general classification of landscape and objects and their selected essential social practices
for cultural and social reproduction (as explained before, meaning that these social
practices have cultural and social significance and value sustained across time,
transferred from generation to generation). The goal was to identify object assemblages
derived from these social practices that not only made sense to the Comcaac but that
would allow for meaningful interpretations of the archaeological record. For several
practices like fishing, hunting, gathering, basketry, pottery making and ritual practices,
among others, associated material assemblages were listed, with an emphasis on
production, use and discard. Relevant individual, gender and sex differences related to
practices were recorded along with important information like seasonality (Table 1).
40
Interconnections between objects that form assemblages and linked places in the
landscape also were noted (based on Zedeño 2008).
Main Social Practices
Fishing
Gathering (food an other resources)
Hunting
Water collection
Basketry making
Shell bead necklaces making
Tool making
Making of clothing and other utensils
Pottery making
Spiritual practices
Fiestas and gatherings
Table 1. List of main social practices determined by the collaborators.
In order to reinforce this strategy and facilitate the transmission of traditional
knowledge between elders and younger members of the community, we developed
workshops (ranging from four to 30 people) on traditional practices for producing
pottery, mesquite root cordage, roasted mussels, organic pigment, roasted and ground
mesquite beans, cactus wine, hats and other utensils, among other activities (Table 2).
These practices were fully documented. For the procurement of materials and the
production of objects we measured time, distance, and weight values. Additionally, we
mapped these social practices and linked all the required objects and their associated
places to the overall landscape. Some of this information can be published but knowledge
about these locations is not generalized throughout the community; people are proud and
protective of it. For me, these experiences completely changed my understanding of
archaeological knowledge. For example, I thought I understood pottery making but it was
not until I actually made pottery, walked the land, found the clay and carried it, gathered
41
the particular fuel for the fire, etcetera, that I really comprehended its meaning and value.
I also feel more prepared to interpret the material record left behind by the ancient
Comcaac.
Number of
Duration of
Recreated Social Practices
Participants
Workshop
Pottery making
±50
5 days
Recreation of traditional house
±15
2 days
Mussels collection and processing*
±30
2 days
Sea turtle processing and roasting*
10
1 day
Octopus collection and processing*
5
1 day
Mesquite root cordage making
5
2 days
Mesquite bean roasting and grinding
10
2 days
Barrel cactus processing
2
1 day
Organic pigment and its uses
±10
3 days
Traditional hat making for dancers
5
3 days
Rattlers and musical instruments creation
5
3 days
Basketry material gathering and processing*
10
2 days
Cacti fruit collecting and wine production*
15
3 days
Clams collection and processing*
8
1 day
Table 2. List of recreated social practices in manufacturing workshops
(*These practices were conducted on various ocasions).
Mapping of the Comcaac cultural landscape was accomplished through different
methods. Many young people (two of these collaborators were consistently involved)
participated in an archeological survey of an approximate area of 400 km2 with coverage
of 14% of the total area delimited by the Ejido boundaries (the land that belongs legally
to the Comcaac community is were the archaeological survey has been done so far,
obviously their traditional cultural landscape is much more broad). Selected transects
were aimed to cover coastal settings and to continue inland through different ecological
and topographical zones to gather a more complete subsistence and settlement pattern.
42
Their precise location was not systematic but varied due to accessibility issues and the
personal choices of all the collaborating members (Figure 4).
Figure 4. Location of Survey transects, scale enhanced for representation.
Transects were conducted by variable teams of three to four persons spaced at
intervals from 20 to 40 meters depending on visibility and terrain. Boundaries of artifact
concentrations were defined when diversity declined to a single category and/or densities
declined to ten every five meters. Mapping was done by means of a GEO XT Trimble; all
objects and places were photographed and described in situ with partial analysis
performed in the field; some descriptions were written but an audio recorder was used to
expedite recording. An emphasis was placed on object function and manufacture stage. In
rare instances a few diagnostic objects and samples (like obsidian, charcoal and clay)
43
were collected for future analysis. Over 200 concentrations of cultural remains, more than
450 features and around 1000 diagnostic or isolated objects have been mapped (Table 3).
Additional archeological survey transects were selected in collaboration with
members of the community, where a distinctive survey method was developed with the
simultaneous recording of oral histories and traditions, and ethnographic information
about landscape segments (3% of the total 14% transects coverage that was mentioned
above). The methodology described above was employed but with a few variations in
these cases. Transects were conducted by the same number of people but at closer
intervals where conversation among participants was possible. A guide was always
located at the center while the persons on each side thoroughly documented all the
available information. Transect guides selected their location. The goal was to document
movement through the land as experienced by the Comcaac while conducting diverse
activities. Several transects were selected in relation to logistical mobility strategies, like
the gathering of various plant resources and other materials like clay and minerals, for
hunting deer, and in a few instances to document residential mobility routes (Table 4).
Objects and places were documented along the mobility routes; only on two occasions
were visible trails recorded. Emphasis was placed on the formal, relational and temporal
aspects of places. Ethnographic questions were targeted to understand current and past
individual and group use of objects and places, including seasonality, foraging efficiency,
and the relative value of different prey items. Inquiries also addressed interconnections
between objects that form assemblages, relevant events, and known place networks.
44
Objects
Flaked stone
Ground stone
Prehispanic ceramic
Historic ceramic
Animal bone
Shell
Human bone
Glass
Charcoal
Modern trash
Metal
Features
Knapping Station
Rock ring
Rock structure
Rock pile
Rock concentration
Corral
Cairn
Bedrock mortar
Trash midden
Hearth
Roasting pit
Rock art
Tinaja
Spring
Clay source
Lithic source
Burial
Ash/organic stain
Clearing
Trails
Historic structures
Roads
Shell cache
Traditional house
Plants as cultural markers
Birthplaces
Sacred natural features
Placenames- top of hills
Placenames- arroyos
Placenames- localities
Remembered features
Table 3. List of recorded objects and features
(highlated features apply only to the Comcaac Project).
Selected Transects
Quantity
Gathering of various plants
5
Gathering of clay
2
Hunting deer
3
Water collecting
2
Shell collecting
3
Surveys to locate places mentioned in accounts
4
Residential mobility routes
3
Table 4. Main purposes for selected transects.
45
With four elders we also conducted survey transects by boat along the coast, and
by truck inland, to document place-names and their associated oral histories and
traditions, and other ethnographic information. When residential campsites were pointed
out to us, we stopped and mapped those places in detail (due to time and logistic
constraints some have not been mapped yet) (see Figure 4). At certain localities we
conducted placed-based interviews where the elders recounted personal experiences
combined with oral traditions (similar to Hedquist et al. 2012). Additional to the
complete recording of surface material culture, when relevant, activities described by the
elders were indicated on the place maps. The various layers of meaning, provided by all
of us who were mapping these places, is integrated in a geographic information system
(GIS) framework that is employed to bridge this enhanced co-produced knowledge about
the Comcaac land, documenting multiple spatio-temporal configurations.
This research considers the limitations of GIS technology with respect to Native
epistemology (Rundstrom 1995) but promotes its spatial representation with the aid of
audio and video resources, with adequate security of their data as a major concern. The
methodology employs Comcaac geographic domains and orthography for cartographic
display (Mark et al. 2010). It is a work in progress and presents several challenges since
some land features like dunes, tide lines, and estuaries, are mobile and their
representation through polygons is not always accurate. However, this discussion is not
relevant for the present dissertation because the mapping emphasis was placed on objects
and features instead of on geographic domains and place boundaries. Therefore, the
dissertation research combines an approach called “site-less” survey that focuses on the
distribution of artifacts and features relative to the physiographic elements and resource
46
zones of the landscape (Dunnell and Dancey 1983; Ebert 1992; Rossignol and
Wandsnider 1992), with the notion of ‘place’ for which visible human modifications are
not mandatory for definition (Binford 1982). Thus “place” is an ideal archaeological
analytical unit to describe, reconstruct, interpret and explain form, structure and
temporalities of meanings that human’s ascribe to their cultural landscapes (Binford
1980, 1982; Tilley 1994; Zedeño and Bowser 2009).
The present methodology was developed to alleviate several challenges presented
by Comcaac archaeology. Bowen (1986:3) stated that the slight breaks in continuous
accumulations of assemblages in mixed sand dune/midden settings occupied over several
time periods (with very few temporally diagnostic artifacts) and the occurrence of
isolated features on the landscape, complicate the assignment of site boundaries, proving
that traditional site classifications are not efficient in discerning Comcaac uses of their
landscapes. In addition, in sand dunes with little vegetation cover, processes of dune
formation and movement involve a continuous interplay between deposition, transport,
and erosion by wind. These processes may bury archaeological contexts or expose
previously buried ones (Frederick et al. 2002; Goldberg and Macphail 2006; Schiffer
1987; Waters 1992). The main problem in determining the archaeological integrity of
assemblages on sand dunes is the process of deflation, in which fine grain material is
blown away leaving a lag deposit of heavier objects. The best chance of preservation
occurs when, after abandonment, rapid burial is stabilized by vegetation or paleosol
development (Rick 2002).
Along with archaeological diagnostics, Comcaac ontology, oral tradition, and
relative chronology were applied to link archaeological objects and places with the
47
indigenous social practices of particular individuals and groups, from the vantage of the
community’s continuing social life, cultural beliefs and value systems. In some cases,
social practices are still being conducted today; in others, social memory recounts events
that represent time back to the 1600s and possibly earlier. Furthermore, social memory
can also narrate a deep time tradition through the “Giants” words, songs, and stories.
Comcaac social memory, individual and collective, resides in many places, objects and
practices like language, songs, stories, and rituals. This association allowed better
temporal interpretation and chronology for the region, which is presented throughout the
dissertation. Nevertheless, future research is needed to obtain absolute dates through
various radiometric-dating techniques and excavations that will secure a chronological
sequence.
While specific meanings may not be remembered because of their contextdependent nature, the manner in which people understand and interact with objects and
places in the present may be considered similar to the way people engaged in the past. It
can be similar because the logical step taken to understand those meanings is a product of
the way humans produce and understand signs. This understanding is based on
experience and it is an interpretative act, what it is meaningful for interpretation varies
with the values and social context of the interpreter (based on Pierce’s semiotic in Bauer
and Preucel 2000 quoted in Bauer 2002: 38,45). Elders’ observations of the natural world
will serve as important sources of information for this archaeological project, because
they reference the experiences of many people in specific locales over long periods of
time, thus providing insight into perceptions of the land according to particular belief and
value systems (Ferguson and Colwell-Chanthaphonh 2006). As it was explained before in
48
the theoretical framework, Comcaac ontology is a fundamental component of this
research.
Therefore, through the successful collaboration, the project generally made a
distinction between residential and logistical camps (based on Binford 1980), which
proved essential for the research objectives and interpretive discussions. The residential
camps manifest diverse subsistence activities and manufacturing techniques, among other
social practices. They represent seasonal or semi-permanent reoccupations, consisting of
shell accumulations along with a basic assemblage made up of varying frequencies of
objects, animal remains, charcoal, ash, hearths and occasional burials. Logistical camps
consist of knapping stations and quarry-workshops, grinding stations, caves with rock art,
isolated objects such as caches of metates, manos, fragments of ollas and Laevicardium
sp. shells used as utensils, and several feature types including circles of stone and shell,
stone-outlined figures and cairns, and agave roasting pits.
49
CHAPTER 2
PRESENT STUDY
The dissertation consists of three articles that complement one another. They exemplify a
productive collaboration endeavor that enhances knowledge about the Comcaac past that
is relevant for the present.
2.1 Walking the Desert, Paddling the Sea: Comcaac Mobility in Time
The first article is co-authored with Luz Torres Cubillas a member of the Comcaac
Community. It has been submitted to the journal “Evolutionary Anthropology” and it is
currently under review. In this article, the comprehensive manner of collaboration with
the Comcaac on their landscape perspective demonstrates that enduring knowledge about
the land and the resulting culturally constructed landscape shape decisions about when
and where to move. It shows that mobility is multifaceted as played out by different
participants with different motivations. It cannot be adequately characterized when
grouped only into a band pattern or as seasonal rounds in which only movements to
resource patches are followed. In addition to searching for the social reproductive and
cultural needs that encouraged mobility and the form of mobility that these required, this
research also examined: the frequency and duration of moves, numbers and percentage of
people moving per event, group composition during moves, distance of moves, and the
degree of reuse of places. It had an additional research objective of understanding which
movement behaviors, as they involved particular places and objects in the landscape, can
be most effectively discerned archaeologically. This research is not only valuable for
50
archaeological characterization of the area but also for insights relevant to studies of
hunters and gatherers worldwide.
2.2 Blood and Pearls: Cazoopin (Colonial Spaniards) in the Comcaac Region
The second article is co-authored with Lorenzo Herrera Casanova, an elder from the
Comcaac Community, and Luz Torres Cubillas also from the community. It is ready to be
submitted to the journal entitled “Ethnohistory”. This article for the first time publishes
Comcaac historical accounts about the “Cazoopin,” or Spaniards. These accounts, which
extend back in time to at least 1750, describe the first encounters the Comcaac had with
Spanish sailing ships and their early opportunistic adoption of Spanish material culture.
Oral accounts are combined with archival documents, in particular Pimentel’s Diary of
Governor Ortiz Parrilla’s 1750 expedition to Tahejcö or Tiburón Island, and with
archaeological survey evidence from mentioned places. For the colonial period in Sonora,
historians and anthropologists have mostly relied upon archival documents written by
representatives of the Spanish empire, in addition to information from historical
archaeology. This paper promotes the integration of indigenous voices while it explores
the economic, social, political and ecological dimensions that have conditioned the
creation of the different historical narratives. The article explores the different
perceptions of the past between the Comcaac and the colonial Spaniards. It also identifies
places in the Comcaac cultural landscape that index their social interactions with colonial
Spaniards and the study of material evidence of interactions that could be discerned
archaeologically.
51
2.3 Marriage, Fiestas and Daily Life: Comcaac Social Interactions with their
O’odham Neighbors through Time
The third article will be submitted to the journal entitled “Current Anthropology”. For the
first time in the region, the research focus was placed on the coastal inhabitants to explore
in new ways how the Comcaac would have acquired maize and interacted with the
neighboring populations that pursued shell and other marine resources at different
moments in the past. I explore how exchange may have been embedded in the social
practices and daily lives of both the Comcaac and the external societies. The Comcaac
cultural landscape contains and constitutes histories, experiences and associations of
social interactions with other groups. This project recorded places and objects associated
with the O’odham people. Throughout various spatiotemporal social practices different
systems of meanings or values developed (Munn 1986; Harvey 1996). This article
proposes that during village formation and the subsequent interest in maize and coastal
resources acquisition, landscapes of interaction between O’odham (the archaeological
Trincheras people) and Comcaac people developed. They comprised a system of value
and meaning through shell bracelets and beads, decorated wares, and maize in residential
campsites with their associated discourses (the system of thought that constructs how to
relate, act, believe and thus speak about objects), marriages and fiestas, as mediators that
bear the message of one’s prestige and identity across space and time.
52
CHAPTER 3
CONCLUSION
Overall, anthropologists and the Comcaac share common goals, including the
preservation and protection of their cultural heritage and natural resources, a broader
understanding of their past, and the future directions of the Comcaac community.
Collaboration is always challenging and sometimes it does not seem to move forward.
Clearly communities are not homogenous and always certain individual preferences will
arise. The many differences among collaborators can be overcome with patience, honesty
and trust. It is very important not to consider the Comcaac as a homogenous group. While
on occasion, certain knowledge about their land and their past is generalized throughout
the community, learned in social gatherings through elders’ accounts or more privately in
their households, the tendency is for different families to possess different knowledge
about their land, reflecting the different territories of Comcaac bands in the past. The
present research placed particular emphasis on providing information on how many
persons were sharing a specific oral history or tradition and, when relevant, information
on who was sharing it. When an elder’s complete stories were presented in an article the
elder was a co-author of the article and his source of knowledge was described.
The present project and similar collaborative research with indigenous communities
takes time, time that is not usually in synchrony with successful academic careers, but
that nevertheless can be accomplished. As the present dissertation shows, it was a
privilege to spend so much time in the Comcaac region, not only to gather ample data but
also to accomplish a real collaboration during various research steps. Participants were
53
able to collect, analyze, and interpret data. The project was able to record information
from elders who have now passed away. All the compiled data continues to be available
for future analysis, interpretation and dissemination. Therefore while this dissertation is
completed, the project as a whole is an ongoing process that with secured funding could
continue for a long period of time.
This dissertation provides an example of a successful collaborative endeavor.
Throughout its pages the readers can find the richness of this enterprise. Therefore in this
section, only a few outstanding notions will be highlighted. The emphasis of our project
is to innovate and to highlight the positive aspects of collaboration and the
anthropological discipline as a whole. Nevertheless it is important to remember the
problems that still need to be resolved. In many parts of Latin America (in particular
Guatemala and Mexico) conflict between indigenous people and archaeology needs to be
considered in a context that exposes not only the privileged position of archaeological
discourse, but also how this discourse has come to be privileged. The government
through federal institutions, historians, archaeologists and anthropologists in general,
represents the stewards and spokespersons of the country’s past. It is essential that
indigenous communities be taken into consideration and respected. They are not fixed in
time but alive and constantly changing entities that have not only the right to their
heritage but also ample knowledge about it.
Furthermore, this type of collaborative research contributes to build a discipline of
anthropology that blurs sub-disciplinary boundaries. Anthropologists should continue to
integrate ethnographic, archeological and linguistic data with other sources of
information from the past like oral history and tradition, and documentary history, into
54
explanatory models to interpret human behavior. Different lines of evidence are
necessary because each line, in and of itself, has limitations that cannot be overcome
without employing other lines of evidence. This information is not only useful to better
interpret material culture but can also be employed to address the political, ethical,
epistemological, and social issues of the discipline’s practice. Ethnographic methods also
allow recognition of the processes of memory and history in the construction of a
community’s past. Moreover, the integration of data from different subdisciplines
provides us scholars with an opportunity to innovate theoretical frameworks and
methodologies for the integration of diverse epistemologies and historical narratives.
Scholars have made strides through the development of materiality theory and the
employment of a cultural landscape approach. They have also embraced community
based research methodologies successfully. The present project is yet another efficient
example that further contributes to this effort.
In tandem with materiality theorists and to succeed in the elucidation of connections
between indigenous ontology and the archaeological and ethnographic record, this
research understood material forms (like rock structures, rock art, baskets, pottery, and
knifes to name a few) as active participants in social practices and in the construction of
culture. It emphasized their historical and social context-dependent dialectical nature,
while avoiding Western epistemological dualisms. It is through social practice that the
meaning of material culture is accomplished. Therefore, the organization of workshops
that highlighted social practices with their associated object assemblages were essential
for the integration of the Comcaac’s voice and the socio-cultural interpretations of
material culture. This research used Comcaac ontology to determine archaeological
55
assemblage classification to better inform analysis and interpretation. Participants not
only selected their most important social practices and the objects associated with them,
but also provided information on how certain activities were conducted and what it meant
for them. Linguistic information further revealed how they thought about certain
processes and objects.
For example, pottery making (re-created through a workshop) was accomplished by
combining clay, sand, water, three different plants for pigments and fuel, three different
types of ground stone and two different types of shell. In some instances, the name of the
object revealed its function like iqueemt (lit. ‘the stone used for polishing pottery
vessels’). These employed objects came from an area with a radius of 10 km, covering
three different environmental zones, further revealing the vital knowledge and access to
their cultural landscape necessary for the continuation of traditional practices. Since
several women participated, it was possible to record differences and similarities in
practice. It was also revealing to see how the elders communicated their knowledge to
small children. The information obtained through the workshops proved essential for
better anthropological interpretations. It is evident how experiential knowledge through
actual practice in particular cultural contexts is essential for reconstructions pertaining to
a society’s past.
This research focused on indigenous meaning making practices to reveal a material
past as understood and remembered by contemporary Comcaac descendants and
occupants of their cultural landscape. It was then complemented with the past as
reconstructed and interpreted by the scientific community (me as an anthropologist in this
case). The Comcaac participants not only provided important traditional and historical
56
knowledge but they also interpreted objects and places. Their ontology provides
conceptual pathways for interpretation and this research valued their inferences and their
process to achieve them. On occasion, specific meanings about places and their
associated objects were not remembered but the manner in which young and elder people
understood and interacted with objects and places in the present can be considered similar
to the way people engaged in the past. Since the interpretative act is based on experiences
and it is also determined by their values and social context that determines what it is
meaningful to them for interpretation. For example, when visiting a rock structure site on
the side of a hill where the only objects encountered in survey were occasional lithic
scatters, a young female collaborator remarked: “this place was most likely occupied
temporarily by men only, I do not see domestic trash”. The opposite situation occurred
upon locating a deer bone awl for basketry making, where it was inferred that a woman
had been in that place and it probably represented a residential campsite since the awl
was part of her mobile tool kit.
Comcaac ontology varied by age and gender and it was also determined by expertise;
as an example, people who were fishermen did not have the same interpretations about
the land as the skilled hunters. Elders who were familiar with ironwood carving had
different insights than elders familiar with making watercrafts and other types of wood
tools. Overall, elders’ observations of their surroundings served as important sources of
information for this archaeological project. They reference the experiences of many
people in their land over long periods of time according to their belief and value systems.
Therefore the methodology employed not only provided better ways to understand past
objects but also people and object relationships. This knowledge can be used to build
57
better anthropological theory to better understand relationships between people and
objects, and people and place, in the past and today.
While the examples provided may sound familiar when compared to the
inferences made by archaeologists based on ample theory and through years of
ethnographic investigation, this project shows that only people raised in the community
were able to provide indigenous perspectives and fully understand their cultural
landscape. Their contributions were essential. Through the articles presented in this
dissertation, the reader can attest to the richness of the data. In particular, the first article
about Comcaac mobility can improve theory based on ethnography, making us reconsider
our assumptions about people in the past with regard to their sense of distance, scale, and
weight, and on their decision-making processes for moving. The transmitted and
enduring knowledge about the land shape these decisions individually. Summarizing this
diversity of experience and tradition as a simplified pattern for band mobility or as a
seasonal round following resource patches only captures recurrent elements of a complex
universe of social practices. Many culturally meaningful movements are overlooked
when non-indigenous models of mobility are applied.
Moreover, this research specifically contributes to improve our interpretative
frameworks to better understand other peoples’ concepts of time and space. It is through
collaboration that scholars can gather insights to understand and unravel other (different
from our own) sociocultural constructions. As described in the introduction to the
dissertation, it was through dialectics while organizing and conducting activities together
that differences and similarities arose that allowed me to better understand Comcaac
conceptions. The way Comcaac people remember and reiterate space and time
58
represented a unique interpretation of material culture that sometimes intersected with my
narratives, providing a more complete community history of place. As was described in
the introduction, the measurement of time seemed to be determined by the weather, the
sun and the tide cycle. In the past, twelve moons defined Comcaac cyclical seasonal time.
Their selected names indicated the high cultural value of the social practices conducted
during that time as well as their stable periodic nature for measuring time and space. The
position of the stars, landmarks on the land, and the direction of the wind were essential
for Comcaac spatial recognition. As highly mobile people, their sense of space is
conceptualized through movement on the land and sea. The Comcaac past is constructed
around spatiality more than chronology.
Therefore while this project has not resolved the complex understanding of Comcaac
spatio-temporal conceptions, it can be assured that a better notion of it, alongside an
improved local chronology was achieved through collaboration. In the future absolute
dates can be obtained through radiocarbon dating among other radiometric dating
techniques (some samples have already been collected and the locations for depositional
contexts for the conduction of excavations are secured). For now, relative chronology by
means of archaeological diagnostics, Comcaac oral history and tradition, and ontology,
was applied to link objects and places with the indigenous social practices of particular
individuals and groups. Some of those social practices are still being conducted today,
For others, social memory recounts practices and events that represent time back to the
1600s and most likely further in time (as established in the present dissertation). Practices
of social memory can also correspond to a deep-time tradition through the “Giants”
59
words, songs, and stories. Comcaac social memory, individual and collective, resides in
many places, objects and practices like language, songs, stories, and rituals.
