By Eric Blinman
Photo by Esha Chiocchio
The Galisteo Basin watershed is a good place to run cattle and shoot movies, but it’s really not much good for anything else. But it wasn’t always that way: In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, hunter-gatherers roamed the basin, stalking antelope and the occasional bison, and foraging Piñon and rice grass.
Then beginning about 1180, homesteaders settled, growing crops, especially corn. Soon hamlets – grouped households of 20 or so – blossomed. And eventually, starting around 1400, “safety in numbers” meant these hamlets turned into large pueblos. For nearly 400 years the climate supported farming until summer’s strong monsoons shifted to the north around 1500. Enter our modern climate, with weak monsoons and land better suited to cattle than corn.
Because farming potential was low, the land has been relatively undisturbed through the historic period, preserving a record of a particularly dynamic period of New Mexico history. From petroglyphs to pottery, we can see the impacts of climate change and the arrival of the Spanish (an estimated 80 percent of native peoples died at the threshold of colonization). The historic record is not as clear in the adjacent Rio Grande Valley, because that land was better for farming. The Basin is unique, telling amazing stories of the pueblos and the people who lived there.
This excerpt is from The Galisteo Basin, a coffee table book edited by Galistean John Miller, available as a gift with a $75 donation to La Sala.
Dr. Eric Blinman is Director of the Office of Archaeological Studies in Santa Fe, where he studies human responses to environmental change, pottery technology, yucca fiber technology, archaeomagnetic dating, and Puebloan cultural history.
Esha Chiocchio is passionate about environmental conservation. She has photographed around the globe for publications, nonprofit organizations and commercial clients including National Geographic, Newsweek and Bonefish Grill.