El Paso Polychrome in the Casas Grandes Region, Chihuahua, Mexico: Ceramic exchange between Paquime and the Jornada Mogollon

Jessica Prue Burgett
Dept. of Anthropology, Pennsylvania State University
July, 2006


El Paso Polychrome was the second most common non-local ceramic type at Paquim a 13th -15th century pueblo in northwestern Chihuahua, Mexico. Paquimwas one of the largest sites in the prehistoric Southwest. Most models of this center's development and regional role focus on trade, and El Paso Polychrome is one of the most common non-local ceramic types at Paquim Researchers have generally assumed that El Paso Polychrome originates in the Jornada Mogollon culture area, centered in west Texas and southern New Mexico. This ceramic type's status as a trade ware in northern Mexico has never before been tested, though the exchange of ceramic vessels is not the only possible explanation for El Paso Polychrome's presence. The focus of this dissertation is testing this assumption that El Paso Polychrome is a trade ware at Paquimand other sites in northwest Chihuahua. For this purpose a large sample of late El Paso Polychrome from Paquimwas systematically compared to samples from Villa Ahumada, Chihuahua, at the very southern extent of the Jornada Mogollon culture area, and to samples from several sites at Fort Bliss Army Air Artillery Range in the Jornada Mogollon heartland. Technological and design attributes were recorded for over 1600 El Paso Polychrome sherds from these three locations, and 300 of these samples were also thin-sectioned for petrographic analysis. This petrographic analysis provided information on mineral components, ceramic body recipe and grain-size distribution. When compared statistically, El Paso Polychrome from the Chihuahuan sites is not significantly different from samples from west Texas and south-central New Mexico. In addition, all El Paso Polychrome samples subjected to petrographic analysis were tempered with crushed granite, and there are no sources of granite within 30 kilometers of Paquimor Villa Ahumada. This is well beyond the distance potters are willing to travel for raw materials in ethnographic studies. The frequency of El Paso Polychrome at Paquimand its associated communities can be entirely accounted for by the movement of ceramic vessels rather than other causes, such as migration of potters or stylistic emulation.