As is the case for oral traditions of non-literate people across the world, a floating gap
between the time of immediate ancestors and a still more distant past was acknowledged.
Due to their oral nature, it seems likely that time and generational shifts can change and
disappear narrations. However, it is difficult to explain what precisely causes this
phenomenon. It is proposed that these gaps were accentuated with a process that began
with the Spanish colonial period but escalated with the tragic diminishment of the
Comcaac population and their access to a larger cultural landscape during the 19th
century due to confrontations with the Mexican Army and local ranchers. Particular
examples throughout this dissertation revealed some gaps in knowledge of the past. For
example, certain technologies have been forgotten like the ability to manufacture efficient
lithic projectile points (some people can make them but not as well as in the past). With
access to metal, the Comcaac rapidly made the transition to metal objects and knifes even
as early as the Spanish colonial period, oral narrations describe the desirability of these
items. A more extreme case of a knowledge gap is that the technology for the
manufacture of shell beads, tinklers, rings, pendants and bracelets has been completely
forgotten. It can be suggested that these items stopped being of value due to a cessation
of the trade network that promoted their meaning.
In addition to theoretical frameworks it is crucial that we develop methodologies to
co-produce knowledge without prioritizing our epistemology over others. It should be a
goal not only to merge indigenous knowledge but also various disciplines’ practices with
diverse historical narratives. As evidenced throughout the dissertation, this research
60
employs a sum of available histories without choosing one to the exclusion of others. To
accomplish this, it employs methodologies from collaboration and community-based
models but it also developed new and creative methods that adequately combine
scientific archaeological epistemologies with indigenous and local modes of knowledge
production. As mentioned earlier the workshops were very successful, not only for the
interpretative endeavor of research but also for the community’s sake. Elders had an
opportunity to re-connect with and educate younger members, while sharing traditional
knowledge.
The most innovative component was that in tandem with standard archaeological
survey techniques, we developed a distinctive methodology for simultaneously recording
oral histories and traditions along successive landscape segments. This effort not only
allowed the integration of diverse historical narratives but also improved the discipline
of anthropology through methodological advances to build theory that better understands
objects and people relationships in the past and today. The way indigenous people walk
the land, interacting with space and time, and their relationship with encountered material
culture should be incorporated into all aspects of research, including the research design
consideration of where survey transects segments should be located and different
sampling decisions, and the interpretation of data and the representation and
dissemination of the results. As it has been said above, this project is a productive
collaborative endeavor that enhances the past knowledge of the Comcaac region.
As final remarks some research results will be highlighted that were only
accomplished by means of collaboration with the Comcaac community. Collaboration
allowed the complementation of oral history and tradition, documentary history, and
61
archaeological and ethnographic data to reconstruct a past that is relevant for their
present. Through the present project it was established that human presence in the
ancestral Comcaac territory dates back to the Paleoindian Clovis Period. Diagnostic
projectile points have been found on the coast of central and southern Sonora. Also,
certain oral narrations describe a diminished sea level that could correspond to this
moment in time. Comcaac oral tradition and linguistic evidence supports the recent
models that suggest the peopling of the New World through dispersal along the Pacific
coast via a kelp highway as well as the easier access through the midriff islands in the
Gulf connecting Baja California with the Sonoran mainland. The deep time oral tradition
of the Comcaac distinguishes between two kinds of ancient people referred to as
“Giants.” The older Hant Ihiyaxi Comcaac, (lit. Land its edge people), were very tall and
lived in Baja California but little is known about them.
For later in time the present research establishes affinities with the Cochise Archaic
of Sonora and South-Central Arizona (Cordell 1997) based on a variety of characteristic
features, including the presence of several projectile point types. So far in the Comcaac
region, projectile points and site composition with lithic debris, manos and metates, and
various roasting pits and hearths, plus a wide range of rock features and rock art, indicate
similarities throughout a vast region from the Great Basin to the Papaguería and Sonora.
Regional material cultural differentiation is evident later in time with the establishment of
agricultural villages. Although tentative until further research, the lack of Cienega
projectile points in the Comcaac region probably is indicative of this point’s cultural
affiliation with agricultural villagers. Finally, with the later appearance of pottery in the
region (Tiburón Plain pottery type: a thin, light and hard well-fired ware made without
62
added temper), previous scholars had defined the area as the Central Coast
Archaeological Tradition. This research proposes instead the name: Ancestral Comcaac
Tradition. Cross-dating indicates the appearance of the Tiburón Plain pottery type as
early as AD 150, although absolute dating is still needed.
The Tiburón Plain pottery type (hamaazaj) including the clay disk (hahoof), clay
figurines of several types (ziix coosyat yacaam), clay beads for necklaces (hanteezj
caacomot), gambling pieces of gypsum or quartz (ziix coosyat yaheet), gambling sticks
for games (haheet), shell beads (haapxij), a type of stone weapon (looks like a large stone
pestle) (hamoz ipapox, lit. ‘with what you remove hearts’), wooden sticks to dig-up
?roots also used as weapons (hapoj), nasal septum ornaments (ziix coosyat ineemj), stone
armor for the chest (flat thin metate stone) (caapcoj iya), blade (zaah iteepon), bullroarer
(hacaaij), stone whistle (hast ic caah), stick and board to make fire (caa ctam and caa
cmaam), type of loincloth (cootom imaapcö), big bow (haacnacoj) and arrow (haxaaza),
harpoon (hacaaiz aacoj), among others, were objects made and used by the later giants
called Xicca Coosyatoj (lit. things singers) as referenced in words, songs, and stories. It
cannot be assumed that all these objects and their associated technologies were
contemporary but it is possible that they pertain to a similar broad period of distant time.
As it is showed in the first article entitled “Walking the Desert, Paddling the Sea:
Comcaac Mobility in Time” in co-authorship with Luz Torres Cubillas, besides objects,
many places and mobility routes pertain to the Giants’ realm attesting to Comcaac deep
time tradition. This article provided relevant insights to studies of residential mobility of
hunters and gatherers worldwide. It examined the frequency and duration of moves,
numbers and percentage of people moving per event, group composition during moves,
63
distance of moves, and the degree of reuse of places. The Comcaac cultural landscape
revealed a multifaceted mobility that was and is stilled played out by different
participants within an incredibly complex arena of social practice. Richer, more nuanced
insights into Comcaac mobility was only possible through collaboration integrating
humanistic and scientific forms of inquiry, responsive to their ontology and oral tradition,
to obtain a holistic understanding of the past and its relevance to the present.
This comprehensive manner of collaboration with the Comcaac on their landscape
perspective demonstrates that enduring knowledge about the land and the resulting
culturally constructed landscape shape their decision-making for survival. Besides the
insights into the mobility patterns of these hunters and gatherers, the following articles
portray knowledge about the Comcaac during the Spanish colonial period and their social
interactions through time with the O’odham neighbors in the region. In the second article
entitled “Blood and Pearls: Cazoopin (Colonial Spaniards) in the Comcaac Region” coauthored with Lorenzo Herrera Casanova and Luz Torres Cubillas, it is not until the
Comcaac voice is portrayed that a complete historical narrative of the colonial Spanish
period is achieved. Comcaac oral accounts further reveal the importance of initial
encounters, how new material practices and new ways of assigning value (in particular to
food, metal objects, and places) were accommodated for the society’s survival.
Narrations about subsequent contacts reveal the breakdown of relationships, betrayal and
enmity. The accounts also attest to the importance of Comcaac leaders enhanced with
spiritual power for their survival and social reproduction.
Furthermore, in the third article entitled “Marriage, Fiestas and Daily Life:
Comcaac Social Interactions with their O’odham Neighbors through Time”, the Comcaac
64
voice provided an opportunity to explore in new ways how neighboring populations
could have acquired shell and other marine resources from the Comcaac at different
moments in the past, contributing to the understanding of regional exchange systems in
northern Mexico and the US Southwest. It allowed the exploration of how exchange may
have been embedded in the social practices and daily lives of both the Comcaac and the
external societies. The article explores landscapes of interaction where people associated
with different societies related while pursuing resource procurement and objects with
symbolic value. It proposes that these interactions began during village formation and the
subsequent population increase in northwest Mexico and also during the establishment of
shell exchange mechanisms. Exchange mechanisms need to be understood among
O’odham mobile groups that served as intermediaries. Members of the different Comcaac
and O’odham bands interacted in numerous ways through various pulses of isolation and
interaction; sometimes they traded objects while on other occasions went themselves to
procure resources. They had friendly and cooperative encounters in fiestas and through
marriage alliances or gatherings during harvest seasons but also fought and had bloody
confrontations.
3.1 Future research
This dissertation provides an example of a successful collaborative endeavor but the
Comcaac project as a whole is an ongoing process. As mentioned above, the project
produced ample data that will continue to be analyzed and interpreted, to not only be
published within the academic realm but also to continue with public outreach. And most
importantly the project is working on accurately providing all the recorded knowledge to
65
the Comcaac community. While scholars are working hard to employ frameworks that
adequately combine different knowledge production systems, it is imperative to continue
to explore ways of not only creating co-produced knowledge but also emphasizing its
effective transfer and dissemination. It is important to always consider the security of the
data and its secrecy for diverse audiences. The project is working on the creation of
manuals, maps and an electronic password protected website for the compiled evidence.
The Comcaac participants chose how they wanted to disseminate particular oral accounts.
Once this first stage of the project is completed, as it has been attested through out this
dissertation, there is ample room for expansion and future work. More oral tradition and
history can be recorded; much ethnographic, linguistic, archaeological and historical
research can be conducted as well.
The landscape survey, for example, allowed familiarity with the land and recorded
places and their associated objects, providing a clear indication of where to conduct
archaeological excavations to answer particular research questions about the past.
Deposits with enough depth have been located to search for evidence to develop a local
chronology, which is imperative for the whole Northwest Mexico and Southwest United
Stated region. The survey also offers ample information to develop a predictive model for
what can be recovered at Tahejcö or Tiburón Island. Once this research has proved its
validity and success on the mainland it will be easier to secure sufficient funding to
conduct a multidisciplinary research project on the island. Tahejcö is not only the
heartland of the Comcaac but it also holds residential campsites with enough sediment
deposition to conduct excavations with the potential for chronology building. This project
has only begun to scratch the surface of the possibilities of research there. Mapping has
66
only been conducted partially on the coastline and at two localities inland. Only certain
places have been targeted but the landscape is vast. Now the project has generated
knowledge about where to locate survey transects that on occasion will follow traditional
mobility routes. It also has recorded information on specific traditional campsites that are
awaiting survey mapping and excavation. The foundations are set, now it is just a matter
of pushing forward.
67
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2000 Indigenous Archaeology. American Indian Values and Scientific Practice.
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2013 Gendered Logistic Mobility among the Earliest Farmers in the Sonoran
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APPENDIX A
WALKING THE DESERT, PADDLING THE SEA:
COMCAAC MOBILITY IN TIME
by
Natalia Martínez-Tagüeña
The University of Arizona
School of Anthropology
1009 East South Campus Drive
Tucson, AZ 85721
[email protected]
(520) 626-8162
(0052) 1-7771038215
and
Luz Alicia Torres Cubillas
Miembro de la Guardia Tradicional y Comunidad Comcaac
Desemboque de los Seris, Sonora, México
[email protected]
Manuscript submitted and under revision at the Journal “Evolutionary Anthropology”
Number of Text Pages: 16
Number of Tables: 2
Number of Figures: 6
Key Words: Cultural landscape survey, Indigenous past, Collaboration
83
About the Authors Section:
Natalia Martínez Tagüeña
Since 2009 has been collaborating with the Comcaac indigenous community to document
their archaeology and oral traditions, and develop workshops on traditional practices. She
is currently finishing her PhD in Anthropology working on publications on the
ethnohistory of the Comcaac people and on their relationships with their neighbors
through time.
Luz Alicia Torres Cubillas
She is a member of the Comcaac Community and a trusted traditional guard. She has
been learning oral traditions from Comcaac elders since she was a youth. She is a pioneer
of the second generation of writers of their oral language, very active in the mapping of
her land, and also a photographer and a promoter of traditional knowledge.
84
A.1 Introduction
For over a thousand years, the Comcaac (named “Seris” by the Spaniards around 1645)
have lived along the coast of central Sonora, México, regularly hunting and harvesting
resources of the desert and sea. In collaboration with Comcaac men and women of
different ages and from different families, it was possible to integrate archaeological
evidence, archival documents, ethnographic information, and oral history and traditions,
to better understand the Comcaac’s mobile past. This paper begins by contextualizing the
research and introducing the Comcaac cultural landscape. Understanding this humandefined landscape requires theoretical and methodological approaches that interweave
people, objects, place and space as active participants in social practice and culture
construction. The body of the article demonstrates how enduring cultural knowledge and
the constructed landscape shape decision-making related to movement. The significance
of place names and stories about movement with their associated material record are
considered in conjunction with the incentives for movement and camp selection as
experienced by different Comcaac people. This research is not only valuable for what has
up to now been a vaguely known archaeology of the area but also for insights relevant to
studies of hunters and gatherers worldwide.
A.2 Background
The ancestral territory of the Comcaac extends along the western desert coastal plain of
Sonora, México, encompassing a wealth of natural and cultural resources (Figure 1). The
extreme aridity and summer heat that characterize the Central Coast have greatly
influenced human occupation in the region.1 No streams with perennial surface water
85
occur in the area2, with the exception of portions of the Bacuachi River (Sheridan 1999)
where, due to bedrock elevation, water remains at the surface yearlong. The Comcaac
relied in the past on springs and seasonal tinajas (bedrock tanks that collect rain water).
The desert provides diverse seasonal resources and the intertidal marine habitats along
the coast are among the most diverse of the world3. The shoreline consists of estuaries,
sea cliffs, wave-cut bluffs, and broad sandy beaches with high and unstable dunes, many
of which are culturally significant for the Comcaac as locations of social practices. For
the knowledgeable, tide cycles draw people to the ocean and its shores twice a month
during new and full moon.
Figure 1. Research area at the desert coastal plain of Sonora, Mexico.
86
Human presence in the ancestral Comcaac territory dates back to the Paleoindian
(Clovis) Period, between 11,050 and 10,800 14C yrs BP4-7 when a land bridge may have
connected Tahejcö or Tiburón Island to the Sonoran mainland,8 making it accessible by
foot6 (narrated by several Comcaac elders). The present day sea level of the Sonoran
coast was reached around 5,000 yrs ago.9-10 The Archaic period in the area was previously
assigned to the San Dieguito and Amargosa components of the Pinacate region and
southern California deserts based on diagnostic features.1,11 However, the present research
establishes the area as part of the Cochise Archaic of Sonora and South-Central Arizona12
based on a variety of characteristic features, including the presence of San Jose, Pinto,
and San Pedro projectile point types.
Ancestral to the Comcaac is what scholars have defined as the Central Coast
Archaeological Tradition. This tradition extends along a strip of coastline from just north
of the city of Guaymas on the south to Puerto Peñasco on the north, including the islands
of Tiburón and San Esteban in the Gulf of California.1,13 Inland the ancestral region
reaches nearly as far as the city of Hermosillo. Unlike the territory of most mobile
people, the Comcaac ancestral cultural area is defined by the presence of Tiburón Plain
pottery type: a thin, light and hard well-fired ware made without added temper.1 Form
and function reflect similarities with Yuman Wares of neighbors along the Colorado
River to the north, while its manufacture resembles the Trincheras Wares of adjacent
inland farmers to the east in Sonora. Cross-dating indicates the appearance of the Tiburón
Plain pottery type as early as AD 200, although absolute dating is still needed.5,14
Archaeological research, ethnographic analogy, and oral tradition suggest that Comcaac
occupation extends back to this time or earlier. Linguistic evidence places Cmiique iitom
87
as a language isolate,15 also indicating deep time in relation to their neighbors belonging
to the Hokan stock and predating the arrival of the Uto-Aztecan people in northern
Mexico.16
It is important to remark that due to processes of colonization, missionization, and
warfare, Comcaac settlement pattern and social organization changed profoundly during
the Spanish colonial period. Those processes resulted in the consolidation of their identity
as Comcaac and their confinement to a small stretch of coastline and Tiburón Island.
They lived in small, shifting, dispersed family groups that belonged to a number of
subdivisions or bands reflecting geographic areas, as recognized by the Spaniards in late
1600s and early 1700s.17 In the 1940s, some members still belonged to different bands
although they continued to lose access to their former territory (for band names and
descriptions consult other sources17-19). People from different bands frequently
intermarried. The Comcaac have bilateral kinship reckoning and were never organized
into clans, consistent with other hunter-gatherers living in arid areas of the world.20
However, relationships were not always smooth as fighting occurred between bands.
With exceptions resource availability would have been fairly similar among the bands,
but sometimes members from different bands exchanged localized products (i.e. sea lion
meat and skin, reed grass, among many others) and other times travelled to gather needed
resources rather than trading for them.
In 1944 the Comcaac where divided into three main groups--no longer living as
bands--the largest at Haxöl Iihom (lit. where there are multicolored clams) or
Desemboque de los Seris, the second largest at Hajhax (lit. any water) or Tecomate on
the northern part of Tahejcö (Tiburón Island) and the third at Zoozni Cmiipla (lit. bad
88
zoozni) close to the base of Punta San Miguel east of Tahejcö.21 Today, the Comcaac still
remember the band affiliation of their family ancestry. They mainly reside in two villages
called Haxöl Iihom and Socaaix (Punta Chueca), and continue to visit certain traditional
camps during hunting, fishing or gathering expeditions (Figure 2). In 1970, the Mexican
government designated their territory as an ejido (a form of communal land) that consists
of an approximately 100 km strip of mainland coast varying in width inland (1-20 km).
They also obtained formal title with restricted use of Tahejcö as it became a federal
natural protected area. Commercial fishing of pen shell (Pinna rugosa), crab (Callinectes
bellicosus) and different fish is their main economic activity, while at the household level
hunting and gathering still prevails. Substantial revenue for some people also comes from
the sale of bighorn sheep hunting permits and traditional crafts like ironwood carvings
and shell necklaces.
The Comcaac have long-term continuity in the area, and a deep connection with,
and knowledge of, the archaeological record. They also possess rich oral traditions and
complex views of the natural order expressed in stories, poetry, and songs. Their oral
traditions clearly distinguish between signs of their immediate ancestors and signs of
others22-26 indicating a three-part temporal framework for the past. The older part
corresponds to deep time referred as the Xicca Coosyatoj or Giants’ objects (Tiburón
Plain pottery type, among others), words, songs, and stories; a more recent division
corresponds to the oral tradition of the Comcaac ancestors (believed to have been
accurate back through the 1800s by previous scholars, but shown in this project to extend
at least to 1750 and probably earlier); and a tapering of information in the middle in
which few details are available, with generational shifts generation defined as a floating
89
gap (based on Vansina 1985:23). Thus, with community participation it was possible to
integrate evidence gathered from an archaeological survey with ethnographic and
ethnohistorical information obtained through interviews and document searches,
respectively. Community involvement both theoretically and directly expands and refines
interpretations that explain archaeological patterns solely by connecting material remains
to direct ethnographic analogs. Cultural meanings of places and mobility are essential for
a broader scenario about the actions and decisions for movement.
Figure 2. Hant Caacoj Comcaac quih Yaat Tintica, Comcaac landscape today with
publishable meaningful places mentioned in text.
A.3 Comcaac cultural landscape
The Comcaac territory is called Comcaac quih hant iti yaii, lit. place where the Comcaac
live, also referred as Hant Caacoj Comcaac quih Yaat Tintica, lit. the large land of the
90
Comcaac. The word ‘hant’ mainly means earth, dirt and land. It also describes the Earth
or world and can also be employed to define place, year in relation to time, and weather.
When employed as a verb it has several uses, such as having years of age, which clearly
unites the sense of being in time and space, the essential connection to the land of the
Comcaac. For most community members, this territory is considered home, full of natural
and sacred richness defended by their ancestors with blood and worthy of their
protection. More than six hundred place-names have been documented22,25-27 indicating
not only deep history and long-term continuity on their ancestral land but also indexing
knowledge about encounters with people, animals, and other beings while living and
travelling across that land. Also providing knowledge about how their land is interpreted
and communicated. Their cultural landscape is tied to their history, culture and society,
where places localize, commemorate, and transmit traditional knowledge derived from
the people’s historical memory anchored to the land. As other studies demonstrate28-30 this
social memory is embodied in individual and group experiences as well as in mnemonic
sites and practices like language, songs, stories, rituals, bodies and bodily practices,
places, and objects.
Many scholars have employed a cultural landscape approach to investigate the
indigenous past.31-34 In this project, cultural landscape is defined as an environmental
setting that is simultaneously the medium for, and the outcome, of social action. It has
relation to multiple chronologies where specific historical events can be perceived,
experienced, and contextualized by Comcaac people. Landscapes are part of a world of
movement, relationships, memories and histories, bound with personal and collective
identity.35 Hunter–gatherer and fishing economic strategies are necessarily composed of
91
many interacting activities occurring at diverse locales. Movement is important for the
creation of place, and space is conceptualized as movement rather than as a container or
fixed area of land.36 Boundaries between persons and objects are perceptually osmotic
and play off one another, while persons, places, and spaces are intimately imbricated as
active participants in social practice and culture construction.37-38 This approach
challenges the dichotomy of space/place39 and other dualities commonly applied to the
study of society and material culture (like subject/object39 and nature/culture40 among
others), emphasizing instead the historical, and social context-dependent dialectical
nature of these elements.
A.4 Methodology and research objectives
The present research documented formally, spatially and temporally a vast range of social
practices that constructed and contine to construct part of the Comcaac cultural
landscape. A geographic information system (GIS) framework was employed to bridge
morphological and phenomenological approaches to this landscape. It articulates layered
meaning from the past and present drawn from historical narratives, archaeology,
ethnography, and oral tradition that represent multiple spatial and temporal
configurations. An archeological survey of an approximate area of 400 km2 has been
conducted, yielding over 200 concentrations of cultural remains, more than 450 features
and around 1000 objects; emphasis was placed on formal, relational and temporal aspects
of places, and on object function and manufacture stage. In addition, by means of
collaboration with members of the community, a distinctive survey method was
developed with the simultaneous recording of oral histories and ethnographic information
92
about landscape segments. The emphasis was on current and past individual and group
use of objects and places, seasonality, foraging efficiency, the relative value of different
prey items, interconnections between objects that form assemblages, relevant events, and
known place networks. So far, ten elders have participated in placed-based interviews
where they recounted personal experiences combined with oral traditions (similar to
Hedquist et al.41). To reduce the limitations of GIS technology with respect to Native
epistemology42 the methodology employs Comcaac geographic domains and orthography
for cartographic display.43
The comprehensive manner of collaboration with the Comcaac on their landscape
perspective demonstrates that enduring knowledge about the land and the resulting
culturally constructed landscape shape decisions about when and where to move. It
shows that mobility is multifaceted as played out by different participants with different
motivations. It cannot be adequately characterized when grouped only into a band
pattern or as seasonal rounds in which only resource patches are followed. Comcaac
mobility strategies cannot be thought of in terms of residential vs. logistical44 mobility but
operate as a continuum along the two extremes. In addition to searching for the social
reproductive and cultural needs that encouraged mobility and the form of mobility that
these required, this research also examined: the frequency and duration of moves,
numbers and percentage of people moving per event, group composition during moves,
distance of moves, and the degree of reuse of places. An additional research objective
was to understand which movement behaviors, as they involved particular places and
objects in the landscape, can be most effectively discerned archaeologically.
