Friday, April 18, 2008

We visited this ruin last weekend, in a very out-of-the-way corner of northern New Mexico. People live around here their entire lives and never pass through this area. The cliff house above was located about 800 feet up the side of a heavily forested canyon. There was running water in the bottom, but it had just snowed the night before, so I don't know whether the stream is perennial. Here's the ruin with a little more context:

It's a pretty lush spot by New Mexican standards: in addition to the usual ponderosa, Doug fir and scrub oak, there were also spruce and true firs.
We only found one little pictograph panel, but I like it:


Despite their enthusiasm for painting birds, these people, the Gallina, were not a culture you wanted to be part of:

...scarcely more than a hundred Gallina remains have ever been found, said Tony Largaespada, an archaeologist with the U.S. Forest Service who made the discovery in 2005.

"Almost all of [the Gallina ever found] were murdered," he said. "[Someone] was just killing them, case after case, every single time."


"Why these [victims] were outside the house is kind of a mystery," Largaespada said. "Usually [attackers] threw [Gallina victims] in their houses and burned the houses on top of them. That's the case with 90 percent of them.

"But in this particular case they were thrown in a pile outside the house. … More than likely there are others [nearby]."

More, with photos, here.
Like the six other bodies found at the site—all members of a now vanished culture called the Gallina—Stargazer met a brutal end. Her neck had been broken, with her head snapped back so far that her skull rested between her shoulder blades.

"Her head was forced back so hard that it pushed a piece of [a] vertebra into the back of her skull," Largaespada said. "That was a pretty violent death."


The murder scene is grimly consistent with the few other Gallina sites that have previously been excavated, Nelson added.

"[In] most of what we're finding, someone came through and killed them," he said. "If you find a Gallina site and there's skeletons in it, they were killed."

Also interesting: '"Probably the most famous thing about the Gallina is the towers they made," said Tony Largaespada, a U.S. Forest Service archaeologist. "[People] call them Gallina towers, and they almost looked like medieval European castles."'

Though there were no such towers at the location we visited, the site's defensive aspects were pretty unmistakable, with two separate structures set away from the main alcove, commanding views of the canyon. Here's a rather lousy photo of the upper one:

It also seems noteworthy that no modern Puebloans claim any ancestral connections with the Gallina. The Jemez, for instance, seem remarkably vehement on the subject.

To add one final, even more Lovecraftian touch, the site contained several deep holes that reached horizontally back into the sandstone. The largest was remarkably deep, perhaps 25 feet. It seemed as though it extended even further, but was blocked with a large stone that looked for all the world like it was deliberately placed. Another such crevice was similarly blocked. For all the progress in Southwestern archaeology, there's still a lot of room for play of imagination.


Chas S. Clifton said...
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Chas S. Clifton said...

As you say, the massacres have been known since the 1930s, but they did not fit into the "peaceful, corn-growing ceremonialists" narrative pushed by the National Park Service at its Ancestral Puebloan sites.

I learned about this culture years back from an NPS archaeologist at Chaco, who pointed out that the Chacoan road system ran in every direction but towards the Gallinas area. So he figured that the two groups were enemies.

The same archaeologist said that in the 1940s, one of the national magazines such as Saturday Evening Post had run an article on them with a title like, "Towers of Silence," but I never have tried to track it down.

Maybe the Chaco Police raided them after accusations of child abuse.

mdmnm said...

Fantastic ruin! The curves of the overhang and rock blending with the curve of the masonry is really striking. Very different than the Mesa Verde ruins, for example. Thanks for the photos & links!

Peculiar said...

Yeah, these folks seemed to like curvy walls. Pretty elegant masonry, really. There were some funny little niches walled in with gracefully bending little mini-walls.

Reid Farmer said...

Very cool eagley thunderbirdy pictographs. So far this has been a rock art free season but we're still looking for geoglyphs.