Psychotropic or ritual use of Acacia flowers prior to abandonment of a prehistoric Mimbres-Mogollon archeological site
M Pendleton, B Pendleton
archeology, nan ranch, pollen, psychotropic
M Pendleton, B Pendleton. Psychotropic or ritual use of Acacia flowers prior to abandonment of a prehistoric Mimbres-Mogollon archeological site. The Internet Journal of Biological Anthropology. 2007 Volume 1 Number 2.
One hundred twenty-eight samples of pollen were collected from 11 rooms at the NAN Ranch Ruin, a Mimbres-Mogollon archeological site in south-central New Mexico occupied from 750 to 1130 A.D. Of these 128 pollen samples, a large percentage of
Laboratory Processing for this research completed at the Palynology Laboratory, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX.
Based in the Mimbres Valley of southwestern New Mexico, the Mimbres regional system developed into one of the most influential regional systems in the Southwest, becoming in many ways equivalent to the Chaco and Hohokam regional systems 1 . Kidder 2 and Haury 3 elaborated on early descriptions of the Mimbres culture by Fewkes 4 and others. The NAN Ranch Ruin (LA 2465) is a Classic Mimbres pueblo ruin having at least 100 rooms built within at least three room blocks overlaying a Mogollon pithouse village 5 . Early archeological investigations of the NAN Ranch Ruin were initiated by Cosgrove and Cosgrove 6 in 1932 after the partial destruction of the site by looters and vandals. Later, limited excavations at the site were by Richard Ellison and Virginia Wunder, but no publications were produced from this work 7 . From 1978 until 1996, Dr. Harry Shafer of Texas A&M University studied the archeology and botany at the NAN Ranch Ruin to intensively examine the ecology of Mogollon adaptations in the Mimbres Valley 7 , 8 .
Several publications 5 , 9 have described in detail the excavation of Room 60 at the NAN Ranch Ruin. While descriptions of the sampling, extraction and analysis of the entire taxa range of pollen grains recovered in Room 60 have been described in previous publications 10 , 11 , 12 , 13 , 14 , only brief comments concerning the possible relevance of the
One hundred twenty-eight samples of pollen were collected from 11 rooms at the NAN Ranch Ruin, along with an additional 12 samples of modern pollen from along a transect near the site. One of the rooms which was sampled for pollen was Room 60, part of the Late Classic Mimbres Room 55/60 room cluster (Figure 1). Room 60 is of special interest because it is considered to be one of the last rooms occupied at the site 15 after a continuous habitation of the site from 750 A.D. to 1130 A.D. The types of pollen present from Room 60 are a result of the activities (including possible psychotropic substance use) of the inhabitants. At the time of the abandonment of the NAN Ranch Ruin, the large Mimbres pueblo complexes in the area were also abandoned and the entire Mimbres cultural system collapsed 1 .
Methods and Materials
One hundred twenty-eight samples of pollen were collected from 11 rooms at the NAN Ranch Ruin, along with an additional 12 samples of modern pollen from along a transect near the site.
The great number of
Of the 128 samples of pollen from 11 rooms at the NAN Ranch Ruin (including 12 samples from Room 60) and the additional 12 samples of modern pollen from along the transect near the NAN Ranch Ruin, only sample 12 from Room 60 (Figure 1)
I: The pollen near the bowl in sample 12 was not present due to contamination.
Soil sample 12, which contained an unusually large percentage (68.5%) of
II: Features associated with pollen samples in Room 60.
Most of the pollen samples discussed in this study were located within Room 60, but soil sample 9, recovered from just inside an adjacent room (Room 55), is considered part of the Room 60 pollen assemblage because it was recovered from the doorway area between Rooms 55 and 60. Soil sample 12 (having the highest percentage of
Room 55 (accessed through a doorway from Room 60) was designated a corporate kiva 22 . Room 55 was a large room (3.9 x 3.0 m) with two slab-lined floor features. Roof supports were near the east wall and in the west portion of Room 55. A door slab was on the floor of Room 55 just inside the doorway to Room 60. Within Room 55, a concentration of rhyolite, andesite and tuff slabs was present between the slab-lined floor features and doorway to Room 60. A previous excavation disturbed much of the floor of Room 55. The bodies of two children and one adult were interred beneath the floor of Room 55 9 .
Late Classic Mimbres Room 60 (which measured 2.6 x 2.4 m) was identified as a storeroom 22 and contained numerous interesting features, including several bowls (Figure 1). A roof post was located near the center of Room 60. A shallow oval ash basin was in the floor northeast of the center roof post. In the northwest section of Room 60, a rhyolite slab, mano, and three pottery vessels were on the floor. One of these vessels was a large corrugated olla containing lumps of kaolin clay. Another of these vessels was a large Mimbres Classic Black-on-white olla. The third vessel was a small, narrow-necked plain jar. On the floor of Room 60 west of the doorway to Room 55 was half of a flare-rim bowl. Because these Classic Mimbres Black-on-white vessels were recovered on the floor surface in a relatively undisturbed state and the arrangement of the Room 60 walls indicated that it was constructed on top of many other previously occupied rooms, Shafer considered Room 60 to be one of the last rooms to be occupied at the site prior to site abandonment 15 .