93
A.5 Comcaac mobility
A.5.1 Landscape knowledge and meaningful places
The Comcaac linguistic categorization of landscape objects is dominated by a system of
lexicalization involving complex terms, compounds that involve a substance (hant-earth,
hast-stone, xepe-sea water, hax-freshwater) plus additional lexical items to provide
information (i.e. hant queemej, lit. land that moves slowly). A few exceptions to these
compound terms are simple ones like xatj or reef, caail or dry lakebed, xtaasi or estuary,
zaaj or cave, and yaaij or long dune45. O’meara45 proposes that the possible referents of
the single terms are difficult to classify with respect to the denotation of any of the four
classificatory substance terms. However, it is plausible that these places were essential
for Comcaac social reproduction and thus commensurate with a simple form; this
scenario would be similar to the naming of plants and shells where 25-26% have primary
or unanalyzable terms corresponding to species that have food or cultural value.22,46 Such
a linguistic system is also in accordance with a highly mobile population as in the case of
the Western Apache.47
More than six hundred documented Comcaac place-names2,25-27 have been studied
structurally and semantically,27,48 indicating that they derive from the description of
morphological attributes, resources gathered at that location, or events associated with
that place (i.e.Haas Itihiip lit. mesquites where they are, or Camatni Ipasni lit. where the
sting ray was cooked). While some of the events at named locations occurred a long time
ago (i.e. Heeesam yapoticol or where the seahorse evaded getting hit) others continue to
develop today (i.e. Irma quih itiipaho or where Irma was seen). Occasionally, a place had
a different name in the past that likely changed due to taboos associated with death or a
94
negative power that prohibit its use. Place-names as well as generic landscape terms were
used when different people were asked to describe a landmark or while using
triangulation to locate themselves.45 The lack of place-name use indicates the knowledge
status of the speaker and the receiver, usually based on individual and family
experience.45 Elder collaborators for the present project clearly stated the areas they were
familiar with and had place-name knowledge based on the mobility patterns of their
youth. It was also evident that younger collaborators had much less knowledge of placenames with exceptions mainly reflecting individual interests but also differential
necessity for knowing the land for subsistence and survival.
Although it is a work in progress, this project mapped around 280 culturally
recognized places along the shore and inland into the desert, as well as varied residential
and logistical mobility routes. Hill locations were most frequently recorded (employing
the word hast in their name) but also several water places (hax), dunes (quipcö), tips of
ranges and sandbars (iyat) and bays (inoohcö), and a few (zaaj) caves and dry lakes
(caail). Several icaheemtoj (lit. camps with no occupied houses) or residential camps
were mapped in detail showing an accordance with the expectation of more varied object
assemblages in residential camps than at special purpose places or logistic camps.49 The
residential camps manifest diverse subsistence activities and manufacturing techniques,
among other social practices. The residential camps represent seasonal or semipermanent reoccupations, consisting of shell accumulations along with a basic
assemblage made up of varying frequencies of objects, animal remains, charcoal, ash,
hearths and occasional burials (Figure 3). Logistical camps consist of knapping stations
and quarry-workshops, grinding stations, caves with rock art, isolated objects such as
95
caches of metates, manos, fragmented ollas and Laevicardium sp. shells used as utensils,
and several feature types including circles of stone and shell, stone-outlined figures and
cairns, and agave roasting pits (Figure 4).
Figure 3. Hajhax (lit. any water) north of Tahejcö as an example of a map from a
residential campsite. The recreated sketch of Smith from 1951 resembles the oral history
provided by two Comcaac elders for the present project.
Movement through the land was physically mapped but also characterized through
the words yataam or pass between ranges and hahoot or door, an entrance from the ocean
towards inland places. In addition, Comcaac elders described their previous mobility
routes from the time when they were young (some were physically mapped and others
were drawn on the map based on descriptions). These routes go back far in time as they
are also described in the Xicca Coosyatoj or Giants stories, where movement on the land
96
is eloquently portrayed with various named places. In fact, in some instances the Giant’s
name is a place-name followed by the word Quihizitim, meaning to have as birthplace
(i.e. Tacseecöla Quihizitim). This compound structure appears contrary to the idea that
place-names have not been used in reference to important historic characters.27
Figure 4. Haacala or bedrock mortar used for grinding pods, as an example for the
mapping of a logistical campsite. Closest evidence also depicted in map.
In addition to place-names and stories, the landscape mapping methods integrated
remembered historical events and other associations to such places, along with additional
rich ethnographic or ethnohistoric mobility patterns that went with them. The resulting
enhanced understanding of mobility decisions expands what could be discerned most
effectively through the material record such as subsistence as shown by resource remains
97
and associated tools and environmental opportunity; manufacture and technology as
shown by raw material availability and manufacturing remains that indicate
opportunistically produced objects and their disposal; and specific ritual enactments as
shown by ethnographically identified ritual objects or structures. The following section
illustrates the multilayered approach of the current research while also demonstrating the
myriad of motivations for movement as experienced by different persons.
A.5.2 Multilayered movement: Incentives and camp selection
Previous researchers proposed that due to water scarcity and resource seasonality the
territories of Comcaac bands were permeable and band membership was flexible and
fluid.17-18,20,22,50 Similar to the !Kung Bushmen and the Gidjingali of Northern Australia
who lived in groups that changed in size and composition,51 Comcaac bands had
extremely fluid composition where individuals and families moved on different
schedules. While information about bands in the past is not comprehensive, evidence
shows that the Comcaac lived in small, shifting, dispersed family groups. For example, at
Xactoj in Tahejcö, three families were camping together when one family of seven people
moved camp for better water, heading 6.5 km inland near a tinaja in a sand wash.19 The
usual core population was a couple with their four to six children, plus the mother of
either the man or the woman. In addition, they might be joined by the brothers or sisters,
either single or with their respective partners or their parents as well, usually related to
the woman but also to the brother or husband. For working purposes, like balsas (rafts)
manufacture, the first cousin would also live with them (with variations). At certain
places a family core would camp alone, at others with additional family groups (Table 1).
98
Band, Group or Residential Camp
Population
Salineros Band
Tiburones Band or Tahejöc (Isla
Tiburón)
44 families
24 families
Seasonality
June, 1700 (Data
obtained from leader)
June, 1700 (Data
obtained from leader)
Carrizal, probably Hax Caail
27 people
September, 1729
(personal observation)
Aribaipa Area
10 families
September 17, 1768
(personal observation)
Cerro Cenizo Camp, probably in
Hastooscl
8 families (4 men, 7
women, 13 adults)
September, 1771
(personal observation)
Armen? (probably Tacseen)
15 families
December, 1921
Hatajc (Pozo Coyote)
18 families
3 men, 3 women, 1
teenager and 6
children
40 adults and 20
children
2 families or 10
people
8 men, 5 women,
and 5 children
201 total 67 men, 80
women, 54 children
12 people
6 familes, 25 people
91 people
11 families, aprox.
65 people
7 familes or 25
people
December, 1921
Reference
Escalante Diary,
Sheridan 1999:95
Escalante Diary,
Sheridan 1999:95
Father Perera,
Sheridan
1999:135
Coronel Elizondo,
Sheridan
1999:359
Coronel Elizondo,
Sheridan
1999:393
Sheldon 1993:
178
Sheldon 1993:
178
Apri, 1922
Davis 1965:157
February, 1924
Early 1940s and Spring
1952
Davis 1965:195
1944
1944 (Data obtained
from Chico Romero)
November, 1947
April 16, 1950
April 20, 1950
Smith 1944
April, 1950
Smith 1950
April, 1950
Smith 1950
180 people
40 people
15 families, ≈30
adults and 40
children
January 12, 1951
January, 1951
Smith 1951
Smith 1951
January 13, 1951
aprox. 16 people
3 families or 30
people
10 groups, total of
aprox. 112
6 families or 26
people
March, 1951
June, 1951 (mesquite
beans season)
August to September,
1951
Smith 1951
Whiting, A.F.
1951
Campsite on the East coast of
Tahejöc (probably Socpatix)
No name, but it was west of Santa
Cruz Ranch and Playas, near well
Rancho Libertad
Sand Point on Punta San Miguel
(Haanc Icaheeme)
Three groups combined (Haxöl
iihom, Socaiix, Zoozni Cmiipla)
Hantezj Yaatam in Tahejöc
Soe butt tihuh? (probably Soocpatix)
Quipcö Coospoj (Campo Víboras)
Haxöl Iihom (Desemboque de los
Seris)
Haxhaj (Tecomate)
Haxöl Iihom (Desemboque de los
Seris)
Tahejöc (Isla Tiburón)
Hajhax (Tecomate)
Hast Quipac (Campo Dólar)
Hatajc (Pozo Coyote)
Hajhax (Tecomate)
Xana or Campo Almo
1953
Smith 1947
Smith 1944
Smith 1947
Smith 1950
Smith 1950
Smith 1951
Smith 1951
Smith 1953
Table 1. Residential camp population or group size gathered from diverse sources.
99
The families commonly separated to travel. Women and children often left first to
be later joined by the rest of the group. Occasionally three or four days passed before the
men arrived from hunting endeavors.52-53 The elder women alone or with help from girls
built the haaco haheemza or traditional house. Moreover, sometimes during movements
along the coast, men and children (sometimes dogs) would go on the balsa with the heavy
objects like water containers or bundles of dried sea turtle meat. Meanwhile women with
their infants and lighter loads on their heads atop a hatxiin or a headring made of
limberbush, would walk along the coast or through shortcuts across the hills, planning to
meet at appointed places. Balsa technology would have reduced the cost of moving and
encouraged mobility. The expert balsa makers consisted of a team of two men. Women
sometime helped with reed grass gathering and they all bartered for their work--trade off
for the time expended in constructing it through cooperation among other members of the
community.54.
Incentives for movement were multifaceted; nonetheless, water supply (scarcity
and quality), food shortage, resource seasonality and availability of usable raw materials
all played a crucial role in the frequency and scale of movement between residences. For
example, a group moved from Xana or Campo Almond to a place north called Quipcö an
icaheeme or Paredones because water nearby was salty. At the new camp the water came
from a tinaja ten km inland on the east side of Hasteemla or Cerro Peineta. Another
reason that probably motivated movement to this place was the ziix iis ccapxl, a type of
organ pipe fruit abundant during late fall at this locale. The imam hamaax or cactus fruit
wine gathered and fermented during the late summer and fall was a crucial resource that
triggered mobility.
100
Movement took place among camps along the Infiernillo Channel on the Sonoran
coast, an area that was ideally occupied during colder months due to its location protected
from wind, the lack of mosquitos, the availability of dormant sea turtles and the
abundance of fish and seafood (plus in April eelgrass seed abundance). However, places
with abundant cactus fruit in this area were also occupied during the summer and fall
(some all year long for other motives as explained below). At this time, these fruits
together with mesquite beans promoted movement to inland camps (i.e. Hatajc or Pozo
Coyote, or three additional places occupied at the same time Hast Tax or Pozo Peña, Hast
heeque cheel an icaheeme and Hastooscl an icaheeme). When the season passed and the
ocean was more productive again, residents of these inland camps would go back to the
coast (Figure 5) (Table 2). Fresh water, sea turtle, deer, mesquite and cactus fruit were
among the most important resources for residential mobility. However, once at a
particular place, residents took advantage of many additional resources, either at the
immediate vicinity or through further logistical moves.
It is noteworthy that residential camps were not located directly adjacent to fresh
water sources for several reasons: to keep them clean, to avoid social conflict, and as a
defensive mechanism. A few exceptions were places on the coast next to fresh water
sources such as Hajhax or Haas itihiip. Several accounts19,52,55-57 give testimony for water
collection at varying distances of 1, 9, 10, 12, and 25 km, and transport of loads that
varied between 18, 30 and 40 liters. Broken but almost complete imam hamaax or water
ollas were found throughout the landscape indicating either routes for collecting or
storing (Figure 6). Storage provided rapidly available water in imam hamaax (i.e. stored
always at Saaps or Campo Dos Amigos) and dry foods like cacti fruit and seeds,
101
mesquite and eelgrass seeds and flour, agave, edible tubercles, corn (acquired by trade),
and meat of Gulf grunion, various large fish, octopus, squid, clams, green turtle, and mule
deer. In addition storage practices avoided the transport of heavy objects like metates or
less crucial possessions (i.e. a locality used to store clothing57). Even though preparation
for resource storability increased the handling costs, stored food among mobile people
promoted the search for more risky resources,54 served as a mechanism to cope with
resource seasonality,44 and allowed improvised or emergency moves like attendance at
gatherings, transporting a sick person or responding to conflict or violence. During
moves, in addition to stocks of dry food, whole clams were also transported inland to eat
along the way or at final destinations, together with personal belongings, referred to by
other scholars as personal gear58 or mobile toolkits.59
Several residential camps were always occupied due to their suitable locations for
observing smoke signals, a major means of communicating between the coast of Sonora
and Tahejcö. At Haas itihiip on the island, smoke signals were seen across the channel
from Punta Hona, meaning that people wanted to cross and needed someone to transport
them in a balsa. If no one answered from here, people at the next camp north called
Socpatix iiyat would have responded. Sheldon53 describes this system as his party was
walking from inland Sonora crossing the mountain pass onto the slopes down towards the
coast. In his words:
Shortly after arriving in the chaparral Chico Romero lighted a dead pitahaya to
make signal smoke. As we went along he continued to light these fires for smoke
signals to mark our course, he seemed surprised there were no smoke answers
from the island. After five hours of travelling we reached the sand point to
102
embark. Then he made a big smoke. Soon off to the southeast, ten miles back
mainland, smoke arose and Romero said their friends had been in that direction
and signified that they were returning to their only canoe at a place ten miles
south from here along the beach. Soon a mile in that direction another smoke
arose and he started on a trot to make the ten miles and ask them to come and get
us in the morning. There are no less than five smokes marking the course of the
Indians toward their canoe.
Figure 5. Examples of mobility routes, different symbols represent various sources. Each
route contains many place-names but their location is not provided in this publication.
103
Camp/Area
Kino Area*
Season
October to
March
Haxöl Iihom
October to
March
Hataajc*
Haxöl Iihom
Haxöl Iihom
Haxöl Iihom
Sonoran
mainland,
Infiernillo
channel*
Activity
Totoaba
fishing
Destination
Tahejöc
Season
March to
September
Hataajc
June, July,
August
Fishing
Mesquite
pods and
cacti fruit
Hot months
until
October
Cmajiic iitxo
Cold season
October to
March
Fishing
Ranches
Hot season
December
to April
Fishing
Hactoe? in
Tahejöc
Rancho Las
Estrellas
Sea turtles,
mussels,
scalops
Inland ranches
or Hataajc
December
October to
March
Haxöl Iihom
Cold season
October to
March
Hataajc*
Hot season
Hajhax*
May to
October
Tahejöc at the
coast*
Campo Dólar
Fishing
Activity
Source
Sea Turtle and
deer hunting Smith 1953
Mesquite,
antelope
squirrel, rattle
snake
Barnett F
December
Fish, oysters,
other seafood
Barnett F
Trade of
baskets for
food and
cloths
Smith 1947
Fishing, sea
turtle and deer
hunting
Smith 1949
Hunting and
gathering
Smith 1949
Hajhax
Hot season
May to
October
Mesquite
beans and
cacti fruit
Sea turtle and
deer hunting
Tahejöc
Fall and
winter
Sea turtle and
deer hunting
Haxöl Iihom
October to
March
March to
June
Fishing
Mesquite
pods and
cacti fruit
Sea turtle
and deer
hunting
Sea turtle
and deer
hunting
Tahejöc inland
June and
July
November
and March
Fishing,
shark
industry
Haxöl Iihom
or Tahejöc
Fishing and
Quipcö an
Xana*
Cold season
seafood
Icaheeme
*Occupation of these localitites extends back to prehispanic
times and continued to the 1950s.
Cold and
warm
season
Hot and
warm
season
Fishing
Mesquite
beans and
cacti fruit
Several
activities
Torres A
Torres A
Smith 1951
Smith 1949
Davis and
Dawson
1945: 268
Torres A,
Astorga
ML,
Herrera L.
Cacti fruit and
water source Smith 1952
Table 2. Examples of mobility routes with seasonality and main resources procured.
Additionally, Davis60 describes the use of smoke signals before crossing to
Tahejcö, probably at Hant Cmaa Coocp or Punta Mala where the channel is narrow. And
an account from the early 1600s describes smoke signals between Hast Otiipa or Patos
Island and the Sonoran mainland,61 also registered by this project, where signals from the
104
island were seen at the mainland in Hant Quiyat (in Desemboque region). Different types
of smoke provided unique messages to give notice of other people (friends or enemies)
moving across the land. Additionally, smoke signals were employed to ask for help if
stranded or while on hunting expeditions to ask for assistance. The Comcaac were able to
communicate at great distance throughout their land, knowing where to make smoke so it
could be seen and always looking for it. However, when conflict in the area required it,
camps also were selected for their potential to thoroughly conceal fire. In addition the
Comcaac sought places protected from wind (the strongest was from the north during the
cold season called haapa) and from mosquitos during the summer months.
Defensive mechanisms varied with historical context. As mentioned previously,
external pressures first from the Spaniards and later from Mexican ranchers changed the
Comcaac’s mobility range. On occasion these threats pushed the Comcaac to take shelter
at Tahejcö, a superb defensive location not only because it was an island but also because
one needed specific knowledge regarding the whereabouts of potable water. While visits
inland into the desert from the coast persisted through centuries, this pattern was
suspended around the 1930s when epidemic disease forced Comcaac people to be
cautious of contacting measles. Certain families preferred to stay at Tahejcö than live at
Haxöl Iihom to avoid sickness that plagued mainland populations19 (among other
reasons). For example, Cmajiic iitxo was a place where many women, as the name
describes, took refuge during times of war. Similarly, encounters with dangerous power
or death, created taboos to move away from or to avoid a place altogether.
People have their own relationships with certain places, mountains, plants,
animals and objects that have particularly influenced their lives (several instances were
105
mapped but not for public view, although they offer ideal analogs for the archaeological
identification of individual spiritual practices). Beside the important personal bond to a
birthplace (ihizitim) marked by the burial of a child’s placenta under certain plants (not
practiced today), other types of bonding with place happened by personal choice of a
preferred locality or by the transportation and replanting of plants. In addition, active
searches for spiritual power were conducted in auspicious places like caves, while
walking along the ocean shore or in circular stone and shell features, where the adept
could gather or tame the desired power by ritualized actions (Heecot coom or vision
quest). Any plant, animal or other land or sea phenomenon has the capacity to
communicate through dreams, song-poetry and visions with the Haaco caama (persons
with power). Concepts of spiritual power have been previously invoked to connect
groups, places, and resources for an understanding of the centrality of these places in
their culture, history, and future preservation strategies.29,62 Spiritual agency, which
derived from an individual’s ability to manifest in inspirational performances the energies
obtained from nature that provide protection and healing, also would have enhanced
leadership qualities in the past. Comcaac leaders were not established through lineage or
inheritance but through merit in war or hunting (also observed by foreign visitors52-53).
Bands and later groups had leaders and sub-leaders who showed exceptional skills and
abilities. As with the Hadza in East Africa51, people tended to congregate in camps
around them and to follow them because they trusted their movement decisions.
106
Figure 6. Fragmented but almost complete ollas found during survey, indicating liquid
transport or storage.
A.6 Conclusion
Even though it is possible to continue chronicling the myriad connections between
people, objects, and the landscape, this research offers an initial view into Comcaac
mobility during various periods. Its foremost contribution is relevant to residential
mobility because these mobile people gather or hunt resources as individuals or small
107
groups by traveling out from a fixed residence. It would be impossible to cover all their
related social practices in a single essay. Although reasons for movement varied with
context, certain patterns persisted through millennia, demonstrating their recurrent
significance for social reproduction. Transmitted and enduring knowledge about the land
and sea and the resulting constructed landscape shaped decisions about when and where
to move, revealing a multifaceted mobility that was and is stilled played out by different
participants. Summarizing this diversity of experience and tradition as a simplified
pattern for band mobility or as a seasonal round following resource patches only captures
the most recurrent elements of an incredibly complex arena of social practice. Richer,
more nuanced insights into Comcaac mobility was only possible through collaboration
integrating humanistic and scientific forms of inquiry, responsive to their ontology and
oral tradition, to obtain a holistic understanding of the past and its relevance to the
present.
108
A.7 Acknowledgments
This research was only possible thanks to many members from the Comcaac Community,
in particular from the Astorga, Torres, Herrera and Morales families. It was supported by
funding from various sources: CONACyT (Beca por convenio para estudios de
posgrado), a research grant from William Self Associates Consultants in Archaeology
and Historic Preservation, a research grant from Thompson Endowment Fund and various
smaller grants provided by the School of Anthropology Scholarship Committee. GIS and
field mapping assistance was granted by Michael Brack and for the final map production
support was received from the Centro de Investigación en Geografía y Geomática
(CentroGeo, CONACyT), in particular Dr. José Ignacio Chapela, Dr. Javier Aldabe,
Silvestre Zepeda Ferrer and Isidro Rangel. This article was revised and improved through
important comments and editorial revisions by Suzanne K. Fish, Thomas E. Sheridan,
Mary C. Stiner, TJ. Ferguson, M. Nieves Zedeno, and Julia Tagüeña. It was also revised
and commented by Steven Kuhn and Amy E. Clark, who have also given me the
opportunity to publish this article as an invitation to the 79th SAA session entitled
“Moving On: Anthropological Perspectives on Human Mobility”, which has become the
present publication.
109
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119
APPENDIX B
BLOOD AND PEARLS: CAZOOPIN (COLONIAL SPANIARDS)
IN THE COMCAAC REGION
by
Natalia Martínez-Tagüeña, Lorenzo Herrera Casanova and Luz Alicia Torres Cubillas
120
B.1 Abstract
In collaboration with members of the Comcaac (Seri) community of the central coast of
Sonora, Mexico, we join ethnographic, archaeological, documentary, and oral historical
data to better understand the Comcaac past and its relationship with contemporary issues.
For the first time, we publish here Comcaac historical accounts about the “Cazoopin,” or
Spaniards. These accounts, which extend back in time to at least 1750 but also earlier,
describe the first encounters the Comcaac had with Spanish sailing ships and their early
opportunistic adoption of Spanish material culture. Oral accounts are combined with
archival documents, in particular Pimentel’s Diary of Governor Ortiz Parrilla’s 1750
expedition to Tahejcö or Tiburón Island, and with archaeological survey evidence from
mentioned places. For the colonial period in Sonora, historians and anthropologists have
mostly relied upon archival documents written by representatives of the Spanish empire,
in addition to information from historical archaeology. This paper promotes the
integration of indigenous voices while it explores the economic, social, political and
ecological dimensions that have conditioned the creation of the different historical
narratives.
B.2 Background
The ancestral territory of the Comcaac (Seri) extends across the western desert coastal
plain of Sonora, Mexico, from just north of the present-day city of Guaymas on the south
to Puerto Peñasco on the north; it also includes Tiburón and San Esteban islands in the
Gulf of California. Inland, the ancestral region reached as far as the modern city of
Hermosillo (Figure 1). The extreme aridity and summer heat of the Central Coast greatly
121
influence human occupation. No streams with perennial surface water occur in the area
(Shreve 1964), with the exception of portions of the Bacuachi River (Sheridan 1999),
where underlying bedrock elevates the water table near the surface yearlong. In the past,
the Comcaac mainly relied on springs and seasonal tinajas (bedrock tanks that collect
rain water). The desert provides varied resources, and the intertidal marine habitats are
among the most diverse of the world (Álvarez-Borrego 2002). Therefore the inhabitants
lived by hunting, gathering, and fishing.
Figure 1. Ancestral Comcaac Cultural Landscape.
