Cultural Resources Overview - Central New Mexico
by Joseph A. Tainter & Frances Levine
Extensive archeological work has been done at the site. Within the shallow cave, Archeologists found hearths, cooking pits, fragments of ceramic jars, bedding and matting, projectile points, and milling stones which appear to date back to the Ancient Pueblo Peoples & the Basketmaker III period (500-750) AD. In lower levels of the site, ash & charcoal deposits may indicate that the cave was inhabited as early as 7000 BC by prehistoric Paleoindian hunter-gatherers that actually predate the Anasazi culture. It has been suggested that the early inhabitants of the Canyon used these caves as year-round shelters while transitioning from a hunter-gatherer to agricultural lifestyle. Cultivated corn, squash, and beans were found in the canyon's caves, indicating they had adopted an agricultural lifestyle.
Small rope snares were also found indicating that they supplemented their diet with meat - probably squirrels, jackrabbits, and other rodents. Some of the bigger game they may have hunted included deer and antelope.
It is also interesting to note that Mastedon remains have been found in the desert near Socorro. A nearly intact 5 foot long Mammoth tusk was found by a couple who graze livestock on BLM land earlier this year. Its fun to imagine these huge herbivores grazing on land near this canyon when the environment was a little greener. Who knows - perhaps Paleoindians in the Socorro area may have used the Canyon as a way to trap or hunt ancient mammoths. It is even possible that they may have drove the giant mammoths off some of the higher cliffs in the canyon, which is a hunting technique used by some Paleoindian tribes. I know of no archeological evidence that supports these ideas, but its fun to think of the possibilities that mammoths may have been hunted in the canyon........
I didn’t actually try to climb up to the cave, because I wasn’t sure if it was open to the public – instead I just tried to get a descent picture of the entrance by climbing up a ways on the opposite side of the canyon. I wish the BLM had posted signs indicating if the cave could be explored but I didn’t see any. Also the collection of cultural artifacts, rocks, and other natural resources is strictly FORBIDDEN. If you are a rock hound, or a fossil hunter, you can collect limited samples along the Quebradas Backcountry Byway, just outside Socorro, which we visited a couple of years ago. I will post some pictures of that trip sometime in the near future.
I sat opposite the cave for the longest time studying the entrance and the cliffs above, and began wondering about the lives of the ancient Paleoindians who might have inhabited this canyon. Things like: how available was water? Where did they bury their dead or did they cremate the remains, and what kind of funerary customs did they follow? We know that some Paleoindian cultures actually buried their dead under the floors of their houses. How defensible was the cave from other local tribes who might try to raid their camp? Could hostile tribes try to attack the inhabitants of the cave from above? Did Native American boys sit on top of the cliff as lookouts while their older brothers and fathers hid themselves in defensive positions among the rocks near the entrance of the cave? If I lived in the cave, how could I protect myself from super predators like wolves, mountain lions, and bears? Weapons such as my atlatl, spear, bows and arrows would be kept close to me and within easy reach at all times. Would I need to build a fire near the entrance to keep away preditors? These are just some of the fascinating things that float through my mind when I am exploring archeological sites.