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Southwestern Archaeology

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Basketmaker II
Basketmaker III

The Anasazi cultural stage sequence begins with Basketmaker II (BM II). Timing of BMII can be extended from the first appearance of maize in the northern Southwest (ca. 1,500 B.C. or earlier) to the beginnings of Basketmaker III at about A.D. 500, although the period from 1500 B.C. to A.D. 50 might also be considered to be an "Early Basketmaker II" or "Terminal Archaic" period. Most of the known open-air BMII pithouses and small village sites date to a "Late Basketmaker II" period, lasting from about A.D. 50 to 500. Dependence on agriculture probably takes place by about 500 B.C. Origins of Basketmaker II people are obscure. Two main competing models are in situ development (adoption of agriculture by Four-Corners area residents), vs. migration of agricultural peoples northward from a homeland in the Basin-and-Range. In reality the situation was probably verycomplex, perhaps including long-distance migration but also sometimes involving the adoption of maize agriculture by local populations. There are many similarities between BMII (in the Four Corners area) and San Pedro stage of the Cochise culture (in the Sonoran Desert), including projectile points and basketry (in a style known as 2-rod and bundle). The main changes between the Archaic and BMII involve adoption of corn agriculture, increased sedentism, and use of pithouses by BMII people. There are also new forms of basketry (remember, Archaic people made and used plenty of baskets), new petroglyph symbols (including large human figures with rectangular torsos, often with zig-zag or curved lines emanating from their heads), changes in burial practices (burials placed in rock shelters, often in storage cists or pits), and an increase in certain items such as shell jewelry.

Most models that attempt to explain the cultural innovations of BMII assume in situ adoption of agriculture by late Archaic populations.

Diagnostic traits of BMII:

BMII people were the first in the northern Southwest to cultivate crops. Their principal crop was Maize (Zea Mays) often referred to by the more generic term of 'corn' supplemented by squash (cucurbeta species). Many lines of evidence show the importance of Maize to people of BM II: burned and unburned Maize recovered from trash middens, storage pits, burials; Maize found in dessicated human feces; locations of BMII sites (unlike Archaic sites) often in areas of good, deep soils or near washes where cultivation could have taken place; and carbon isotope ratios of BMII human bones are different from these ratios in the bones of Archaic populations, in a way that indicates a BMII diet rich in Maize.

BM II people lived in various forms of Pithouses. Among those there is wide variability, including large, deep forms and shallow, basin-shaped forms. Foundations are made of a wide variety of materials such as cribbed logs and rock. Walls are not often preserved, but were preserved when these were made of poles and brush, jacal, and stacked logs. BMII pitouses are circular to oval in shape, with entryways facing to the south or east. Firepits are often in the center of the house. Some houses were placed in rock shelters, but most were constructed out in the open. There appears to be a trend from early to later periods that involves early houses being built within shelters.

Subterranean storage cists (for maize, pinyon nuts, and other foods), often lined with slabs, but sometimes simply dug below the ground in the shape of a jug or bell.

Generally speaking, BMII people did not use ceramics, however by A.D. 200 there is a very small quantity of crude, thick, brown pottery. But the later Ancestral Pueblo tradition of gray ware pottery had not begun by BMII.

Atlatl and throwing spear (dart), no bow-and-arrow. (The atlatl/throwing spear combination was also found in the Archaic, in BMIII, and in later Pueblo times, but in BMII it was the main form of weapon/hunting tool).

Lack of cranial deformation (however, true also for Archaic and BMIII)

An extensive inventory of material culture, including an astonishing array of perishable remains has been found in BMII sites protected within rock shelters and alcoves. Items include variety of tightly woven, well made baskets; bone awls; stone pipes; square-toed sandals with a fringe at the toe end; fur and feather robes and blankets; string and cord woven from yucca and cedar bark; oval cradles; woven bags; bone whistles and small carved bone objects identified as dice or gaming pieces; manos and metates; a variety of projectile points, knives, and scrapers chipped from a variety of stone types.


Dept. of Anthropology, P.O. Box 15200,
Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, Arizona 86011-5200, USA.