Human presence in the ancestral Comcaac territory dates back to the Paleoindian
(Clovis) Period, between 11,050 and 10,800 14C yrs BP (Bowen 2009; Di Peso 1955:13;
Robles and Manzo 1972:201; Waters and Stafford Jr. 2007). The Archaic period in the
area corresponds to the Cochise Archaic of Sonora and south-central Arizona (term
defined by Cordell 1997). Previously defined by other scholars as the Central Coast
122
Archaeological Tradition, now named as Ancestral Comcaac, is a cultural area
determined by the presence of Tiburón Plain pottery type: a thin, light, and hard wellfired ware made without added temper (Bowen 1976; Villalpando 2000). Cross-dating
indicates an appearance of Tiburón Plain pottery as early as AD 200, although absolute
dating is still needed (Bowen 2009). Linguistic evidence places Cmiique iitom, the
language spoken by the Comcaac, as a language isolate (Marlett 2007), distinct from the
languages of surrounding groups who were farmers.
Due to processes of colonization, missionization, and warfare, the Comcaac
settlement pattern and social organization changed profoundly during the Spanish
colonial period. Those processes resulted in their band structure consolidation into a more
general Comcaac identity and their confinement to a small stretch of coastline and
Tiburón Island. The Comcaac previously lived in small, shifting, dispersed family groups
that belonged to a number of subdivisions or bands reflecting geographic areas, as
recognized by the Spaniards in the late 1600s and early 1700s (Sheridan 1999). In the
1940s, some members still belonged to different bands although they continued to lose
access to their former territory. The bands were Xiica hai iic coii, (Tepocas or Salineros,
recognized as separate bands by the Spaniards (Sheridan 1999)), Tahejcö comcaac
(Tiburones or Seris), Heeno comcaac (Tiburones who lived in the central valley of
Tahejcö or Tiburón Island), Xnaa motat (Guaymas and Upanguaymas), Xiica xnaii iic
coii (Tastioteños), and Xiica hast ano coii (people from San Esteban Island) (Moser
1963). Other small bands were the Soosni itaa iic coii (Bahía Kino), and Hona iic coii
(Campo Hona (Smith 1947)). The Spaniards also reported bands they called Carrizos and
Bacoachis (Sheridan 1999) (Figure 2). It is very important not to consider the Comcaac
123
as a homogenous group; different bands had very different knowledge based on their
spatial distribution. During the 19th century the bands were disaggregated and entire
families were killed; by the 1920s it is estimated that only 130 people remained
(estimated number reported in Felger and Moser 1985; see Sheridan 1999 and Rentería
2006 for details regarding this time period).
Figure 2. Geographic areas of Comcaac Bands in the past
(Northwest section of Sonora, Mexico).
In 1944 the Comcaac were divided into three main groups no longer living as
bands. The largest group lived at Haxöl Iihom (lit. ‘where there are multicolored clams’),
124
or Desemboque de los Seris on the Sonoran mainland. The second largest group was
located at Hajhax (lit. ‘any water’), or Tecomate on the northern part of Tahejcö or
Tiburon Island; and the smallest group lived at Zoozni Cmiipla (lit. ‘bad zoozni’), close to
the base of Punta San Miguel east of Tahejcö (Smith 1944). Today, the Comcaac mainly
reside in two villages called Haxöl Iihom (Desemboque) and Socaaix (Punta Chueca),
which was established in the late 1950s (Smith 1966)) (Figure 3). They continue to visit
certain traditional camps during hunting, fishing or gathering expeditions. In 1970, the
Mexican government recognized a portion of their territory as an ejido, the most common
form of communal land tenure in post-Revolutionary Mexico. They also obtained formal
title with restricted use of Tahejcö as it became a federal natural protected area.
Commercial fishing of pen shell (Pinna rugosa), crab (Callinectes bellicosus) and various
fish is the main economic activity, while at the household level hunting and gathering
still continues. Substantial revenue for some people also comes from the sale of
traditional crafts like ironwood carvings and shell necklaces and, more recently, bighorn
sheep hunting permits.1
Today many members of the community still remember the band affiliation of
their family ancestry. And while they do not refer to the band structure to talk about their
past knowledge, it is evident that Comcaac knowledge is not generalized throughout the
community. On the contrary, different families possess different knowledge about their
land, reflecting the different territories of Comcaac bands in the past.2 Therefore, even
1
See Rentería (2009) for details about bighorn sheep hunting permits.
Certain Comcaac members explain the oral transmission of traditional knowledge as a process
that first entailed the hant iiha quimxoj or those who tell about the ancient ways, who in turned
passed it on to the hant iiha cöhacomxoj or those who have been informed about the ancient
ways. Today only a few members of the community are considered to be hant iiha cöhacomxoj,
entrusted to be the carriers of knowledge to transmit it to future generations (Moser 2014:39).
2
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though the Comcaac have lost much of their homeland, they have retained knowledge of
their cultural landscape and a deep connection with the archaeological record. They also
possess rich oral traditions and complex views of the natural order expressed in stories,
poetry, and songs (Di Peso and Matson 1965:5; Felger and Moser 1985; Marlett et al.
1998; Martínez-Tagüeña and Torres 2013; Moser and Marlett 2010). Comcaac oral
traditions indicate a three-part temporal framework for the past. The oldest part
corresponds to a deep time when giants were present, as indicated by Xicca Coosyatoj or
Giants’ objects (Tiburón Plain pottery, among others), and as referenced in words, songs,
and stories. The most recent division of the temporal framework corresponds to their
more immediate ancestors. Previous scholars have generally thought the recent division is
accurate back to the 1800s (i.e. Felger and Moser 1985), but our research indicates that
these traditions can be extended back to 1750 or earlier. With generational changes,
information tapers off and few details are available for the middle period between the
time of the giants and the time of their more immediate ancestors. This is what Vansina
(1985:23) calls a “floating gap,” common in the oral traditions of non-literate peoples
across the world.
B.3 A collaborative Comcaac ethnohistory
Following the lead of recent ethnohistorical research, notably the Hopi History Project
(Sheridan 2003; Sheridan et al. 2013; 2015) and the O’odham/Pee Posh Project
(Brenneman 2014), our research documented Comcaac oral traditions about interactions
with colonial Spaniards. The Comcaac knowledge immersed in oral traditions balances
some of the inherent biases in the Spanish and Mexican documentary record, and sheds
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light on aspects of their history where the documents are mute. Since prior research has
been mainly done ‘on indigenous groups rather than as research for and with local
communities’ (Damm 2005:75), this article presents a collaborative endeavor with the
Comcaac that employs oral traditions, documentary history, and archaeological and
ethnographic data to reconstruct a past that is relevant for their present.
History is always formed with multiple and meaningful silences, not only in the
historiography but also in the actual production of sources and archives (Trouillot 1997;
Sheridan 1988; Wolf 1982). For Braudel (1958:734), history is the sum of all possible
histories, the points of view of yesterday, today and tomorrow. It would be a mistake to
choose one history to the exclusion of others. Archaeological discourse based on the
objectivity that frames its knowledge production has driven the discipline to a privileged
position on the creation of history. However, the process of writing history is always an
act of interpretation; hence historical narratives are constructed in the present rather than
being wholly objective reconstructions of the past (Stump 2013:273). Our research does
not seek to validate (prove or disprove) any of the historical versions of Spaniards or
Comcaac (i.e. Grele 2007; Vansina 1985); it only seeks to interpret them through the
same theoretical framework that connects the individual lived experience with larger
economic, political, social, ideological and ecological dimensions of particular times and
spaces (Sheridan 1992; Radding 1997).
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Figure 3. Research area in Sonora, Mexico.
B.4 Research approach for a Comcaac collaborative endeavor
It is a difficult task for Western scholars to understand and unravel other (different from
our own) sociocultural constructions of space and time. Collaborative research provides
an opportunity for both Western and Native scholars to develop innovative frameworks
and methodologies for the integration of diverse epistemologies and historical narratives.
An approach for collaboratively bridging traditional knowledge and archaeological
inquiry has been unfolding in work with Native American communities in the US
Southwest (Anyon and Ferguson 1995; Dongoske et al. 1993; Ferguson and ColwellChanthaphonh 2006; Ferguson 2009). Such studies reconcile inherently different ways of
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conceptualizing the past without violating data integrity. The collaboration of the
stewards of oral tradition is essential for interpretation because they impart a hermeneutic
pre-understanding of the motifs, codes, and morals inherent in the accounts (Damm 2005)
and the communicated concepts depend on local metaphor and narrative conventions
(Cruikshank 2002).
Our project implements a cultural landscape approach (i.e. Ferguson and ColwellChanthaphonh 2006; Steward et al. 2004). It defines cultural landscape as an
environmental setting that is simultaneously the medium for, and the outcome of, social
action; it has relation to multiple chronologies where specific historical events can be
perceived, experienced, and contextualized by Comcaac people. Their cultural landscape
is tied to history, culture, and society, and places on it localize, commemorate, and
transmit traditional knowledge derived from the people’s historical memory anchored to
the land. Our research documented—formally, spatially, and temporally—a vast range of
social practices that constructed and continued to construct part of the Comcaac cultural
landscape. Historical narratives drawn from archaeology, ethnography, and oral tradition
represent multiple spatial and temporal configurations.
An archaeological survey of today’s Comcaac community land, about 400 km2,
was conducted with 14% coverage. Additionally, with members of the community, a
distinctive collaborative survey method was developed with the simultaneous recording
of archaeological evidence, oral histories, and ethnographic information about landscape
segments. So far, ten elders have participated in place-based interviews recounting
personal experiences combined with oral traditions (similar to Hedquist et al. 2012). It is
thus possible to integrate evidence gathered from archaeological survey with
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ethnographic and ethnohistorical information obtained through interviews and document
searches. Through improved methodologies and holistic frames that integrate different
knowledge production systems, Comcaac community involvement directly expands and
refines the area’s colonial history.
B.5 Comcaac ethnohistory
B.5.1 Summary for the Spanish Colonial period in the region
In the 1530s the Viceroyalty of New Spain commenced exploration to the northwest
along the Pacific coast and inland through the Sinaloan river valleys and the Sonoran
Serrana (Deeds 2003; Spicer 1962). Rumors spread south about many pearls, ample rich
land, mountains of gold, vast rivers and great cities. Rumors spread north about the
Aztec’s defeat and the Spanish newcomers, along with epidemic disease and new objects
and technologies. Two different enterprises expanded the northwestern frontier. Initially
government sponsored colonists in their quest for pearls along the coast and through
inland mines and ranching Later the Jesuits followed the Franciscans to evangelize
Native peoples. When Native peoples lived in permanent settlements, the Jesuits
established missions in the most important communities, a process known as
congregación. When they followed seasonal rounds across the landscape, as did the
Comcaac, the missionaries physically relocated them in reducciones to sustain them with
agrarian economic bases (Kessell 1976; Polzer 1976; Radding 1997:12). Military force
and dramatic acts of violence were crucial for the colonization and missionization of the
region, even though cultural negotiation and alliances between Native peoples, Spanish
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settlers, and missionaries also characterized the colonial endeavor (Folsom 2014; Kessell
1976; Reff 1991).
In Sonora, Jesuit reducciones and congregaciones advanced into the middle
Yaqui and Sonora drainages during the 1630s and 1640s. By the late 1600s, the Jesuits
had founded missions in established pueblos of the Pimería Alta, where further
reducciones brought the northern O’odham into the Magdalena, Altar and Asunción
riverine valleys (Pérez de Ribas 1944[1645]). Contrary to other Native populations in
Sonora, the Comcaac were not forced to labor for Spanish colonists. The mission
reducciones were established outside their core territory in frontier zones between their
traditional territory and the O’odham region to the north and Eudeve territory along the
Río San Miguel to the east. But those attempts to relocate the Comcaac ended in 1748,
when Spanish officials and the Jesuits collaborated in a policy of cultural genocide that
triggered more than two decades of brutal guerrilla warfare (Sheridan 1979; 1999).
Father Andrés Pérez de Ribas (1944[1645]), a Jesuit missionary to the Yaquis in
1617 who published his monumental Historia de los triumphos de nuestra santa fee in
1645, wrote one of the earliest descriptions about the Comcaac (Reff et al. 1999;
Sheridan 1999:23 for details). But the most detailed description was by the German Jesuit
Adam Gilg in 1662 (DiPeso and Matson 1965:43; Sheridan 1999:5; Montané 1996). In
1679, Father Juan Ortiz Zapata and Father Juan Fernández established the mission of
Santa María del Pópulo on the San Miguel River (Sheridan 1999:29-30). Ortiz Zapata
describes the mission enterprise but also provides names of several persons, like Catapca,
probably Cacaapa, (lit. ‘the one that makes rain’). He writes about land inside the ocean
and in front of the Sonoran mainland referred to by his informants as Tadihul, most likely
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meaning the island Tahejöc. The missionizing effort failed, mainly due to disease that
decimated newly baptized Comcaac. Other factors were Pima Indian attacks, Comcaac
cattle raids on nearby ranches, and the seasonal pull of harvesting wild resources
(Sheridan 1999). Particularly during late summer and early fall, the Comcaac left the
mission to gather imam, the cactus fruit fermented to make wine (imam hamaax), a key
traditional resource for social interaction and reproduction. Additionally, Santa María
may have been a poor choice for the name of the mission because the Comcaac creator
Hant Caai was a masculine figure, and saints and virgins were not intuitively understood
by the Comcaac.3
Another document worthy of mention is the 1700 diary of Alférez Juan Bautista
Escalante. His duty was to protect the Comcaac and the Lower Pima who had already
joined the missions of the major river valleys of Sonora (Sheridan 1999:70-96). He
describes the ancestral hostility between the Tepocas and Salineros, at that point triggered
by the Tepocas’ alliance with the Spaniards. He provides names of Salineros who had
participated in raiding, one written as Fachicumin, which could correspond to Haxaaza
Coimiin (lit. ‘arrow that does not touch him’), a legendary Comcaac warrior. In another
account, an informant describes having seen the arrows of a Salinero named Astcuimel,
probably Hast Coihmeel (lit. ‘stone pink’), perhaps referring to his arrow points.
Astcuimel, along with three other persons, had killed Cocomacaques in vengeance for his
murdered wife. Later Escalante finds Astcuimel, and, when questioned, he explains that
other Salineros were with him, including Xeselxasimt, probably referring to Xeescl Casii
3
See Rentería (2006) for a similar discussion in relation to the late 1940s successful Protestant
evangelization in the area.
132
(lit. ‘to have the odor of desert lavender’) and Astquil, probably Hast Cooil (lit. ‘stone
blue’).
Regardless of missionary efforts to keep the peace, sporadic frontier clashes
between Spanish colonists and the Comcaac started to develop. Comcaac raiding of
Spanish cattle triggered bloody encounters that ended in revenge raids (i.e., The La
Huerta Affair, narrated in detail in Sheridan 1979:319 and Sheridan 1999:97-120).
Additional confrontations occurred along the coast due to Spanish desire for pearls, as in
the case of the intrusion at Hax Caail or Carrizal, by the Spanish official Manuel Bernal
de Huidrobo in 1729 (for details see Sheridan 1999:122-138 and Bowen 2000:73-74).
The situation continued to worsen by 1740, when a loose and disorganized rebellion
among Yaqui and Mayo Indians in alliance with some Comcaac and Lower Pima began.
The Spaniards responded with more soldiers and established several presidios (Polzer and
Sheridan 1997). As part of the Bourbon Reforms,4 a series of reformers were sent to the
northwestern frontier to “resolve” the “Indigenous problem”. Rodríguez Gallardo’s
(1975) aggressive resolutions pushed the Comcaac to open rebellion. He first transferred
the presidio of Pitic to San Miguel de Horcasitas near the Comcaac mission of Pópulo to
steal their land and kill their leaders, and to try to use them for forced labor. Thereafter he
organized the drastic deportation by sea of many missionized Comcaac women to
Guatemala. Persecuted by the Spanish soldiers and betrayed by their missionaries who
had sworn to protect them, the Comcaac fought back, attacking several presidios and
many ranches, mining towns and missions over the following bloody years.
4
The transfer of the Spanish Crown from the Hapsburg to the Bourbon royal families occurred in
1700.
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As eloquently portrayed by Sheridan (1999:1), the Spaniards paid homage to God
and the king and lived within nested political and ecclesiastical hierarchies whose
authorities were absolute. They believed that civilized society could only flourish in
towns and cities dependent on agriculture and metallurgy. The Comcaac exhibited none
of these characteristics. They lived in small, shifting family groups (detailed description
in Martínez-Tagüeña and Torres in revision). Comcaac leaders were chosen not through
lineage or inheritance but through merit in war, hunting (also observed by foreign visitors
(Davis and Dawson 1945; Sheldon 1993) or in spiritual practices. Bands and later groups
had leaders and sub-leaders who showed exceptional skills and abilities (MartínezTagüeña and Torres in revision).
Until now, the colonial history of the Comcaac and the Spaniards has mainly
relied on documents written by representatives of the Spanish Empire. McGee (1896)
provided the first summary of Comcaac archival history. Sheridan (1979) offers a
detailed account about the breakdown in Spanish-Comcaac relationships between 1729
and 1750. Villalpando (1992a) presents a summary from documentary history on the
Spaniards in the Comcaac Region. Sheridan (1999) edited and compiled numerous
archival documents from 1645 to 1803 in the search for Comcaac subsistence
information. Additional publications deal with specific topics like the Jesuit reductions on
the Sonoran coast (Villalpando 1992b) and the attempt to convert the Comcaac at
Mission Santa María del Pópulo (Villalpando and Rentería 2005). Bowen (2000)
combined archival documents with archaeological information and also oral traditions
about the Xiica hast ano coii or the Comcaac people from San Esteban Island.
134
Descriptions of the people and their ways of life are scarce among the vast
material that deals primarily with battles and expeditions to subdue indigenous people
and reduce them to mission life (Sheridan 1999; Villalpando 1989). Some documents
contain information from a few Comcaac informants but they are in response to Spanish
questions and recorded by Spanish observers. The main advantage of Spanish colonial
documents is their contemporaneity. They were largely written soon after the events they
describe, on occasion even as eyewitness accounts. Furthermore, they usually include
dates, locations and recorded names of some individuals that participated in the event.
Sometimes they also provide people’s motivations and the reasons behind the recorded
activity. However, authors select, distort, and even lie to further their personal or
institutional agendas; they also unconsciously and unintentionally omit and distort
accounts of indigenous societies and cultures (Sheridan et al. 2013:378-379).
Oral traditions, as defined by Vansina (1985), also have their biases and
limitations. They are unwritten accounts of the past, their preservation entrusted to the
memories of successive generations. Their transmission may range in scale from
individuals to certain groups in the community. Selectivity of transmission occurs
primarily for social reasons; some aspects of the past are deemed worthwhile to
remember while others are not. Although it comes from the past, what is passed on often
depends upon its significance in the present. But such selectivity affects documentary
history as well. The fundamental importance of oral traditions is that it reflects the social
memories and historiographies of non-literate peoples whose voices are muted or
distorted in the documentary colonial record.
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Comcaac people have a rich tradition of oral history, story-telling and songpoetry. Comcaac poetry was communicated by singing and chanting. While some songs
and chants were secular, the majority was associated with the search for spiritual power.
Moreover, the narrations eloquently illustrate movement on the land and mention various
place-names (Martínez-Tagüeña and Torres, in review). Historical figures are widely
talked about. While the audience learns about their lives and associated important events,
they also acquire moral teachings about how to behave among family members and with
other members of the community. Many of these traditions had been lost by the 1970s
(Felger and Moser 1985:171-172). But significant Comcaac knowledge about their past
still continues to be passed down. This article centers on the Comcaac oral tradition that
corresponds to a temporal framework previously believed by scholars to have been
accurate only back through the 1800s (Felger and Moser 1985; Marlett et al. 1998; Moser
1963; Moser and Marlett 2006) but which we have shown in this project to extend to
1750 and earlier, without a precise end date.
The stories presented herein are amalgams of numerous descriptions of events that
have been passed down orally through several generations. Some stories represent
individual or family accounts while others are more general collective social memories
that transcend a group of families or bands. Co-author Lorenzo Herrera Casanova writes
and recites the accounts for the present publication.5 Herrera was born in 1947 and
currently lives at Socaiix. He is a storyteller who learned oral traditions through his
grandparents, parents and certain acquaintances. Some were told as bedtime stories,
others as performances at public spaces in parties or around fires. “I once asked Efraín
5
Translated to Spanish by Torres and to English by Martínez-Tagüeña
136
Estrella to tell me this story. In exchange I gave him a ‘pargo’ fish and $100 pesos,” he
laughs. His memories are the source of his narrations and the inspiration for writing
children’s stories and fiction, several of which have been published.6
The majority of community members who participated in our research had heard
about the “Cazoopin,” the term in Cmique iitom for Spaniards. Herrera heard his
grandmother Lola Casanova referred to them as “Catzoopin”; with a different
pronunciation, his father Roberto Herrera Marcos called them “Cazoopin” and described
them as tall, pale with strong features and light colored eyes. In recent years the term is
used as a nickname for people whose appearance entails pale skin, blue eyes and long
beards.7 However, significantly fewer members of the community have heard about
places in their landscape that signal events associated with Spaniards. Some recognized
Haxz Inoohcö, or Dog’s Bay, as the location for the first sighting of a Spaniard ship,
while others have heard of Hehe Hasooaj Quih and Ihiip (lit. ‘where the crosses are’), as
the location where the first interaction by sea took place. Additionally, a campsite named
Xnit, or Spanish Camp, as the name indicates, also relates to Spaniards in the area. Three
persons remembered the assassination of a missionary in the region during an
evangelization attempt. Herrera says this event happened at Hax Caail or Pozo Carrizal.
Furthermore, Herrera narrated the story of Hataamt Ihoozla (lit. ‘the place where the
sandals come off’ (due to sticky mangrove clay)), which we believe to correspond to the
6
The Moser’s belonged to the Summer Institute of Language and began their efforts to write
down Cmique iitom in 1950’s as an initial attempt to translate the bible and to developed a
dictionary. Herrera’s father and later himself were pioneers in the written endeavor of their oral
language.
7
This name is very similar to the word “cachupín” meaning Spaniard established in America
(RAE, http://lema.rae.es/drae/?val=Gachupin), colloquially believed to be a term employed by the
Nahuas in central Mexico to refer to the colonial Spaniards. Some Comcaac probably knew about
the Cazoopin before they met them.
137
event narrated in Francisco Pimentel’s diary about Governor Parrilla’s 1750 expedition to
Tahejcö. Finally, he related another story about a place and a historical figure called
Hapetla (lit. ‘armored one’), where he defeated Spanish ships on the north shore of
Tahejcö.8
B.5.2 Comcaac narratives: Early encounters
Different lines of evidence suggest that the initial contact between foreigners and the
Comcaac happened by sea along the Gulf of California where pirates, explorers and pearl
seekers interacted with Native peoples but left no written accounts (see Bowen 2000). As
Herrera describes in the following accounts, several ships passed without reaching shore
while others landed. The midriff islands of the Gulf can accumulate strong currents and
winds, plus changing tides that would have created very shallow navigating waters. In
1539, Francisco de Ulloa sailed through the islands without landing and reached the head
of the Gulf of California (Montané et al. 1995; Bowen 2000:38-39; Ulloa 1924[1540]). In
1615, pearl hunters led by Juan de Iturbe landed on Tahejcö, providing the first source of
documentary history known for European contact with the Comcaac. It was a nonviolent
interaction, and only one local approached the Spaniards on the shore (Cardona
1974[1627-1632]:102; see Bowen 2000:40-45). Herrera’s two stories summarized below
likely relate to pre-1700 episodes of sporadic contact along the coast between the
Comcaac and Spanish vessels, such as this mentioned landing.
On the shore at Hehe hasoaaj quih an ihiip, a residential campsite long occupied
by the Tahejcö comcaac or Tiburones (Figure 4), the first Spanish sailing ship was
8
Although we developed a map for these locations, we are not publishing it due to some
community members’ secrecy concerns.