III: Bowl Wear, Famine, and Abandonment
Although the flare-rim bowl fragment associated with soil sample 12 (containing an unusually large percentage of
IV: Ethnoarchaeological/Ethnographic observations.
Ethnographic sources cite the use of pollen grains, rather than flowers, for medicinal purposes in the Southwest. Ethnographic descriptions of Navajo medicinal rituals include the use of many types of pollen grains such as: 1) corn pollen grains sprinkled by shamen on sand paintings during curing ceremonies 29 ; 2) along with ground plant materials, juniper, pinyon, pine and other tree pollen grains are mixed with water and given to the patient during the Wind Chant ceremony 30 and during the Mountain Top Chant 30 ; 3) pollen grains from five different trees and ground plant material are given to a sick person to cause vomiting 30 ; and 4) pollen grains from four types of pine trees and two types of juniper are used to make the medicine used in the Night Chant 31 . The Navajo commonly used pollen from
At the NAN Ranch Ruin, pollen was recovered in association with human remains indicating that the pollen and/or flowers of certain plants was ingested by the deceased (prior to death) for medicinal purposes and not deposited at the gravesite as part of a ritual. For example, a large percentage of
Examples cited above of widespread medicinal use of pollen combined with the large pollen grain concentration and percentage of
V: Were the pollen grains in sample 12 part of a ritual involving the graveside placement of flowers ( not pollen grains) usually utilized for medicinal purposes?
Moerman 35 asserted that the fossil pollen grains associated with the Middle Paleolithic burial at Shanidar IV 36 , 37 represented the oldest archeological materials that might have been used for medicinal purposes. At Shanidar IV, the pollen grains are thought to be present as a result of the use of flowers during the “flower burial” ritual. It is assumed that in such contexts, pollen grains of plants used for medicinal purposes are recovered not due to ingestion (prior to death) by the deceased but as a result of the ritual use of the flowers of medicinal plants during a burial. An example of such ritual use would include distributing or rubbing the flowers on the torso of the deceased during or prior to burial. These flowers, which are not nearly as resistant to decay as pollen grains, are not preserved but the pollen grains are preserved and recovered in the soil near the burial. Because only the pollen grains are preserved, in some situations it cannot be conclusively determined 1) whether the pollen grains were used alone or if the flowers (containing pollen) were used or 2) whether the pollen grains (or flowers) were ingested by the deceased for a medicinal use or 3) whether the pollen grains or flowers were used in a graveside ritual ceremony. For example, the great frequency of juniper pollen in the soil in the chest and stomach area of Burial 73, Classic Room 41 at the NAN Ranch Ruin indicates either a medicinal use (ingestion by the deceased) or a ritual use at the gravesite of juniper pollen grains or portions of the juniper plant containing pollen 22 . The pollen grains of plants that are sources of modern medicines (
VI: Were pollen grains used in Graveside rituals?
At other archeological sites in the Southwest, Bryant and Morris 23 suggested that corn pollen grains might have been used in some graveside ceremonies at Antelope House. Although the flare-rim bowl associated with soil sample 12 (from Room 60) was not associated with burial remains, two other flare-rim bowls recovered at the NAN Ranch Ruin were associated with burials: one such bowl in a Phase 2 room located in another section of the Ruin 7 and another from Room 41 7 . Except for sample 12, soil samples associated with other flare-rim bowls recovered at the NAN Ranch Ruin were not processed to recover pollen grains. Although soil sample 12 (containing the large
VII: Were flowers eaten for food or medicinal reasons in the Southwest?
When eaten, flowers
IIX: flowers were probably eaten for ritual or psychotropic purposes.
Moore 49 noted that Indians of the Southwest used
Mind altering substances such as
During the end of the Classic Mimbres Period (at the time of occupation of Room 60 prior to abandonment), a detrimental pattern of precipitation existed for non-flood plain farming, the type of agriculture common at that time 28 . Within a single generation, the large Mimbres area pueblo towns (including the NAN Ranch Ruin) were abandoned and the cultural system ended. Shafer 1 has suggested that the major cause of this abandonment was a failure of the prime agricultural land surrounding the towns. If this agricultural failure occurred, the resulting famine may have disrupted pottery production and produced the high use-wear on pottery recovered in Room 60, one of the last rooms occupied before abandonment of the NAN Ranch ruin.
If a famine was present before the abandonment of Room 60 at the NAN Ranch Ruin, this might have led to the preferential collection and use of psychoactive
Many possible uses of
This research was funded in part by a Texas A&M University College of Liberal Arts Dissertation Award, a Texas A&M University Academic Excellence Award, a Texas A&M University Association of Former Students Mini-grant, and an award from the Texas A&M University Graduate Student Research Grant Award Program. Access to soil samples taken from the NAN Ranch Ruin provided by Dr. Harry Shafer. Permission to use Fig. 2 was granted by Owen Davis on behalf of Martin and Drew 21 and permission to use Fig. 4 was granted by Rusty Russell (PLANTS database) on behalf of G. A. Cooper, Smithsonian Institution 45 .
Michael W. Pendleton, Microscopy & Imaging Center, BSBW Room 119, Mail Stop 2257, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77843-2257.
Reprints may be requested from: Michael W. Pendleton, Microscopy & Imaging Center, BSBW Room 119, Mail Stop 2257, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77843-2257