Cerro de Trinchera Archeological Sites

by John Roney

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(Note: In the 1990's John Roney of Albuquerque, New Mexico, an archaeologist best known for his earlier researches into the prehistoric Chaco culture (800-1200 AD) of the American Southwest, turned his attention to similar and possibly related cultures of northern Mexico. He made visits to the Casas Grandes area for the purpose of comparing the prehistoric roads of Paquime (as the Casas Grandes ruins are known there) to those built by the Chacoans, and in fact many scholars have speculated about communication and trade between the Chaco and Casas Grandes cultures.

John, too, noticed the more ancient earthworks and stone walls on some of the hills in the area, and became interested enough in these mysterious "cerro de trinchera" sites to investigate them. He has now collected information on over sixty such sites, and by the summer of 1995 had visited several of them, climbing the hills along with other archaeologists and mapping some of the features on them by ground measurements. From long experience at such methods, the site maps John created this way are quite accurate when compared to the aerial photos subsequently taken by Baker Aerial Archaeology. However, having employed aerial photography in the past (often shooting his own pictures), John was aware of how much more easily he could do such mapping, as well as evaluate the sites in additional ways, by using aerial photography, and thus brought Tom Baker into the project. During their recent aerial archaeology expedition into Mexico, John shot oblique photography of the sites from the aircraft with 35mm transparency (slide) film, while Tom did vertical photography for mapping purposes with a larger camera and a variety of films. - L.B.)

Cerro de trincheras are spectacular archeological sites located in southern Arizona, northern Sonora, and western Chihuahua. They consist of isolated volcanic hills crowned by walls and terraces made of dry-laid masonry. At least some of these sites seem to have been walled villages, inhabited by Hohokam and Trincheras people relatively late in prehistoric times, ca. AD 1100 to 1300. Recently it has been discovered that several massive cerros de trincheras in Chihuahua are several thousand years older than this, and actually predate the introduction of pottery into the Southwest. The three sites illustrated on these web pages (Cerro Vidal, Cerro Juanaqueña, and Cerro Gallo) would be impressive constructions in any time period. Their occurrence in the Late Archaic Period (1500 BC to AD 200) provides a whole new perspective on the spread of agriculture into the Southwest.

---John Roney

View the Aerial Photos:

Cerro Vidal: low resolution (10K) | higher resolution (39K)

Cerro Juanaqueña: low resolution (13K) | higher resolution (32K)

Cerro El Gallo: low resolution (17K) | higher resolution (45K)

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