138
sighted. The Spaniards landed and brought with them new objects and practices. This
initial interaction between Comcaac and Cazoopin was peaceful.
The Arrival of the Spaniards in a Ship to Hehe hasoaaj quih an ihiip
This story narrated how soldiers arrived to Tahejcö, to Hehe hasoaaj
quih an ihiip (lit. ‘where the cross is’). On this occasion the campsite
held many people, elders, women, children and obviously the bravest
warriors.
During these days the Comcaac were peacefully in their campsite,
until one afternoon, from a distance they sighted a big ship
approaching towards them. The passengers of the ship were Cazoopin
(Spaniards). It was a huge Spanish ship.
The ship arrived full of food and objects, like domestic
utensils, cloth, to be distributed among everybody. That same day in
the evening, the Spaniards taught the Comcaac how to prepare the
new and strange food; they also taught them how to use some of the
other objects that they brought from Spain.
At night, the Spaniards forced the Comcaac to organize a
party, where they had to prepare the new food from Spain. The party
lasted three days and as accustomed on the fourth day they partied
until dawn.
Two days after the party, the Comcaac saw that the Cazoopin didn’t
return to the campsite, so they decided to steal all the food that the
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Spaniards had brought. The Comcaac did not know the name of the
fruit, vegetables or grains that the Spaniards brought. It was all new
and unknown. So they had to name some of them based on their
resemblance to fruits, grains and seeds from the desert with which
they were familiar.
Among the food they identified were:
-Xiica potaa cmiis (lit. things that resemble worms) or rice
-Xicca iis cheel (lit. red fruit) or beans
-Xicca xepe ano zaah cmiis (lit. things that resemble sun from the
ocean) or oranges (similar color)
-Xicca coaatjo coozaalc (lit. square candy) or sugar
-Xicca maahyan imam cmiis (lit. fruits that resemble ‘maahyan’) or
plum
-Xicca tanoopa imam cmiis (lit. things that resemble fruits of
‘tanoopa’ (a white transparent fruit) or pomegranate.
These are some of the fruits that the Spaniards brought to Tahejcö.
Herrera remembers another story his grandmother shared with him. A later ship
was seen at Haxz Inoohcö, or Dog’s Bay; it was so big that it remained at bay until the
second day when Spaniards used smaller rowing boats to reach shore. This time the
Tahejcö comcaac only observed from afar. The Spaniards rested, drank, and ate. They
used knives as tools and were dressed with black and white striped cotton fabric. They
departed leaving behind covered bundles of food. The sailing ship went back south, not
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entering the Xepe Coosot, or Infiernillo Channel, towards Comcaac territory. The Tahejcö
comcaac celebrated with a four-day party, eating Spanish beans, flour, rice, sugar,
oranges, bananas and coffee they had been given. As these stories attest to, during initial
encounters the Comcaac were peaceful and very curious, taking advantage of new objects
and learning their associated technologies. Comcaac responses seem to be cautious but
opportunistic. Social memories about these early encounters largely concentrate on the
new foods the Spaniards shared or left behind and the remembrance of items like clothing
and metal tools.
Figure 4. Map and photographs of Hehe hasoaaj quih an ihiip or Las Cruces, a residential
campsite long occupied by the Comcaac.
141
They named these new objects based on resemblance to familiar shapes, colors or
foods, and celebrated a four-day party, as accustomed for wealth distribution and for the
appeasement of potentially dangerous powers. At this moment new food was just a taste
but their clear remembrance suggests the future impact of these new items as important
components of their subsistence. Today flour, sugar and coffee are some of the most
important staples consumed by the Comcaac. The same can be said about cotton cloths
and metal objects that as their availability increased, traditional clothing and lithic
technology rapidly decreased. While the present project archaeological survey did not
yield visible surface material at the mentioned places that can be directly linked to the
Spanish colonial period (e.g., metal, glass, and other historic artifacts.), it did provide an
initial map and ample information on deep cultural deposits where future excavations will
be carried out. Further research will resolve questions on the impact and adoption timing
of Spanish material culture.
B.5.3 Comcaac narratives: Missionization and the invasion of Tiburon Island
In concert with the Bourbon reformers, Diego Ortiz Parrilla, the governor of SinaloaSonora, continued with ambitious plans for the deportation of the Comcaac. He organized
a military campaign to Tahejcö in 1750 that was documented by Father Francisco
Antonio Pimentel (transcribed and translated in Sheridan 1999:208-231, summarized in
Sheridan 1979:326-334 and in Bowen 2000:85-90). Importantly other archival documents
pertaining to the same campaign differ in their accounts (Alegre 1956 quoted in McGee
1896:73). Governor Parrilla’s army comprised around 250 Spanish soldiers, over 400
Upper Pima auxiliaries commanded by their leader Luis Oacpicagigua, and a naval fleet
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of seven support ships operated mainly by Yaqui allies. The campaign happened in late
August, after the summer monsoons had filled seasonal tinajas and springs. Spanish
forces worried about the lack of water and the Comcaac’s method of polluting water
sources with horse carcasses and poisonous plants. The advance party commenced at Hax
Caail or Carrizal, and water was scarce. Several parties departed in different directions:
one continued towards the coast, likely to Zaalca Yaax or Santa Rosa estuary, based on
descriptions. This location is a great point to navigate across the Xepe Coosot or
Infiernillo Channel to Tahejcö, an endeavor that proved extremely difficult with horses
and supplies.
Upon the governor’s landing on Tahejcö’s soil, the Comcaac leader Haxaaza
cöiicö quih coos iha (lit. ‘the arrow that sings kills’), sent a message to him. He warned
the campaign to retreat. They wanted peace but were willing to defend their territory.
Notably, today several Comcaac elders had learned about this leader from oral narratives.
This message was ignored and Parrilla proceeded with the invasion. While the majority
of Spaniards remained close to shore at a campsite called Hataamt Ihoozla (lit. ‘where
the sandals come off’), some scouts were sent to the nearby mountain ranges to find the
enemy (Figure 5). Later they returned with two casualties, having spotted the Comcaac in
the hills. They reported killing three men and two women, and injuring several. The
following day a bigger advance party was sent to the mountains but failed to find
Comcaac. Potable water had been poisoned and was also running low. Finally, a group of
soldiers and Pima allies were sent north to Haxhaj or Tecomate, where they had been told
the Comcaac were located. A confrontation occurred in nearby caves in the mountains,
where some prisoners were taken. After two weeks of struggle, the governor considered
143
this a good enough effort and returned to the mainland. What was considered a success to
the Spaniards was only another step in the bloody guerrilla warfare that followed over the
next 20 years (Nentvig 1971; Sheridan 1999).
Figure 5. Map and photographs from Hataamt Ihoozla (lit. ‘where the sandals come off’).
Herrera remembers a story shared by his father and by a blind elder and family
relative from his father’s side, the last survivor from the Xiica hast ano coii or San
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Esteban Island Comcaac, named Porfirio Díaz. Although Herrera was a small child, he
enjoyed visiting Díaz, loved his stories and in exchange gave him food, coffee, sugar and
water. It was around 1951, on a cold night while sitting close to a barrel with hot coals,
when Díaz shared this story with them:
Quihehe Parrilla
This is a story that narrates how their leader Parrilla guided the
soldiers to Tahejcö.
One day the soldiers arrived in Comcaac Territory. They brought
many horses and their objective was to cross to the island from the
Sonoran mainland. The soldiers took three days long to cross with all
the horses to the island.
The Comcaac had already seen all from the mountains. They recount
how each small boat could only carry two horses at a time and that
they were docking the small boats at a campsite called Hataamt
Ihoozla (lit. ‘where the sandals come off’). All day they were occupied
with transporting the horses to the island and in three days the
campsite contained all the animals.
In Saatocj (lit. ‘big mussel’), a campsite in the center of the island,
there were a lot of people, the campsite was full, and when they heard
the situation, they gathered all the strong and capable fighting men,
they were all given weapons (bow and arrow, knifes, sticks, harpoons
and slings). The same day they started walking towards Hast Caacola
145
(lit. ‘hill of great size’). Before sunset Comcaac warriors had already
advanced a great distance. They walked along the base of Coojoocam
iti yaai (lit. ‘where the people who escaped were’), moving forward
towards Hast Moozaxo (lit. ‘hill Moozaxo’). From the top of this hill
they were able to keep an eye on the enemy and observe all of their
movements.
They could see when the soldiers prepared the horses with the riding
chairs, then they saw how they all rode their horses, and to the
Comcaac surprise, the soldiers also went in the direction of Hast
Moozaaxo. The Comcaac prepared immediately for combat. The
soldiers arrived to the root (or base) of Hast Moozaaxo…
The soldiers were very close to the Comcaac and a warrior: Ziix
Caayxaaj (lit. ‘older adult’) named Haliit Cmotiisi Quiiho (lit. ‘the one
that could see a hair in an horizontal manner’ (from a far distance))
attacked, shooting like crazy, letting loose his anger against the
soldiers. They left only one soldier alive and they let him go. He left
riding his horse towards Hataamt Ihoozla where the base camp of the
soldiers was, where many of them were. When the soldier arrived and
spread the word, all the soldiers mobilized towards Hast Moozaaxo
but no one was there anymore. The Comcaac had left; only the dead
bodies of the soldiers remained.
146
The invasion of Tahejcö or Tiburon Island, the Comcaac heartland, was
considered an unforgivable offense. In addition to the foregoing story, our project
documented several other oral accounts by three different elders that describe the arrival
of the Spaniards on their shores. Although there are variations in the different accounts
and in the location for the different events (Xnit, Zoozni Cmiipla, and Haxhaj), they all
highlight places and narrate the routes taken by people when relevant. They all have in
common the Spaniards’ betrayal, exemplified by armed assaults to drastic measures like
forcing the Comcaac to eat the flesh of their own murdered people. This commonality
clearly indicates the high degree of outrage committed and felt, which led to strong
feelings of resentment and anger. Another component that was shared by all stories was
the importance of Comcaac historical figures like the just mentioned, Haliit Cmotiisi
Quiiho, who had the power to see a hair from a far distance. His vision and aiming was
enhanced; he simply would not miss his target. It was through such extraordinary men
that the Comcaac were able to defend themselves from Spanish attacks. As mentioned
earlier, leaders were not established through lineage or inheritance but through merit in
war and hunting (as also observed by foreign visitors (Davis and Dawson 1945; Sheldon
1993) and through spiritually enhanced power, as will be presently described.
B.5.4 Comcaac narratives: Assassination of Father
The ongoing instability of Spanish and Comcaac relations is exemplified in another
account described by three persons, who narrate the assassination of a Spanish priest that
took place at Hax Caail or Pozo Carrizal. Herrera describes that the Father had punished
and killed a child for killing one of his pigeons and thus deserved to die in the same
147
manner, with his mouth filled with salt. We suggest it was the assassination of Father
Crisóstomo Gil de Bernabé by a native called Yxquisis in 1773 at the Mission of Carrizal
at a spring northeast of modern Bahía de Kino (McGee 1896:81; Sheridan 1999:415419). The Father was there to embark on a missionization effort but also to procure salt
from the vicinity of the mission where a large salt flat is located (McGee 1896:82). It can
be added that this account is suggestive of the fragility of peaceful interactions and it also
illustrates the fearless and unyielding nature of the Comcaac society, which was and still
is willing to retaliate against actions that they despise for the protection of their own
people.
B.5.5 Comcaac narratives: Leadership and spiritual power
In some instances, spiritual agency also enhanced leadership qualities of these famous
individuals. Spiritual power was derived from an individual’s ability to manifest in
inspirational performances the energies obtained from nature that provided protection and
healing. In the past, some of these leaders practiced Heecot coom or vision quest, the
search for spiritual power conducted in auspicious places like caves, while walking along
the ocean shore, or in circular stone and shell features where the adept could gather or
tame the desired power by ritualized actions. Any plant, animal or other land or sea
phenomenon has the capacity to communicate through dreams, song-poetry, and visions
with the Haaco caama (persons with power) (Martínez-Tagüeña and Torres, in review).
Herrera writes and recites the story of the place (Figure 6) and the legendary Hapetla or
‘the armored one’:
148
Hapetla
In the distant past existed a man with great power called Hapetla.
Some soldiers arrived in sailing ships and stopped in front of the
Hapetla hill. They were not Cocsar (Mexicans) or people of the sea,
they were all cazoopin. These people came and arrived at Hapetla’s
cave. They took him prisoner and climbed the hill. They did
something to him and he fell over the cliff into the ocean. Then, after
some time, the people who remained below saw him. When the
Spaniards climbed down the hill and into the cave they saw him there.
Hapetla was there, sitting properly and holding a fighting spear
(iconip). So he was there with the spear but nobody knew how that
happened. At that time, the Comcaac had never seen a fighting spear;
it was the first time. Nor had they seen machetes (metal blades) or
shields. The soldiers gathered all the Comcaac inside the cave, and
saw that Hapetla was there. The cazoopin were going to kill them, and
since the sun was beginning to set, they built a huge fire at the
entrance. So the soldiers during midnight continued to be at the
entrance of the cave.
So Hapetla, inside the cave took a fishing spear (haacaiz) and made
turns up in the air with it. When he did that he made a hole in the hill,
creating an exit path to extract all the people from the cave. Later they
escaped and surrounding the hill, they went back and down. There is
an arroyo named Hant iipzx cacoj or big arroyo and they used this
149
route and left through it. When the people were walking, Hapetla was
accompanying them. So the soldiers were guarding the entrance to an
empty cave. After the Comcaac and Hapetla walked they reached
Haxhaj. And so Hapetla spoke about a water hole. He asks them to
remain at a place called Hant iixp hanaaxp. And so he said that he was
going to finish the soldiers named cazoopin who were there. He
continued to walk and talk to the people when suddenly he rose up
into the air and flew to Hast Cancl (Lit. hill rusted). They were seeing
him until he disappeared from their sight. It was not long when they
heard a loud sound like thunder and the earth began to tremble. The
hill Hast Caöcla began to tremble and rocks began to slide down the
hill; they broke releasing smoke and fire. The earth burned, the whole
hill burned. All the cazoopin soldiers on the hill ended up on the
ground. They all died. At that very moment a strong wind blew. The
ships that had docked close to the Hapetla cliff were dragged towards
the shore. Big strong waves began and smashed the ships into the cliff
side. So Hapetla goes back for the Comcaac people and brings them to
collect the ship debris. They gathered food, machetes, spears, shields,
shoes, clothes and all the food. At that moment they began to use
wood from the Spanish ships to construct boats to collect fish and sea
turtle and also to navigate. As the years went by, nobody saw or knew
about cazoopin reaching Tahejcö.
150
Figure 6. Location and photographs of Hapetla’s hill and cave.
B.6 Conclusion
This article presents for the first time, Comcaac interpretations of their colonial past and
of the Spaniards. Since cultural landscapes encompass the land itself but also the manner
in which individuals perceive it given their particular beliefs and values, the Comcaac
and the Cazoopin had different views of landscape. For the Comcaac, by embedding
events in the land through naming places charged with personal and social meaning, the
landscape served as moral teachings of their history and perpetuated their cultural
identity. The past was materialized through objects and places, and practices like
language, songs, stories, rituals, bodies and bodily practices. For the Spaniards, the
landscape was revealed in terms of their own cultural concepts disconnected from the
indigenous people inhabiting it, with a selective emphasis on commodities and imposing
151
notions of property ownership and power representations (Cronon 1983:8,22). Their
notions of space and time were derived from their emphasis on reproducing their concept
of agrarian communities. These communities were the space for concentration of power
in which religious reason, hierarchical order, and geometrical distribution of power
converged (at a higher point the mission or church at the center square (plaza) and the
arranged surrounding town) (Rama 1982 quoted in Arias and Melendez 2002). Certain
kinds of territorial representations, including the way of recording the past were
considered preferable to others, always directed to the pursuit of power and territorial
control (Mignolo 1995:256).
On the northwestern frontier, Spaniards encountered a different cultural and
physical landscape, where water was scarce, farming was difficult and many indigenous
people were hunter-gatherers. While Spanish strategies were successful at times,
distances were too great, the landscape too rugged, and the natives too elusive to be
incorporated into the Spanish Empire (Sheridan 1992). Furthermore, the inherent
differences between the Comcaac and the Spaniards, along with the arid nature of the
Comcaac land, prevented colonization in the region (Sheridan 1999). The Comcaac
culturally constructed landscape provided them intimate knowledge and allowed them to
make strategic decisions, like their ability to disperse into small groups and evade
Spanish efforts to capture or defeat them, successfully eluding domination.
As it is narrated in Comcaac oral accounts, early encounters with Spanish vessels
were peaceful and opportunistic. They took advantage of food supplied to them and
shipwreck bounty. New material practices were incorporated into their society along with
new ways of assigning value to objects like metal and food and places in their land (i.e
152
Harvey 1996:222). Later in time, once these new objects were more available, the
Comcaac adopted them. In particular, clothing and metal tools replaced traditional
practices, and they embraced new foods like sugar, flour and coffee. These items were
first sought through trade, probably acquired at missions, later in ranches, and today
bought at the stores. The exact timing and significance of the adoption of Spanish
material culture is uncertain but future archaeological research in the area will help
answer these questions. While the archaeological survey did not yield objects directly
linked to the Spanish colonial period, it provides an initial map of relevant places and
locates deep deposits where future excavations could be undertaken. Some expected
results would be to discern the timing and significance of Spanish colonial contact
through evidence like Old World food resources, metal utensils, and weaponry. Burial
remains could disclose signs of conflict. So far, our survey has revealed information on
individual or group social practices, or both, on occasion indicating practices related to
spiritual enhancement, among others.
Comcaac narrations about contacts in the following years reveal the breakdown of
relationships, betrayal and enmity. Different triggering events and measures deserve
mention: The invasion of Spaniards at Tiburon island, the Comcaac refuge, was
considered an unforgettable outrage. Clashes between Spanish colonists and the Comcaac
had escalated, such as Comcaac raiding of Spanish cattle that triggered bloody encounters
and confrontations along the coast due to Spanish desire for pearls. The situation
continued to worsen by 1740, when a loose and disorganized rebellion among Yaqui and
Mayo Indians in alliance with some Comcaac and Lower Pima began. The Spaniards
153
responded with more soldiers, presidios, and violence until the final offense of drastic
deportation by sea of many missionized Comcaac women to Guatemala.
Finally, Comcaac narrations also explain the relationship between leadership,
prowess in warfare, and spiritual power. Their capable leaders consciously navigated
traditions of use and production of cultural meanings, taking an active and strategizing
role during times of social upheaval (as suggested by Dietler 1998). The importance of
Comcaac masculine war leaders is a cultural belief similar in some respects to Spanish
and Western emphases on prominent individuals. While the archival documents indicate
that the Spaniards understood the central role of Comcaac leaders, it is not until the
Comcaac voice is portrayed that a complete historical narrative is achieved. Spiritual
power enhanced the capabilities and effects of these leaders for Comcaac survival and
their independence from Spanish domination.
Additionally, it can be inferred that the importance placed on leadership likewise
accentuated the remembrance of Governor Parrilla. Both Comcaac oral accounts and the
documentary record provide ample descriptions of leaders during the Spanish colonial
period. Alférez Juan Bautista Escalante, Captain Juan Bautista de Anza, and Diego Ortiz
Parrilla are amply described and their actions aggrandized by the writers. Haxaaza
Coimiin, Haxaaza cöiicö quih coos iha, Haliit Cmotiisi Quiiho, Hapetla are remembered,
respected and valued. The Comcaac favored certain qualities in their leaders: the capacity
to move fast and efficiently through the land, exceptional hunting skills with precise aim
while shooting, the ability to innovate and strategize during difficult times, spiritual
power, dancing and music expertise, and strong personalities. Today, these characteristics
are reflected in Comcaac qualities of being individualistic and opportunistic, very
154
adaptable to the changing world that surrounds them. Through collaboration with the
Comcaac, the multiple spatial and temporal configurations documented in our research
provide unique insights into the role of subject/object-place relationships and practice in
cultural continuity, tradition, and cultural transformation.
155
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163
APPENDIX C
MARRIAGE, FIESTAS AND DAILY LIFE: COMCAAC SOCIAL
INTERACTIONS WITH THEIR O’ODHAM NEIGHBORS THROUGH TIME
164
C.1 Introduction
In northwest Mexico and the US Southwest, archaeological studies have focused on the
development of hierarchical sociocultural systems through various forms of political and
economic interaction with Mesoamerica. These models focus on the elite-controlled
exchange of prestige goods like shell, turquoise, copper, and macaws between different
regional systems, with a secondary role of improving opportunities for subsistence
exchange. The majority of the explanatory theoretical frameworks employed vary
between region-centered versus larger scale world-systems (Braniff 1992; Di Peso 1974;
1873; Haury 1976; Kelley 2000; Minnis 1989; Renfrew 1977; Whitecotten and Pailes
1986; Weigand 1982). The Comcaac (Seri) have been interpreted as having a role in the
regional exchange systems (Villalpando 1993; 1997; 2000). It was suggested that they
provided Glycymeris shell bracelets and Olivella shell beads in return for decorated
pottery and maize from the Trincheras people, with exchange through the Río Bacoachi
(Robles 1973 quoted in Villalpando 2000b: 538). The people who comprised the
Trincheras tradition have been identified as key players in the marine shell network of
northwest Mexico and the Southwest U.S., providing shell to the Hohokam in southern
Arizona and the Casas Grandes region of Chihuahua to the east (Villalpando 1997).
I developed a project in collaboration with the Comcaac indigenous community to
construct methodologies that integrate archaeological data with oral tradition and
ethnographic information. This provided an opportunity to explore in new ways how
neighboring populations could have acquired shell and other marine resources from the
Comcaac at different moments in the past. We explored how exchange may have been
embedded in the social practices and daily lives of both the Comcaac and the external
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societies, in recognizing particularly the importance of intermarriage. For the first time in
the region, the research focus was placed on the coastal inhabitants. The article begins by
contextualizing the region and discussing the beginnings of shell exchange, and how
other archaeologists have used models dealing with exchange between coastal people and
their interior neighbors. It then uses a materiality framework to introduce the Comcaac
cultural landscape, which was studied with a new methodology that identified the places
and objects that index Comcaac interactions with their neighbors. The body of the article
presents a discussion of social interaction as it is framed for this research, providing
descriptions of different spatio-temporal interactions based on multiple lines of evidence.
Research results are divided into interactions among the Comcaac bands and among the
neighboring O’odham groups.
C.2 Background
C.2.1 Deep time and vast landscapes
The ancestral territory of the Comcaac is located along the western desert coastal plain of
Sonora, México (Figure 1). The Central Coast is characterized by extreme aridity with
summer heat (Bowen 1976a). The Comcaac mainly relied in the past on springs and
seasonal tinajas (bedrock tanks that collect rain water). No streams with perennial surface
water occur in the area (Shreve 1964) with the exception of portions of the Bacuachi
River (Sheridan 1999) where, due to bedrock elevation, water remains at the surface
yearlong. The desert provides diverse seasonal resources and the intertidal marine
habitats along the coast are among the most diverse of the world (Álvarez-Borrego 2002).
Human presence in this region dates back to the Paleoindian (Clovis) Period, between
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11,050 and 10,800 14C yrs BP (Waters and Stafford Jr. 2007) as indicated by a few Clovis
points that have been found on the central and southern Sonoran coast (Di Peso (1955:13;
Robles and Manzo 1972:201) and to Paleoindian points found on Tiburón Island (Bowen
2009).
Figure 1. Area for the present discussion and the ancestral Comcaac cultural landscape.
The Archaic period in the area corresponds to the Cochise Archaic of Sonora and
South-Central Arizona (Cordell 1997) based on a variety of characteristic features,
including the presence of several projectile point types. The same types of projectile
points have been found in central and southern Baja California (Ritter 2007:111), Sonora
(Carpenter et al., forthcoming), the Papaguería (the arid fringes of SW Arizona and NW
Mexico) (Altschul and Rankin 2008), Arizona and the Great Basin (Sliva 1999). So far
evidence in the Comcaac region indicates that projectile points and site composition with
lithic debris, manos and metates, and various roasting pits and hearths, plus a wide range
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of rock features and rock art, is similar throughout a vast region from the Great Basin to
the Papaguería and Sonora.
C.2.2 Agricultural villages and their mobile neighbors
The employment of domesticated plants not only occurred through a highland corridor
(the uplands of the Sierra Madre Occidental) (Ford 1981), but also across the lowland
river valleys of Chihuahua, Arizona, and New Mexico, and the Sonoran Coast (Huckell et
al. 2002:139; Mabry 1998:79). Debates have centered on the diffusion of domesticated
plants or the actual migration of people to the region (Berry and Berry 1986). Carpenter
et al. (2005) suggest that the late Archaic Period or more recently defined Early
Agriculture Period (divided into an unnamed early phase (2100 to 1200 BC) the San
Pedro phase (1200 to 800 BC) and Cienega phase (800 BC to AD 150) reflects a
northward migration of maize-bearing Uto-Aztecan groups. Newer direct radiocarbon
dates on maize placing it between 3780-3650 BC (Vint 2015: Table 1.13: 488) in the US
Southwest attest to earlier and earlier well-defined agricultural occupations. Later
throughout the period, population grew and on occasion, occupied larger and more
permanent settlements with the earliest known examples of large communal structures,
courtyard house groups, cremation burials, new types of ground stone, pottery and shell
ornaments, denoting social organization above the household level and long-distance
(Carpenter et al. 2005; Carpenter et al., forthcoming; Hard and Roney 2005; Mabry
2005).
The present research surveyed places along the coast and towards the bajadas
(valley slope) inland that were associated with Cortaro and San Pedro type points;
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however, a lack of Cienega points was notable. Through previous investigations in the
area (Bowen 1976a) and in several private collections, only two have been observed.
Coastal sites for this period are yet to be excavated so this pattern can reflect lack of
evidence but it can also mean that Cienega projectile points are indicative of a general
absence of agricultural villages in that zone. The Cienega point further attests to the
technological transition from dart point to bow and arrow (Sliva 1999), which also
occurred in the Comcaac region. Oral tradition describes that a band from the Sonoran
mainland used bow and arrow, and eventually introduced it to the Tiburón Island bands
(Herrera quoted in Bowen 2000:8).
Archaeological assemblages from these early villages established on alluvial fans,
streams and rivers throughout the region, attest to the importance of shell ornaments
(Mabry 2005). During the late Cienega phase at La Playa site, located less that 100 km
east from the Sonoran coast (near Trincheras, Sonora, see Figure 1), inhabitants had a
well-developed irrigation system, regularly manufactured Glycimeris shell bracelets,
consumed fish, crab, sea urchin, and had other shell from the coast (Carpenter et al.
2008). While animal and plant resources came from the vicinity of the site (MartínezTagüeña 2008; Martínez-Lira 2006), obsidian and red argillite originated from around
350 km north, and a pipe was made from scoria sourced to the Pinacate region. Whether
shell and other marine resources were procured directly by the occupants of the site or
through trade with coastal fisher foragers has not been established (Carpenter et al.,
forthcoming). However, this article proposes several scenarios for a better understanding
of this important topic.
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During this period certain populations chose a settled agricultural life, while
others continued to pursue a mobile subsistence pattern. While agriculture intensified
across the region, through canal systems (Fish et al. 1992; Hard and Roney 2005; Mabry
2005), logistical mobile task groups and a high dependence on wild resources remained
(Martínez-Tagüeña 2008). However, through time further irrigation investment required
more and more sedentary people at villages to manage farming, preventing their direct
procurement of marine resources and further necessitating the development of social
practices that warranted their acquisition of marine resources through exchange. As it is
presented in this article diverse lines of evidence from the Comcaac region demonstrate
that resource acquisition varied at different times and places. Although maize remains at
coastal sites have yet to be recovered and dated, it is likely that coastal people desired
maize after its arrival in the north.
This article underscores that in addition to sedentary agriculturalists with
logistical mobile task groups, it is important to consider all the surrounding hunter-gather
families that inhabited the region with a resulting variety of exchange mechanisms. From
this time onward these populations grew in numbers and through various pulses of
isolation and interaction developed culturally differentiated groups (linguistically
expressed by the many dialects that have been identified in the region). The present
research approach acknowledges varying cultural boundaries in time and space but does
not seek to precisely define them (i.e Wilk 2004). Instead it explores landscapes of
interaction where people associated with different cultures would have initially come into
contact with one another while obtaining resources and objects with symbolic value, thus
developing various social interactions through time.
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C.2.3 Intensification of shell manufacture and its regional exchange
Later in time with increased population in the region the inland settlement types ranged
from clustered villages to dispersed rancherías, mainly distributed along rivers or water
sources (Villalpando 2000) and semi-permanent residential campsites along the coast
(Martínez-Tagüeña and Torres, in review). Several archaeological traditions have been
described for Sonora that are believed to reflect in situ developments. McGuire and
Villalpando (1993) group a set of distinct traditions under the designation “Desierto
Brownware”, all of which manufactured pottery characterized by relative thin-walled
vessels with pronounced scrape marks produced by coil-and-scrape manufacture. These
traditions include Trincheras, Ancestral Comcaac (based on Bowen 1976 but also
corroborated through the present project), Huatabampo of southern Sonora and northern
Sinaloa (Alvaréz 1991; Carpenter 1996), Rio Sonora (Pailes 1984) and Serrana
(Carpenter 2014).
The ancestral Comcaac tradition extends along a coastline from just north of the
city of Guaymas on the south to Puerto Peñasco on the north, with an inland area that
extends towards the city of Hermosillo. It includes the islands of Tiburón and San
Esteban in the Gulf of California (Bowen 1976a; Villalpando 2000) (Figure 1). The
Comcaac ancestral cultural area is defined by the presence of their Tiburón Plain pottery
type: a thin, light and hard well-fired ware made without added temper (Bowen 1976a).
Cross-dating indicates the appearance of the Tiburón Plain pottery type as early as AD
150, although absolute dating is still needed (Bowen 2000; 2009).
Previous research in the Comcaac region registered the following foreign pottery
types: Trincheras lisa, Trincheras púrpura sobre rojo, Trincheras Polícromo, Little
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Colorado River Buff Ware, Tizon Brown and Papago Red (Bowen 1976a; Villalpando
1997). Bowen (1976a) remarked that the presence of Trincheras wares is documented in
small quantities but in many sites, suggesting that it was a trade item. This material
evidence in conjunction with the scarcity of Tiburón plain outside the Sonoran central
coast has lead to the assumption that the only significant contact maintained by the
Comcaac with outsiders was with members of the Trincheras Tradition (Bowen 1976a).
The Trincheras tradition corresponds to farming and ceramic-producing communities that
developed after ca. AD 150 until 1440, in the lower Sonoran Desert of northwest Sonora
along the river drainages (Villalpando 2000).
Trincheras wares are characterized by fine pastes with sand temper (various
compositions of volcanic, mineral and sedimentary sands), very distinctive interior
scrapping marks with polished exterior surfaces, and the employment of red glaze and
purple paint in various combinations. The majority of the vessels are tecomates and ollas
with short direct or vertical necks, and in less abundance, sub-hemispherical bowls
(Morales 2006). Their documented uses are for storage, cooking and serving (Morales
2006:112) and as trade items (Villalpando 2000). Although contemporaneous at times, it
has been suggested that the type Trincheras púrpura sobre café was produced earlier than
the Trincheras púrpura sobre rojo (Bowen 1976b; Morales 2006). The distribution is
mainly concentrated in the Magdalena and Altar valleys, and to the east on the San
Miguel River (Braniff 1978; 1991) and the Rio Sonora (Doolittle 1988). Decorated
Trincheras types are identified in lower frequencies on the Sonoran coast (i.e. Lopez
2010) and Tiburon Island and, more occasionally further north in southern Arizona
(Stacy 1974) (see Figure 1 for geographic areas).
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The Trincheras people have been identified as key players in the marine shell
network of northwest Mexico and the Southwest U.S, linked in particular with Paquimé
in the Casas Grandes region of Chihuahua (Villalpando 1997). However, further
investigation is needed to understand if the coastal sites with Trincheras pottery represent
visits or temporary occupations by interior-dwelling Trinchereños or pottery acquired by
local nonagricultural maritime groups (Carpenter et al. 2008) or both together as this
article will propose below. In the later part of the Trincheras Tradition during the Altar
phase (800/1100-1300 AD) the manufacture and exchange of shell ornaments intensified.
At this time, an increasing number of distinctive elevated “trincheras sites” were built in
the Rio Magdalena Valley on predominantly dark volcanic hills with terraces, walls and
other stone constructions. During the following phase (1300-1450 AD) the production of
painted wares diminished, the area occupied by the tradition contracted and Cerro de
Trincheras, a regional center with 900 terraces, arose in conjunction with an emphasis on
large monochrome vessels, and the prevalence of cremations over fewer inhumations
(McGuire and Villalpando 2011) (located in Trincheras, Sonora, see Figure 1). The
impressive Cerro de Trincheras, stands out as an unparalleled primate center for a broad
cultural sphere throughout northwest Sonora (Villalpando and McGuire 2009)
During the colonial period when the Spaniards arrived in the area most of the
Trincheras Tradition sites were abandoned and the area was slowly being re-occupied by
the Sopa O’Odham (Spicer 1962; Villalpando 2000). For McGuire and Villalpando
(2011) compiled evidence suggests that in the region of the lower Sonoran Desert along
the river drainages and certain areas in the northern most Sonoran coast, the Trincheras
archaeological tradition corresponds to O’odham groups. While this may be the case for
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the core of the Tradition along the Magadalena and Altar valleys it is acknowledged that
the broadest outline of this archaeological tradition may have presented a mixture of
groups like the Comcaac towards the coast, the Ópatas along the San Miguel River and
Eudeves towards other river valleys (Yetman 2010). According to O’odham tradition, the
‘Huhugam’ were their ancestors, but also other recognized ancestors, were other groups
inhabiting the Papaguería and northern Sonora (Underhill 1969:11-13). The main site
Cerro de Trincheras was originally interpreted as a southern adaptation from the
Hohokam people of the north, but later defined as a local development (Villalpando
2000). Small amounts of Trincheras painted wares have been identified in the
southernmost Hohokam sites (Fish and Fish 2007:167).
Even though more research is needed, for the present discussion and the area in
question, it is proposed that the Trincheras archaeological tradition corresponded to both
sedentary agriculturalists and mobile O’odham groups. It is proposed that the Sonoran
coast and inland zones towards the Magdalena and Altar valleys contained shared
landscapes, occupied not only by agricultural O’odham but also by a mixture of mobile
O’odham like the Hia’ced O’odham and other groups, and the Comcaac northern bands.
Although the exact timing is uncertain, oral tradition together with linguistic evidence
and Colonial Spanish archival documents indicate that the Comcaac lived in small,
shifting, dispersed family groups that belonged to a number of subdivisions or bands
reflecting geographic areas as recognized by the Spaniards in late 1600s and early 1700s
(Moser 1963; Smith 1947; Sheridan 1999). Across time and space these bands had
varying social interactions among themselves and also with their mobile and agricultural
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neighbors, the O’odham people to the north and east, the Eudeve to the east, and the
Yoeme (Yaqui) and Pima Bajos to the south.
C.2.4 Post-Colonial Comcaac social interactions
During the Spanish colonial period, processes of colonization, missionization, and
warfare, resulted in the Comcaac band structure consolidation into a more general
Comcaac identity and their confinement to a small stretch of coastline and Tiburón
Island. The bands were Xiica hai iic coii or Tepocas or Salineros (recognized as separate
bands by the Spaniards (Sheridan 1999)), Tahejcö Comcaac or Tiburones or Seris, Heeno
Comcaac or Tiburones who lived in the central valley of Tahejcö or Tiburón Island, Xnaa
motat or Guaymas and Upanguaymas, Xiica xnaii iic coii or Tastioteños, and Xiica hast
ano coii or the people from San Esteban Island (Moser 1963). Other small bands were the
Soosni itaa iic coii or Bahía Kino, and Hona iic coii or Campo Hona (Smith 1947). The
Spaniards also reported Carrizos and Bacoachis bands (Sheridan 1999) (Figure 2).
During the later 19th century, confrontations with the Mexican Army and local
ranchers broke-up bands and entire families were killed; it is estimated that by the 1920s
only 130 people remained (estimated number reported in Felger and Moser 1985; see
Sheridan 1999 and Rentería 2006 for details regarding this time period). Opportunistic
social interactions continued with local Mexican ranchers, in which older inland mobility
routes incorporated ranches into their paths. Mainly during the summer months some
Comcaac families went inland to certain ranches to exchange baskets for corn, food and
clothing. In rare instances they also worked at these ranches and inhabited them
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seasonally (for details see Martínez-Tagüeña and Torres in review; also mentioned in
Smith 1947).
Figure 2. Figure 2. Geographic areas of Comcaac Bands in the past
(Northwest section of Sonora, Mexico).
In the 1940s, some members still belonged to different bands although they
continued to lose access to their former territory. In 1944 the Comcaac were divided into
three main groups no longer living as bands. The largest group lived at Haxöl Iihom (lit.
‘where there are multicolored clams’), or Desemboque de los Seris. The second largest
group was located at Hajhax (lit. ‘any water’), or Tecomate on the northern part of
Tahejcö; and the smallest group lived at Zoozni Cmiipla (lit. ‘bad zoozni’), close to the
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base of Punta San Miguel east of Tahejcö (Smith 1944). Later in time and until today,
they reside in two villages, Haxöl Iihom (Desemboque) and Socaaix (Punta Chueca) that
was established in the late 1950s (Smith 1966). However, they continue to visit certain
traditional camps during hunting, fishing or gathering expeditions.
Today certain members of the community remember the band affiliation of their
family ancestry but they do not refer to the band structure to talk about their past
knowledge. The Comcaac have lost much of their homeland but they relate to their
ancestral landscape through long-term continuity and a deep connection with the
archaeological record. They also possess a rich oral tradition and complex views of the
natural order expressed in stories, poetry, and songs (Di Peso and Matson 1965:5; Felger
and Moser 1985; Marlett et al. 1998; Martínez-Tagüeña and Torres 2013; Moser and
Marlett 2010). Commercial fishing of pen shell (Pinna rugosa), crab (Callinectes
bellicosus) and various fish is the main economic activity, while at the household level
hunting and gathering still continues. Substantial revenue for some people also comes
from the sale of traditional crafts like ironwood carvings and shell necklaces and, more
recently, bighorn sheep hunting permits (see Rentería 2009 for details).
C.3 Commonly employed models of exchange and regional approaches
The majority of studies on exchange have focused on economic roles, and implications
for status and wealth building. Exchange has been classified, and on occasion studied
separately, in terms of food, commodities or labor (Beck 2009; Bradley 1993; Headland
and Reid 1991; Malinowski 1922; Spielmann and Eder 1994; Trubitt 2003; Vierich
1982). Marine shell is one of the most widely exchanged (and archaeologically visible)
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resources used by coastal people, as by their interior neighbors (Bradley 1993;
Malinowski 1922; Trubitt 2003). On occasion exchange has been related to prestige
competition. It assured continued access to otherwise unavailable goods and resources,
and served as a way for people to build or expand kin and social relationships
(Malinowski 1922).
Besides shell exchange, social interactions between coastal hunter-gathers and
their agricultural neighbors have been ethnographically documented and referenced by
archaeologists to reveal the kinds of materials that are being exchanged, and to
understand the social relations and issues of class and power (Beck 2009; Nelson and
Voorhies 1980; Spielmann and Eder 1994). Commonly employed models borrow from
evolutionary ecology concepts of mutualism and competition. After continuous conflict,
to diminish injury risk, less costly social mechanisms to alleviate temporary resource
shortages could have developed; generalized reciprocity between trading partners may
have been such a medium (Spielmann 1991). Other explanations entail coastal
populations that seek to expand their dietary breadth through trade coupled with
reductions in settlement mobility (Kennett 2005) and the incorporation of inland
resources as part of the foragers’ seasonal mobility rounds (Mitchell 1996).
Recent work and more relevant for the present discussion is the employment of a
historically situated and multi-scalar approach where the focus of research is placed on
the social relations between village-dwelling fisher-hunter-gatherers and more mobile
foragers rather than on contact and exchanges with farming communities (Ashley et al.
2015). Often ignored are hunter-gatherers who occupied the interstices between farming
communities and lived along the edges of the Mississippian world (also King and Meyers
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2002). Ashley and others (2015) employed neutron activation analysis to document the
presence of local vs. imported wares from domestic and ritual contexts at various
localities, to conclude that social relations occurred between households and kin groups
through exchange and perhaps marriage that facilitated access to acquire exotic copper,
stone and other minerals from the Mississippian region.
With a similar multi-scalar approach focusing on local histories of broad areas and
also relevant for this research is the notion of ‘co-residence’ of different groups on
community and regional levels. While the emphasis for this concept is not centered on
exchange it seeks to explain similar material culture in broad regions to determine
possible cultural affiliations. In particular, co-residence has been invoked for
understanding the transition from the archaic period to the development of ceramic period
cultures in Southern Arizona (Whittlesey 1995). For the Near East Neolithic it has been
suggested that people living within walking proximity had regular intercourse through
marriage and exchange of locally available goods, more so among herders in frequent
contact than with agriculturalists (Hole 2002:193). Additionally, neighbors would have
exchanged women and livestock to gain access to resources like land, water, and grazing
pastures (Orrelle and Gopher 2002:304).
In the region of study, northern Mexico and the US Southwest, studies have
focused on the development of hierarchical sociocultural systems through various forms
of political and economic interaction with Mesoamerica (for an exception, see Pailes
2015). Earlier approaches were mercantile models of entrepreneurial exchange through
mobile traders (Di Peso 1974; Haury 1976; Kelley 2000). Later studies employed
Wallerstein’s (1980) world system model, which assumes an interregional division of
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labor between core and peripheral areas (Braniff 1992; Di Peso 1983; Whitecotten and
Pailes 1986; Weigand 1982). An alternative model was also proposed with the concept
of ‘peer polity interaction’ that explores a full range of exchange between autonomous
sociopolitical units in the same geographic region (Minnis 1989; Renfrew 1977).
McGuire and Villalpando’s (1993) model defined several scales of interaction,
suggesting that Comcaac people provided shell to the Trincheras tradition, which has
been identified as a key player in the marine shell network of northwest Mexico, and the
Southwest U.S, providing shell to the northern Hohokam people and the Casas Grandes
region to the east (Villalpando 1997; 2000).
Additionally, many studies have been devoted to Hohokam shell acquisition from
the Gulf of California through the Papaguería region (from Bahía Aldair on the northern
coast of Sonora through the salt flats toward the river valleys of Arizona). As it was
described earlier, this area corresponds to the arid fringes of SW Arizona and NW
Mexico. Numerous trails, trade corridors, shell petroglyphs, trial markers, and shell
processing sites show that in some cases agricultural villagers went to the coast to do
their own shell procurement, and in other cases mobile inhabitants of the Papaguería were
intermediaries in shell trade (i.e. Lyon et al. 2008; Foster et al. 2008; Michell and Foster
2000). Certain inhabitants of the Papaguería, like the historic Hia Ced O’odham, were
mobile foragers that occasionally practiced floodwater farming and their campsites
contain ample Laevicardium sp. shell and its jewelry production (more than expected for
personal use suggestive of its exportation) (Martynec and Martynec 2014). However,
discussions have never featured the role of coastal people, on occasion even suggesting
empty costal landscapes.
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The Bahía Aldair shell middens have been interpreted as a product of Hohokam
visits, while acknowledging an earlier Late Archaic period occupation evidenced through
dating (Foster et al. 2008). Contrary to the Comcaac Region, material culture farther
north on the coast is scarce and assemblages consist of almost no flaked stone or ground
stone with a few exceptions like small flakes and flake tools, and volcanic scoria
manuports. Pottery sherds are present although in small quantities, corresponding to
several types like Papago red, Little Colorado Buffware, Trincheras Wares, and
Hohokam wares (Michell and Foster 2000). Due to the more arid environment and lower
resource availability, populations in this area were scarcer in comparison to the central
and southern Sonoran coast in the Comcaac Region, where vegetation, fauna, and raw
material sources are more abundant.
In contrast, several archaeological studies on trail networks and ample oral
tradition indicates that young men and experienced leaders from the Akimel O’Odham
agriculturalists along the Salt and Gila rivers in Arizona and the Tohono O’Odham desert
dwellers of the present-day borderlands, conducted a salt ritual pilgrimage to the Gulf of
California, usually during the summer, following trails across the desert that connect
natural bedrock tanks holding rain water. This journey was a significant religious event
that provided an opportunity to gather spiritual power and purification (Darling 2009;
Underhill 1969). In northern Sonora south of the border with Arizona, Lumholtz
(1912:12) described O’odham groups that worshiped the sea and went to the coast from
Quitovac, located at the northern most fringes of the Comcaac region.
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C.4 New insights for collaborative research
This study is based on a collaborative endeavor with the Comcaac community that
employs oral tradition (alongside linguistic information), documentary history, and
archaeological and ethnographic data to reconstruct a past that is relevant for their
present. Collaboration between the carriers of oral tradition and archaeologists is essential
for an interpretative research, since a hermeneutic pre-understanding of the motifs, codes,
and morals inherent in the oral accounts is needed (Basso 1996; Damm 2005) and the
communicated concepts depend on local metaphor and narrative conventions
(Cruikshank 2002). As exemplified in this article, two modes of interpretation:
archaeological epistemology and indigenous ontology were combined with an analytical
approach rooted in materiality and cultural landscape. A focus on indigenous meaningmaking practices further helps to discriminate substantive similarities and differences
between the material past as understood and remembered by contemporary indigenous
descendants and occupants of a cultural landscape, and the past as reconstructed and
interpreted by the scientific community.
C.4.1 Comcaac cultural landscape and meaningful places
Our project implements a cultural landscape approach, as successfully applied in other
projects (Ferguson and Colwell-Chanthaphonh 2006; Steward et al. 2004). It defines
cultural landscape as an environmental setting that is simultaneously the medium for, and
the outcome of, social action; it has relation to multiple chronologies where specific
historical events can be perceived, experienced, and contextualized by Comcaac people.
Consequently, the Comcaac cultural landscape is tied to history, culture and society,
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where places localize, commemorate, and transmit traditional knowledge derived from
the people’s historical memory anchored to the land. More than five hundred placenames have been documented (Felger and Moser 1985; Martínez-Tagüeña and Torres
2013; in review; Moser and Marlett 2010). These indicate deep history and long-term
continuity on Comcaac ancestral land, as well as indexing knowledge about encounters
with people, animals, and other beings while living and travelling across that land.
This research understands material forms as active participants in social practices
and complicit in the construction of culture. Thus, this approach conceives objects and
places as possessing social agency (e.g. Appadurai 1986; Brown 2005; Meskell 2004;
2005; Mills and Ferguson 2008; Mills and Walker 2008; Pauketat 2001). The
accumulation of experiences, associations, and histories in the landscape can become
social memory, embodied in individual and group experiences as well as in mnemonic
sites like objects and places and in practices like language, songs, stories, rituals, bodies
and bodily practices (Basso 1996; Bender 1993; Climo and Cattell 2002; Mills and
Walker 2008). These sites and practices occur worldwide but the communicated meaning
depends on local narrative conventions: they have social histories that acquire
significance in the particular situations in which they emerge, in the situations where they
are used, and in interactions between members of a community (Cruikshank 2002).
C.4.2 New methodology for collaborative research
The research approach employs a community-based participatory research methodology
(Austin 2004) wherein initial active partnerships with different members of the
community were consolidated. Collaborators were involved throughout all research
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stages; they were part of the development of research objectives, crucial in the creation of
methodologies for creatively documenting places and objects, and indispensable for the
socio-cultural interpretation. Besides their important contribution of traditional and
historical knowledge, they also have a distinctive manner of interpreting objects and
places. Therefore the employed methodology provides better ways not only to understand
past objects but also to understand the relationship between people and those objects in
the past and today.
The present research documented---formally, spatially and temporally---a vast range of
social practices that constructed and continue to construct part of the Comcaac cultural
landscape. Collaborative research began with informal workshops to establish mutual
language and knowledge exchange among participants. The goal was to identify and
record object assemblages derived from these social practices that not only made sense to
the Comcaac but that would allow for meaningful interpretations of the archaeological
record. Alongside this recording effort, several manufacturing workshops were developed
for the re-creation of diverse traditional practices. Ample information was recorded,
along with the interconnections between objects that formed assemblages and linked
places in the landscape.
Mapping of the Comcaac cultural landscape was accomplished through different
methods. An archeological survey of a study area about 400 km2 (the land that legally
belongs to the Comcaac people) has been conducted with coverage of 14% of the total
area; their traditional cultural landscape is much more extensive (Figure 3). Selected
transects covered coastal settings and continued inland through different zones to gather a
more complete subsistence and settlement pattern. Precise transect location was not
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systematic but varied due to accessibility issues and the personal choices of collaborators.
Emphasis was placed on formal, relational and temporal aspects of places, and on object
function and manufacture stage. In rare instances a few diagnostic objects and samples
were collected for future analysis, but most of the analysis was conducted in the field.
Over 200 concentrations of cultural remains, more than 450 features and around 1000
diagnostic or isolated objects have been mapped. Outer boundaries of artifact
concentrations were defined when diversity declined to a single category and/or densities
declined to ten every five meters.
Figure 3. Research area in Sonora, Mexico.
In addition, by means of collaboration with members of the community, a
distinctive survey method was developed that involved the simultaneous recording of oral
185
histories and ethnographic information along landscape segments (3% sample of the 14%
transects coverage of the study area that was mentioned above). The goal was to
document movement through the land as experienced by the Comcaac while conducting
diverse activities. The recording emphasis was on current and past individual and group
use of objects and places, including seasonality, foraging efficiency, and the relative
value of different prey items as well as interconnections between objects that form
assemblages, relevant events, and known place networks. For the present article four
elders participated in placed-based interviews where they recounted personal experiences
combined with oral traditions (similar to Hedquist et al. 2012). The limitations of GIS
technology with respect to Native epistemology (Rundstrom 1995) have been considered
by employing Comcaac geographic knowledge for the representation of mapping
domains and for assuring adequate security of their data.
C.5 Comcaac landscapes of interaction
‘Human populations construct their culture in interaction with one another and not in
isolation’ (Wolf 1982: ix). They are multifarious occurring among individuals and within
all structures of society. Social interactions are situationally specific, stimulating cultural
change differently through time and space (Wolf 1982). The enduring knowledge about
the land and the resulting culturally constructed landscape shape Comcaac strategies of
persistence and change (interaction vs. isolation) through time. These strategies were
balanced according to their own advantage, allowing them to fend off conquest and
incorporation by external pressures to preserve autonomy (i.e. Galaty et al. 2013).
186
Decisions would have been different for the Comcaac bands living in isolation on the
islands versus the people living on the Sonoran mainland who had more interaction.
The Comcaac cultural landscape contains and constitutes histories, experiences
and associations of social interactions with other people. This project recorded several
places and objects associated with Comcaac relations with the O’odham people.
Throughout various spatiotemporal social practices different systems of meanings or
values developed (Munn 1986; Harvey 1996). Different lines of evidence allow us to
propose that during village formation and the subsequent interest on maize and coastal
resources acquisition, landscapes of interaction between O’odham and Comcaac people
developed. They compromised a system of value and meaning through objects (worked
shell, decorated wares, and maize) and places (residential campsites and hills with rock
structures) with their associated social practices like discourses (the system of thought
that constructs how to relate, act, believe and thus speak about objects), marriages and
fiestas, as mediators that bear the message of individual’s and group’s prestige and
identity across space and time.
C.6 Research results through combined lines of evidence
Along with archaeological diagnostics (that are typically few and ambiguous in relation
to cultural affiliation as it will be presented below), Comcaac ontology, oral tradition, and
relative chronology were applied to link archaeological objects and places with the
indigenous social practices of particular individuals and groups, from the vantage of the
community’s continuing social life, cultural beliefs and value systems. Comcaac oral
traditions indicate a three-part temporal framework for the past. The oldest part
187
corresponds to a deep time when Giants were present, as indicated by Xicca Coosyatoj or
Giants’ objects (Tiburón Plain pottery, shell beads, among many others), and as
referenced in words, songs, and stories. The most recent division of the temporal
framework corresponds to more immediate Comcaac ancestors probably extending back
to 1750 and likely earlier (Martínez-Tagüeña et al. in preparation). A “floating gap” (as
defined by Vansina 1985:23) exists for the middle period between the time of the giants
and the more recent time of their immediate ancestors, where information tapers off and
few details are available.
Therefore, through the successful collaboration, the project generally made a
distinction between residential and logistical camps (based on Binford 1980), which
proved essential for the research objectives and interpretive discussions. Residential
camps identified through collaboration, manifest diverse subsistence activities and
manufacturing techniques, among other social practices. They represent seasonal or semipermanent reoccupations, consisting of shell accumulations along with a basic
assemblage made up of varying frequencies of objects, animal remains, charcoal, ash,
hearths and occasional burials. Logistical camps distinguished through collaboration
consist of knapping stations and quarry-workshops, grinding stations, caves with rock art,
isolated objects such as caches of metates, manos, fragments of ollas and Laevicardium
sp. shells used as utensils, and several feature types including circles of stone and shell,
stone-outlined figures and cairns, and agave roasting pits.
188
C.6.1 Social interactions among Comcaac bands and with their neighbors
The extended family is vital for Comcaac social reproduction, along with a complex
kinship system that has more than sixty distinct terms and several obligatory customs of
strict social control among its members. Everybody is engaged in reciprocal sharing of
food or commodities with specified members of the extended family (Felger and Moser
1985:5). Economic redistribution often takes place at traditional fiestas organized through
carefully selected sponsors belonging to the extended families. They last four or eight
days and include feasting, occasional drinking of fermented cacti wine, dancing, singing,
games and icoozlajc or gifts that are thrown to the air at the end of the celebration. In the
past the location varied in terms of a group’s mobility pattern; today they occur at
designated spaces in town. Marriage is monogamous and after the woman’s family
accepts, the young man’s family has to present a series of gifts, today, commonly a truck.
These social practices are essential for economic redistribution and social cohesion.
Furthermore in the past, they would have served for exchange of goods and for
generating alliances with neighbors, alleviating conflict and promoting access to greater
and more distant landscapes.
Information about the Comcaac bands in the past is limited but it was described
that they spoke three mutually intelligible dialects (Moser 1963). The San Esteban Island
and the Sargento people had died out during the 19th Century and the modern Comcaac
language is an amalgamation of the dialects of the surviving bands (Felger and Moser
1985). People from different bands frequently married, and even the people from Xiica
hast ano coii who were more endogamous also took women from the bands Xiica xnaii
iic coii and Tahejöc Comcaac (also see Bowen 2000:11-12). The Comcaac have bilateral
189
descent and were never organized into clans, as likewise is the case for other huntergatherers living in arid areas of the world (Sheridan 1982). However, relationships were
not always smooth as fighting between the Tahejöc Comcaac and the Xiica hai iic coii
happened in the past, on at least one occasion for a woman (Escalante Diary quoted in
Sheridan 1999).
With the exception of the Heeno Comcaac, resource availability would have been
fairly similar, although some believe that in the past, members from different bands
exchange localized products like sea lions and pelican meat and skin, chuckwalla lizards,
agave, reed grass, mineral pigments and obsidian (e.g., Xpaahöj or a type of hematite
main source is on San Esteban Island (Bowen and Moser 1968:107; Bowen 2000:267)).
However, other evidence suggest that people would go themselves to gather the resource,
like people from Xiica hast ano coii went to Tahejöc to obtain mesquite pods and reed
grass; they also went to Coof Coopol It Iihom or San Lorenzo Island for poora or wild
tabacco (Bowen 2000:21). Oral tradition and archival documents indicate that Comcaac
travelled to Baja California and the islands close to shore (Bowen 2000). McGee
(1896:49) mentions occasional travels to Isla San Lorenzo to hunt game and to obtain a
mineral pigment used in face painting. They also obtained good quality clay for pottery
manufacture (Bowen and Moser 1968:92). Herrera (2009) narrates the story of the Hant
Ihiini Comcaac from Baja California.
They visited the Tahejcö Comcaac of Tiburón Island regularly, mainly during
food shortages. Their diet was a bit different and when they came to the island always
brought their own food. They also brought bundles of big fresh reed grass to exchange for
sea lion’s cured hide and for projectile points. The Tahejcö comcaac knew to expect them
190
at a residential campsite called Xpaahjö Xatalca (lit. hematite reef). An epidemic disease
decimated the Hant Ihiini Comcaac, killing several and forcing them to divide; some
headed south and others went north to a place called Cailipol (or black playa) located at
the northeastern part of Baja California (Herrera 2009). Archaeological, linguistic and
ethnohistorical information from central Baja California refers to the prehistoric
inhabitants as Cochimi people belonging to the Yuman linguistic family. Material culture
similarities between them and the Comcaac, include lithic technology (all projectile point
types except the distinct La Paz type from Baja California), tubular stone pipes, the
presence of brown wares pottery, rock structures and features, and rock art (Bowen
1976a; Ritter 2007:178). Interestingly, the historic indigenous people from this region
weave baskets with the same technique (hand placement and direction) as the Comcaac,
probably reflecting motor habits and postures learned during childhood, highly resistant
to change (Bowen 1976a:101).
Colonial Spaniards described the Xiica hai iic coii or Tepocas and Salineros, and
the Xnaa motat or Guaymas bands interacting with their agriculturalist neighbors
(Sheridan 1999). Pérez de Ribas (1944[1645]) describes that Comcaac people travelled to
riverine communities to trade salt and deer hide for maize with their Pima and Cahita
neighbors (they probably also periodically journeyed to Eudeve, Opata, and Lower Pima
communities (Sheridan 1999)). Tepocas appeared to rely less on marine resources than
other Comcaac bands and maintained several semi-permanent camps in the Sierra
Bacoachi (Sheridan 1999). Around 1691, Father Adam Gilg caused a number of Tepocas
to move into a village in the Sierra Bacoachi called San Tadeo, which was quickly
destroyed by the Cocomacagues, a Lower Pima group (DiPeso and Matson 1965). In
191
1684, Captain Lorenzo de Bohorques noted the presence of Tepoca people living in
‘Baquazhi’ (most likely the Río Bacoachi) about thirty leagues west of San Miguel
villages. Several sources describe Tepoca and Salinero raiders in the San Miguel and
Sonora river valleys (former territory of the archaeological Río Sonora tradition),
suggesting a similar pattern for prehispanic times.
C.6.2 Social interactions among Xiica hai iic coii (Tepocas and Salineros) and
O’odham groups
Social Interactions among O’odham Groups
Similarly to the Comcaac community, as defined by the Jesuit missionary Eusebio
Francisco Kino, the O’odham groups had geographically determined subdivisions. These
were Himeri along the Magdalena and Dolores rivers, Soba along the Río Concepción,
Sobaipuri on the Santa Cruz and San Pedro Valleys of Arizona, Gileño for the river
dwellers in central Arizona, and Papago for the dwellers of the riverless basin and range
country between the Santa Cruz and Colorado Rivers. The following centuries disease,
displacement and miscegenation made some groups disappear, leaving the Akimel
O’odham agriculturalists along the Salt and Gila rivers, the Tohono O’odham desert
dwellers and floodwater farmers (Sheridan 1996:115-116), the Sobaipuri or Spotted
farming peoples who left their homeland to evade Apache raiders and merged with other
O’odham groups, and the Hia Ced O’odham, mobile groups occupying the driest parts
and springs of the Papaguería (Anderson et al. 1982). Members of the different O’odham
speak mutually understandable dialects; they are Piman speakers and share cultural
practices (Erickson 1994).
192
According to Joe Joaquin, a Tohono O’odham member in southern Arizona,
before the Spaniards arrived in northwest Mexico and the US Southwest, the O’odham
saw themselves as an integrated people (quoted in Johnson et al. 2013:3-4). Interaction
across the region between O’odham groups was common in the past (Bolton 1960;
Burrus 1971). Their lifestyle was based on hunting and gathering, agriculture, and trade
across the Sonoran Desert (Johnson et al. 2013:37). As Folsom (2014:23) remarks for the
Cahita people, the context in which such trade occurred is difficult to pin down but it
certainly took place, as did the intermarriage among native groups, captive exchange and
collective violence. Certainly violence, trade and intermarriage occurred among distinct
native people, but none of them established hegemony over the rest (Folsom 2014:31).
Each O’odham group dealt differently with Spanish, and later American and Mexican
efforts for domination (Fontana 1983:139). The Hia Ced O’odham had regular contact
with other groups and frequently intermarried using oases like Quitobaquito Springs as
meeting places (Anderson et al. 1982).
Agricultural and mobile O’odham established social interactions, for example, the
intensive exchange of wild products and crops occurred as delayed reciprocal exchange
of harvested crops but mainly as mobile groups camped at agricultural villages for labor
during harvests in exchange for part of the crops (Russell 1908). Also, the Hia Ced
O’odham went to Sonoita during successful harvesting time to get ‘niári’, where
agriculturalists were bound by custom to give gifts to every O’odham that visits
(Lumholtz 1912:165). At Quitovac during August there was a great annual harvest where
people from all over the Papaguería congregated. The ceremony was for rain and the
promotion of good relations with Íitoi, Elder Brother and the Creator (Lumholtz
193
1912:173). A photograph taken by Richard Nonis at Quitovac in July of 1963 shows an
O’odham man serving as a cornmeal sprinkler. He wears a hand-woven belt, an eagle
feather band across his chest, a headband with decorations, and is holding a small shell
container for the cornmeal (Fontana 1983:139). This image further attests to the
interconnection between sea products and maize.
As previously mentioned, O’odham groups (probably the Hia Ced O’odham)
walked around 40 km to the nearest coast for marine resources from Quitovac, Sonora,
north of the Comcaac region (Lumholtz 1912). At a Spanish mission close by, Mission
San Valentin de Bisanig near Caborca, Sonora (less than 70 km to the coast), material
evidence from the surface indicates that O’odham groups were mainly procuring clams
and other marine resources, like the shell types Glycimeris sp., Conus sp., and Turatella
sp. This place also hosted Pima rebels after the 1751 revolt. Although the farmlands in
the area are good, the O’odham preferred to live by fishing and gathering the sea. No
other mission in the area has so many shells around it (Pickens 1993:107-110). As it has
been exemplified by these few cases, O’odham procurement of marine resources was
common although surely varied through time and space.
O’odham people in the Comcaac Region
As mentioned above, for the present article and the region of study, it is considered that
Trincheras wares are representative of O’odham groups; obviously, future provenience
and sourcing analysis are needed. While it is recognized that the oral tradition and the
archival history presented in this article refer to certain spatio-temporal social practices, it
is proposed that the development of mixed cultural families occurred since village
194
formation and the subsequent regional exchange in the past. Other scholars have also
established that societies may exchange marriage partners (affinal kingship ties), share
information, form alliances for joint ventures, and participate in rituals together
(Spielmann 1991). And it has already been mentioned as an important mechanism for
trading and conflict alleviation among several cultures of Northwest Mexico (Folsom
2014).
It was previously described that evidence from La Playa Site and from Cerro the
Trincheras account for almost all the comparative excavated data for farming societies at
two different timeframes. Initial village formation corresponds to the beginnings of an
important manufacturing process of Glycimeris shell bracelets dated to the Cienega phase
((800 BC to AD 150) at La Playa site (Carpenter et al. 2008). After this time, distinct
archaeological traditions emerged, with associated pottery types like Trincheras wares
and Tiburon Plain. The Trincheras tradition corresponds to farming and ceramicproducing communities that developed after ca. AD 150 until 1440 (Villalpando 2000).
For the later part of the tradition during the Altar phase (800/1100-1300 AD) shell
ornament manufacture intensified along with their regional exchange. During the
following phase (1300-1450 AD) the production of painted wares diminished, the
occupied area by the tradition reduces and the Cerro de Trincheras regional center rises
(McGuire and Villalpando 2011).
Additionally, there is a difference in later shell assemblages from earlier periods.
While La Playa site is dominated by Glycymeris gigantea (6,471 blanks, bracelets and
debitage) representing 68.3% of all recovered shell and Conus sp by only .13%
(Carpenter et al. 2015), at the later Cerro de Trincheras, Conus sp. for the production of
195
tinklers, rings, pendants and beads, dominates the assemblage with 58.35% (Vargas
2011). The same change in shell genera abundance from the Early Ceramic to the Late
Ceramic period is apparent in a survey of the Rio Magdalena Valley (Vargas 2003:69). It
was observed that 30.5% of the survey sites had shell with a total of 710 shell items (Fish
and Fish 2003:62), and nearly half of the items corresponded to workshop debris,
suggesting that the Cerro de Trincheras did not control access to shell or its production
(Vargas 2003:70).
Since shell is more visible in the archaeological record, research in the region has
centered on these items. However, when data has been available, as in the case of La
Playa during the late Cienega phase, evidence revealed not only an important
manufacture of Glycymeris shell bracelets, but also the remains of fish, crab, sea urchin
and other shell from the coast (Carpenter et al. 2005; 2008). Even though we do not have
equivalent evidence in addition to shell for jewelry at the later Cerro de Trincheras, it is
important to consider that these other items were probably desired through exchange or
direct procurement, and their absence might be related to preservation issues or
archaeological recovery techniques. Comcaac ethnography documents their expertise to
transport dried sea products inland during their mobility routes and also to store these
resources for harsher times. Some examples are dried bundles of sea turtle meat, Gulf
grunion meat and other various large fish, octopus, squid, and clams (for more details see
Martínez-Tagüeña and Torres in review).
More research in the area is on its way and will continue to answer questions.
Diagnostic objects are scarce and offer ambiguous identity markers so it is difficult to
archaeologically discern interactions at any given time and whether farmers were present
196
on the coast or coastal peoples were present inland. Therefore the value of this type of
collaborative practice is that it allows the combination of multiple lines of evidence for a
better understanding of the region’s past. Archaeologically, provenience analyses are
needed in the region to better comprehend production and transport of objects in the past.
Many sites in northern Sonora, southern Arizona and the Papaguería contain assemblages
of mixed pottery types further complicating the identification of cultural affiliation (i.e.
Beck 2009; Whittlesey 1995). So far, provenience analysis of Trincheras wares from La
Playa site, indicate that the type Trincheras púrpura sobre café has sand temper from the
local Magdalena basin, while Trincheras púrpura sobre rojo wares contain temper
attributed to a foreign source maybe located in the Altar valley (based on the presence of
sedimentary limonite and a green mineral identified as epidote) (Morales 2006:81)
(Figure 4, Morales 2006:111).
Previous research in the Comcaac region reports Trincheras wares at Bahía
Vaporeta on the west shores of Tahejcö or Tiburon Island (Bowen 1986). More abundant
occurrences correspond to sites along estuaries, with the exception of a site showing
Glycymeris bracelet manufacture near Playa Noriega (Bowen 1976a). Bowen (1976a:6465) describes Taylor’s results from a rockshelter near La Pintada where Tiburon plain
appeared stratigraphically below, with, and above Trincheras Wares. The present
research documented 27 places with Trincheras decorated wares (about 13% of the
prehistoric pottery mapped at residential campsites) (Figure 4). Some sherds were too
eroded to assign a type but 13 localities had Trincheras púrpura sobre café sherds and six
had the type Trincheras púrpura sobre rojo. Only one place had a later Altar polychrome
type sherd (dated to around 800 to 1300 AD, McGuire and Villalpando 2011). Brown
197
wares with sand temper were documented throughout the surveyed region in 25 more
places; however, they cannot be assigned with confidence to the type Trincheras Lisa
because local Comcaac people probably also fabricated a brown ware with sand temper
vessels for cooking purposes (Table 1).
Figure 4. Spatial distribution of relevant objects mentioned in the discussion.
Provenience analysis is needed to further infer the nature of pottery production in
the region. Local clay sources have been collected for future analysis. Importantly, two
decorated but badly eroded sherds from Tahejcö or Tiburón Island, contain temper with
the diagnostic green mineral identified as epidote in some vessels from La Playa site for
198
the type Trincheras púrpura sobre rojo (Morales 2006:75), suggestive of a foreign
import. Contrary to La Playa site, less vessel shapes have been identified through survey
in the region; only globular ollas with everted rounded rims and tecomates and subhemispherical bowls. Although this could change with excavation, their shape indicates
that these vessels were used for storage, transportation or cooking.
DB_ID
DATA_SOURCE
Note_Ref
_No
Art_Type
Quantity
5
Magellan GPS
391
Trincheras Wares
6
31
GeoXT
1018
Trincheras Wares
1
70
74
80
145
160
Magellan GPS
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
102
Trincheras Wares
Trincheras Wares
Trincheras Wares
Trincheras Wares
Trincheras Wares
30
3
4
1
1
174
180
182
195
196
197
209
212
275
371
496
510
514
516
528
546
622
719
808
850
54
58
151
158
165
184
186
359
360
Magellan GPS
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
Garmin GPS
Garmin GPS
GeoXH 2005
Magellan GPS
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
Trincheras Wares
Trincheras Wares
Trincheras Wares
Trincheras Wares
Trincheras Wares
Trincheras Wares
Trincheras Wares
Trincheras Wares
Trincheras Wares
Trincheras Wares
Trincheras Wares
Trincheras Wares
Trincheras Wares
Trincheras Wares
Trincheras Wares
Trincheras Wares
Trincheras Wares
Trincheras Wares
Trincheras Wares
Trincheras wares
Brown Ware
Brown Ware
Brown Ware
Brown Ware
Brown Ware
Brown Ware
Brown Ware
Brown Ware
Brown Ware
±20
1
±10
1
1
1
1
2
±10
4
1
3
1
1
1
1
1
5
6
1
1
4
2
5
1
±20
±10
1
1
981
382
392
415
461
466
1063
101
250
261
264
266
275
298
629.1
548.1
1060
966
746
1046
87
Comments
Inside mapped
concentration
Papago according to ML
Astorga
Inside mapped
concentration
Purple on red
Purple on brown
Purple on brown
Inside mapped
concentration
Rim
Purple on red
Epidote temper
Purple on brown
Purple on brown
Thick fragments
Purple on brown
Purple on brown
Purple on red
Quartz temper
Purple on red
Quartz temper
Purple on red
Epidote temper
Purple on brown/Rim
Purple on brown
Purple on brown
Quartz temper
Quartz temper
Eroded
Quartz temper
Sand temper/Tecomate
Quartz temper
Quartz temper/Same bowl
Eroded/Quartz temper
Eroded
199
DB_ID
364
368
405
450
451
455
576
610
613
620
631
633
638
700
722
836
DATA_SOURCE
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
Garmin GPS
Garmin GPS
Garmin GPS
Garmin GPS
Garmin GPS
Garmin GPS
Garmin GPS
Garmin GPS
GeoXT
Note_Ref
_No
1136
189
330
622
624.2
628.1
639.1
641
647.1
516
553
1396
Art_Type
Brown Ware
Brown Ware
Brown Ware
Brown Ware
Brown Ware
Brown Ware
Brown Ware
Brown Ware
Brown Ware
Brown Ware
Brown Ware
Brown Ware
Brown Ware
Brown Ware
Brown Ware
Brown Ware
Quantity
1
5
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
5
1
2
1
Comments
Eroded
Quartz and mica temper
Eroded
Sand temper/Tecomate
Quartz temper/Rim
Quartz temper
Quartz temper
Rim
Rim
Base curve fragment
Quartz temper
Quartz temper
Quartz temper,
Granite temper
Table 1. Simplified spatial database for Trincheras and Brown wares.
With the exception of one isolated and fragmented Trincheras púrpura sobre café
olla, all the Trincheras wares occurred in association with Tiburón plain pottery and at
residential campsites located on the coast, on the edges of estuaries and on the bajadas
inland (the methodology section presents the process and criteria for residential campsites
assignation). Furthermore, some of these campsites were located close to known passages
or mobility routes from inland Sonora towards the coast (like a place that will be
described in detail below called Sataaham Quipcö where intermarried Comcaac and
O’odham families lived). Through this collaborative endeavor it was learned that the
residential campsites on the island and close to the shore called Haxhaj and Mocni Pectij
were most likely occupied during the cold season, while inland places like Hast Tax and
Hastooscl an icaheeme during summer months for mesquite and pitaya (columnar cactus)
fruit collection among other resources. These places have very long occupation from
prehispanic to recent times until the 1950s (Martínez-Tagüeña and Torres in review).
Even though evidence is surface material representative of multiple events, three
of these residential campsites: Haxhaj, Hast Tax and Hastooscl an icaheeme also had
200
Glycimeris sp. worked shell fragments. Similarly to the Trincheras wares distribution, ten
Glycimeris sp. worked shell fragments were found at residential campsites. Some had the
central core removed; only one core was recorded and the rest were broken bracelets
fragments (Figure 4, Table 2). Although these unfinished fragments suggest local
production, the present research did not locate a specialized workshop or manufacturing
place with abundant debris. As mentioned above, Bowen (1976a:30) identified a
Trincheras shell bracelet manufacturing location at the north end of Caail Caacoj (lit ‘big
playa’) or San Bartolo playa. He registered great abundance of bracelet fragments and
central cores (the same manufacturing technique as in La Playa and later Trincheras sites
(see Villalpando and Pastrana 2003)), along with abundant Trincheras plain and
decorated wares, with only a few sherds of Tiburón plain type, accompanied by lithic
debris, manos and metates and animal bones. Although it surely varied through time, it is
suggested that Comcaac and O’odham people that in occasions may have been married
occupied that location.
In the Comcaac region, no burials with associated bracelets have been found, as is
the case for the sites of La Playa and Cerro de Trincheras (Carpenter et al. 2015). A few
finished bracelets from the region are documented through museum and private
collections. Edward H. Davis collected one bracelet (catalog number 129823.00 at the
National Museum of American Indians) and ten have been observed in Smith’s collection
(Moser 2014:45). Comcaac collaborators do not recognize these bracelets or technology
as their own. No recollection of the bracelets was gathered from oral tradition or
ethnography. Moser (2014:45) notes that there is no indication from the contemporary
Comcaac that shells had significant historical trade value or were considered prestige
201
items. However, she reports that some elders told her that the Xicca Coosyatoj or Giants
wore them. Several names were reported for this Glycymeris sp. shell like naapxa yaat
(lit. ‘what the Turkey Vulture baked in the coals’), or satim, saxap, seeex (lit. ‘will
grunt’) and xpanooil (Moser 2014:84-85). Shell beads, named haapxij, are more
prominent in oral traditions as having been made and worn by the Giants (Moser 2010),
but their manufacturing technique is also not remembered. The technology of shell
ornament manufacture could pertain to the floating gap in Comcaac chronology where
few details are remembered in oral accounts.
DB_
ID
16
65
73
162
169
188
201
333
449
494
508
568
DATA_SOURCE
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
579
Note_Ref
_No
1011
967
972
394
400
439
71
1135
248
259
327
Art_Type
Shell worked
Shell unworked
Shell unworked
Shell bead
Shell worked
Shell bracelet
Shell bracelet
Shell worked
Shell unworked
Shell bracelet
Shell bracelet
Shell worked
Material_T
Conus sp.
Glycymeris sp.
Glycymeris sp.
Conus sp.
Conus sp.
Glycymeris sp.
Glycymeris sp.
Conus sp.
Glycymeris sp.
Glycymeris sp.
Glycymeris sp.
Glycymeris sp.
Quantity
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
GeoXT
334
Shell bead
Conus sp.
1
583
GeoXT
340
Shell worked
Conus sp.
1
591
592
GeoXT
GeoXT
347
350
Shell worked
Shell bead
Conus sp.
Conus sp.
4
1
593
GeoXT
351
Shell worked
Conus sp.
1
757
785
803
809
846
847
849
GeoXH 2005
GeoXH 2005
GeoXH 2005
GeoXH 2005
Magellan GPS
Magellan GPS
Magellan GPS
751
1033
1039
1056
Shell worked
Shell worked
Shell unworked
Shell worked
Shell unworked
Shell worked
Shell unworked
Glycymeris sp.
Glycymeris sp.
Glycymeris sp.
Glycymeris sp.
Glycymeris sp.
Glycymeris sp.
Glycymeris sp.
1
2
1
1
1
1
1
851
Magellan GPS
1061
Shell worked
Conus sp.
1
Comments
Drilled
Bead
Drilled
Unfinished
Unfinished
Polished rim
Broken base
Without tip
for bead
Without tip
for bead
Without tip
for bead
Top part
Without tip
for bead
Polished but
broken
Fragment
Broken base
Without tip
for bead
Table 2. Simplified spatial database for mapped worked shell.
202
Torres (personal communication, 2014) remembers her grandmother talking about
the Glycymeris sp. shell’s zigzag designs as being inspirational for basket making. It is
relevant to mention that one of the main social practices to channel spiritual power is the
drawing of crosses, zigzag lines and circles (images believed to derive from visions
during fasting activities) on relevant entities like objects that are considered to be carriers
of spiritual power or directly on the people in need of healing and protection (Bowen and
Moser 1968). These signs are then perceived as a means to control spiritual power that
resides in powerful entities or to attract a non-present spirit. Clay pipes and pottery sherds
carry these signs turning these objects into possible indexes of individual spiritual
practices. Future research with emphasis on depositional practice involving such objects
could help discern their spiritual nature versus a purely decorative purpose.
For the case of the Conus sp. worked shell that became common later in time
(1300 to 1450 AD) during the Cerro de Trincheras main occupation, only five specimens
were mapped in the study area (probably due to their small size and poor surface
visibility) (Figure 4, Table 2). Similarly to the Glycymeris sp. shell objects and the
Trincheras wares, the Conus sp. shell evidence was identified at residential campsites.
Although among surface materials with no chronological association, on one occasion it
occurred in conjunction with Trincheras decorated wares and on another ocassion with a
Glycymeris sp. bracelet fragment. Conus sp shells are usually found only in beach drift
and on rare ocassions live on sand shores at low tide. The Comcaac call them xpaleemelc
and rarely naapxa iif (lit. ‘the Turkey Vulture’s beak’). Some species for this genus have
particular names like hant iiha cooml (‘lit. what investigates the land’) that features in the
creation story, indicating deep-time familiarity with it; and mosniil yaaspoj (‘lit. the black
203
sea turtle’s design) due to its similar pattern with the black sea turtle that is no longer
seen in the area. They were not eaten, ocassionally hung as a pendant on necklaces
(Moser 2014:165-166).
Contrary to worked shell ornaments, the gathering and exchange of complete
shells for necklaces is one of the most common social practices today. Women and
children gather shell, usually through specific logistical trips to procure them but also
through opportunistic encounters while doing other activities (this project recorded
general information but for ethnographic details on many particular shell types, see
Moser 2014). While some types of shell are distributed more widely, some are very
localized and seasonal. Certain ones are picked up as beach drift, while others are
obtained through excavating small shallow pits on the sand, and, rarily, some are dug out
with the feet while alive below the sand on the active tideline. Women that live at
different towns customarily bring bags of shell from their local procurement areas as gifts
to their relatives when visiting them. These social practices likely took place in the past,
although it is acknowledge that people previously had more mobility and probably were
more often able to collect their preferred shells themselves.
For the case of Glycymeris sp. shell, the only observed natural occurrence and
availability to collectors was at the Sargento Estuary as beach drift (also corroborated by
Moser 2014:45). As mentioned before, Bowen (1976a) highlighted a higher abundance of
Trincheras wares on this area. Due to their abundance it is likely that live shells could be
found digging on the sandy-clay of the estuaries. However, it is unknown if these shells
were sufficiently close to the shallow part of the estuary or if they inhabit deeper parts
towards the ocean, which would have required diving. If they were mainly collected from
204
beach drift, it would be expected that marriage alliances would have been advantageous
to selectively secure desirable shell sizes throughout the year. Alternatively, local
Comcaac people would have had to have gather and accumulate them for later exchange,
leaving as the least likely scenario the expeditious visits of neighbors to procure shell
themselves. This scenario of procurement visits has been suggested for the Hohokam
people to the north (Mitchell and Foster 2000). For the case of Conus sp. shell, its
abundance is widespread throughout the area, usually in beach drift and on rare ocassions
alive on sand shores at low tide (Moser 2014). The greater availability of Conus sp. shells
could be related to their popularity during the occupation of the Cerro de Trincheras site
and the intensification of shell manufacture and exchange in the region.
O’dham and Comcaac Intermarriage
Today and as documented by William Smith during the 1940s, only one Comcaac family
indicates having O’odham inheritance. An elder shared with the project that her Papago
(the term used by the elders to refer to the O’odham people) blood came from past
mixture with Papago families from her mother’s side. She remembers that her family
learned to make some projectile points from their Papago relatives. And upon seeing an
Altar polychrome fragment she remarked that the Papago people made them (Astorga
ML, personal communication 2014). In the past, this mixed family had a well-defined
mobility route. They would walk or use horses to go inland towards ranches during the
summer months, particularly to the Rancho Cienega or El Porvenir. Among several
desired inland resources, they obtained a plant to make bows named Hehe itoozi. During
the mesquite bean season they lived close to Hataajc or Pozo Coyote at a residential
205
campsite called Hast Heeque Cmasol at the base of Hast Cmasol (lit. ‘yellow hill’). In
addition to haas or mesquite gathering they also subsisted from siiml or barrel cactus
water, imam iixoj or dry pitaya, haamjö or agave, panaal or honey, and ziix iina cooxp or
jackrabbits. This place had an abundance of projectile points, lithic debris, Tiburon plain
pottery, perforated sherd disk fragments and a Conus sp. worked shell (Table 3, Figure
5).
Figure 5. Map from Hast Heeque Cmasol and surrounding survey results.
From this locality after the hot season had passed they moved to the coast through
a passage in the mountains called Sataaham, to a place called Xtaasitoj Cmooilc (lit.
‘many grouped estuaries’). During low tide several circular sandy areas delimited by reef
are exposed. Today, this location is still visited due to its abundance of octopus and shell.
The marine resources were obtained at this place but the residential campsite was located
a few meters north at a dune called Sataaham Quipcö (lit. ‘dune of the passage’) (Figure
206
6). This residential campsite has an impressive diversity of artifacts, thermal features
(like hearths and eroded clusters of roasted clams), several shell species, sea turtle and
horse remains, alongside several sherds of the types Tiburon plain, Brownware pottery,
Trincheras púrpura sobre rojo and púrpura sobre café, lithic tools and debitage, manos,
glass and modern trash (Table 4, Figure 7).
Figure 6. Mobility route employed by Comcaac and O’odham intermarried families.
Burgos (personal communication, 2014) described that in the past another costal
campsite with Papago family members was Haas itih iip (lit. ‘where the mesquite is’) on
the east shore of Tahejcö or Tiburon Island. While this place has surface material
evidence indicative of a residential campsite, no Trincheras wares or shell manufacture
debris were observed. He remarks that several similar residential campsites with
207
intermarried mixed families existed along the coast northward towards Puerto Peñasco.
He further explained that Comcaac-O’odham relations were very friendly and that both
men and woman sometimes married with them. He further clarified that in a
chronological sense, they first interacted with the Papago, later with the Yaqui or people
from the south and at some point a few Apache visited the area but did not stay. It was
not until later that Mexicans visited the area.
Figure 7. Map from residential camp and gathering area at the coast employed by
Comcaac and O’odham intermarried families.
The previously mentioned place called Hataajc or Pozo Coyote, was a summer
logistical campsite to gather water, mesquite and other resources. Today, Mexicans own
the ranch but the main ranch keeper considers himself a Papago descendant (Cuadrado,
personal communication 2012). Additionally, very close, less than five kilometers to the
southeast, there is a former seasonal ‘ranchería’ inhabited by the O’odham named
Tootovaipa (lit. ‘white waterholes’). Many families lived there with up to sixteen adult
men. This rancheria was given up in 1907 after they fought with the ‘rurales’ or Mexican
208
police and many people died while others fled. It was and still is referred to as Pozo de
San Ignacio (Lumholtz 1902:392). The Comcaac also used this place as a seasonal
residential campsite; they named it Hezitim Cajoeene (lit. ‘town were dust raises’)
(Burgos, personal communication 2015). Today it is a cattle ranch owned by Mexicans
with ample water. They cultivate watermelons among other various products.
Linguistic evidence also provides information for Comcaac-O’odham interaction.
The archaic term in Cmique iitom, the Comcaac language, for O’odham people was
Coiitoj from the word coom, which has many uses but is usually employed as to lay down
or to hide. O’odham were later called Hapaay or Mopaay. The word for bread siimet is a
loanword from O’odham language called simito. Another Comcaac word is the archaic
term moon for pinto bean related to the O’odham word muhni, the Yaqui word muuni and
the Eudeve word mun. However, probably indicating its importance and age depth, the
Comcaac word for maize is not a loanword, but hapxöl and had an archaic version
referred to as xiica caacöl (lit. ‘things big’) (Moser et al. 2010).
Archaeological evidence for the presence of maize from future excavation of
coastal residential campsites is needed for confirmation of exchange but is surely
expected. Interestingly, in 1635 Francisco de Ortega (1944[1636]:108-109, quoted in
León-Portilla 1973) landed on Tiburon Island, probably at Haxhaj, and among other
descriptions he mentions that everybody was eating maize, indicating with hand-signs
that it came from the Sonoran mainland. In 1921, Sheldon (1993:181) observed ample
use of parched corn by the Comcaac families with whom he interacted with. Maize, in
particular corn flour, was rapidly adopted and preferred by mobile groups especially
during resource shortages due to its storability. As previously mentioned, in the nineteen
209
and early twentieth centuries some Comcaac families worked at ranches harvesting corn
and beans among other crops in exchange for food and clothing (Davis 1965). Comcaac
inland residential movement was mainly conducted during the warm weather season due
to the harvesting of mesquite beans and cacti fruit. This pattern was continued into
historic times with the incorporation of ranches as their campsites (Martinez-Tagüeña and
Torres, in review). The Comcaac family that mainly visited the ranches is also the family
that had mixed descent from O’odham groups, most likely not a coincidence.
C.7 Conclusion
This article contributes to the understanding of regional exchange systems in northwest
Mexico and the US Southwest by proposing how neighboring populations could have
acquired shell and other marine resources from the Comcaac at different moments in the
past. In particular, this study explored landscapes of interaction where people associated
with different societies related while pursuing resource procurement and objects with
symbolic value. These interactions began during village formation and subsequent
population increases in northwest Mexico, also the moment for the establishment of shell
exchange mechanisms. This study stresses that trade from the coast to inland agricultural
villages required the mobile families that inhabited this region. Exchange mechanisms
need to be understood among these Comcaac and O’odham mobile groups that served as
intermediaries.
The proposed collaborative approach and the innovative survey methodology with
the recording of oral histories and traditions from landscape segments proved very
productive in the interpretation of these social practices. Practically, through improved
210
methodologies, and theoretically, through holistic frames that integrate different
knowledge production systems, community involvement directly expands and refines the
area’s history. Combined lines of evidence provide new insights into Comcaac
knowledge of landscapes of interaction and their associated archaeological record. The
enduring knowledge about the land and the resulting culturally constructed landscape
shaped Comcaac strategies of persistence and change (interaction vs. isolation) through
time. This approach permitted a focus on the social interactions that are embedded in the
daily lives of both the Comcaac and their O’odham neighbors.
In this particular region, few and ambiguous diagnostic objects complicate the
archaeological endeavor to discern cultural affiliation and social interactions at any given
time. Cienega projectile points seem to be diagnostic of early farmers but are very rare in
the coastal Comcaac region. Other recorded projectile point styles are not representative
of Comcaac or O’odham groups. In regards to pottery, without better chronological
controls and provenience analysis, earlier brown wares with sand temper and Trincheras
Lisa are not distinguishable from other Comcaac brown wares. The only diagnostic
objects are the pottery types: Tiburon plain and the various Trincheras types. However,
evidence from the present survey indicates their co-occurrence at residential campsites,
and if interpretation were based on this fact only, their presence could be indicative of
both inland people in the area coastal or trade. Social interactions based on the presence
of worked shell are also difficult to discern. Both early and later agriculturalist valued
Glycymeris sp. shell bracelets, in addition, Xicca Coosyatoj or Comcaac Giants also wore
them. Evidence indicates that their manufacture on the coast could have been by the
Comcaac but also perhaps by visiting neighbor groups.
211
Evidence indicates that although Glycymeris sp. shells were procured in the
Sargento region and bracelets were sometimes produced in residential campsites of
Comcaac territory, they were most formally and abundantly manufactured near the coast
at Caail Caacoj at San Bartolo. The temporal transition from Glycymeris sp. bracelets to
tinklers, rings, pendants and beads made predominantly out of Conus sp. shell evidenced
at La Playa and Cerro de Trincheras (Carpenter et al. 2008), surely indicates a cultural
change in preference that could have also been facilitated or encouraged by the easier
availability of the latter shells. Furthermore, evidence suggests that some (epidote
temper) decorated Trincheras wares were not produced locally and their spatial
distribution is not generalized (only certain people had access to them). In comparison to
the Trincheras core area, the Comcaaac region presented less varied vessel shapes, with
only ollas and tecomates identified. Much more research in the region is needed. While
survey data was productive, archaeological excavations are essential for a better
understanding of the region’s cultural groups and their social interactions. It is imperative
that we continue to understand production mechanisms through sourcing procedures like
chemical and petrographic analysis of clay, temper, and shell (Earle 1982; Eerkens et al.
2005; Grimstead et al. 2013; Morales 2006). Future research in the area will continue to
reveal the intricacies of social interactions and their spatio-temporal variation.
The results presented in this article are very valuable. The oral history and
ethnographic data provided by various Comcaac elders, in combination with the
identified Trincheras wares and worked shell at Comcaac residential campsites, suggests
the importance of marriage alliances to assure access to coastal resources for inland
inhabitants and vice versa. The O’odham and the Comcaac were composed in the past of
212
different bands or groups with varying characteristics. Some were more sedentary than
others, along with various combinations of both patterns. Members of the different bands
interacted in numerous ways through various pulses of isolation and interaction,
sometimes they traded objects while on other occasions traveled to procure them. They
had friendly and cooperative encounters in fiestas and through marriage alliances or
gatherings, some during harvests season, and when needed also fought and had bloody
confrontations.
213
214
Note_Ref_N
o
1008
DB_I
D
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
428
429
430
1014
1015
158
159
160
1013
1010
1011
1012
1009
Note_Ref_N
o
1020
DB_I
D
21
DATA_SOURCE
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
DATA_SOURCE
GeoXT
Art_Type
Biface
Debitage
Flake tool
Core
Flake tool
Debitage
Tiburon Plain
Shell worked
Tiburon Plain
Debitage
Scraper
Debitage
Debitage
Arrow
Core
Projectile point
Projectile point
Shell bead
Feat_Type
Knapping station
Material_T
Riolite
Basalt
Andesite
Basalt
Basalt
Basalt
Ceramic
Conus sp.
Ceramic
Basalt
Silex
Silex
Basalt
Reed/feather
Basalt
Quartzite
Quartzite
Shell
Age
Prehistoric
Quantity
1
±10
1
1
1
±10
5
1
1
5
1
5
2
1
1
1
1
1
Condition
Preserved
Broken base
With metal arrow
Some cortex present
One is a rim
Worked
Disk
Primary flakes
Core tool, uniplatform
Terciary flakes
Side scrapper
With retouch
Comments
Fragmented with notch
Confidence
High
Table 3. Simplified Spatial Database from Hast Heeque Cmasol.
Art_Class
Flaked Stone
Flaked Stone
Flaked Stone
Flaked Stone
Flaked Stone
Flaked Stone
PH Ceramic
Bone/Shell
PH Ceramic
Flaked Stone
Flaked Stone
Flaked Stone
Flaked Stone
Metal
Flaked Stone
Flaked Stone
Flaked Stone
Bone/Shell
Feat_Class
Cultural
Length
4
Width
2
215
!
!
!
!
!
Note_Ref_No
996
Note_Ref_No
1148
DB_ID
422
DB_ID
202
991
994
983
984
985
986
987
988
989
990
992
993
995
997
Note_Ref_No
981
982
DB_ID
80
81
82
83
84
85
86
87
88
89
90
91
92
93
94
95
96
97
98
99
100
101
102
841
Feat_Class
Cultural
Art_Class
PH Ceramic
Bone/Shell
PH Ceramic
Flaked Stone
Flaked Stone
PH Ceramic
PH Ceramic
Flaked Stone
Flaked Stone
Ground Stone
Bone/Shell
Flaked Stone
Flaked Stone
Flaked Stone
Flaked Stone
Flaked Stone
Flaked Stone
Flaked Stone
Flaked Stone
Flaked Stone
Hist Ceramic
Ground Stone
Flaked Stone
PH Ceramic
DATA_SOURCE Boundary_Type
GeoXT
Concentration
DATA_SOURCE
Magellan GPS
DATA_SOURCE
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
GeoXT
Magellan GPS
Age
Prehispanic/Historic/Modern
Feat_Type
Ash/organic stain
Art_Type
Trincheras Wares
Animal bone
Tiburon Plain
Debitage
Core
Tiburon Plain
Tiburon Plain
Core
Flake tool
Polishing stone
Bone tool
Core
Debitage
Biface
Debitage
Core
Core
Projectile point
Debitage
Debitage
Comcaac ware
Metate
Core
Tiburon Plain
Condition
Deflated
Quantity
4
±20
10
±40
4
1
1
2
1
1
1
1
±60
1
±40
1
5
1
±20
5
2
1
1
1
Silicious Material
Yes
Confidence
High
San Pedro Point
Terciary flakes
Terciary flakes
Rim fragment with organic temper
Fragment
Large
Incised frag. Possible pipe
Large size some cortex
Large size
Bown awl
Fragment red color
Uniface
Rim
Disk fragment, drilled
Flakes and cores fragments
Comments
Purple on brown
Seemed like same specimen
QTY_FSTONE
100
Length
1
QTY_GSTONE
20
Width
1
QTY_PH_CER
60
Comments
Charcoal and burned shell
QTY_FCR
0
QTY_SHELL
100
QTY_ABONE
10
QTY_GLASS
5
QTY_METAL
2
QTY_H_CER
2
Table 4. Simplified spatial database from Sataaham Quipcö.
Lithic diversity Shell diversity
2
4
Age
Unknown
Rhyolite
Deer
Silex
Basalt
Basalt
Basalt
Rhyolite
Basalt
Basalt
Silex
Silex
Andesite
Basalt
Basalt
Basalt
Sea Turtle
Material_T
QTY_H_OTHER
0
QTY_HUMAN_B
0
Comments
Mainly Conus sp. and Cardita sp., less Murex sp., Crucibulum sp., Lyropecten sp.
White and green glass
Horse remains
Metal cans rims very eroded
!
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