I have been thinking of writing; my memories of the
excavation of the Paquimé ruins by Dr. DiPeso. He was sent by the
Amerind Foundation to head the excavation of this big famous site.
I was principal of the Dublan Grade School at that time
and met the DiPesos when they came to register their two boys in the
school. Their boys David and Corey were about the same age as our two
oldest children Kiko and Mary. I mention this because all during the
excavation we would take the older grades of the school to visit the
ruins. The DiPeso boys were in those two older classes so their father
was especially interested in giving us extended tours of the excavation
sites and telling us of all of the interesting discoveries that were
made in the work.
He told us that the people of Paquimé were a highly
developed agricultural community with knowledge of the movements of the
Sun, Moon and the Stars. They did all of their planting and harvesting
according to the seasons and according to the moon and the stars and
showed us the calendar cross or observatory where they made their
calculations that governed their daily lives.
He also showed us the ball court with the rock rings on
each side. He said that he had his own theory about their ball games but
could not tell us anything official of how or why they played their ball
He was very excited and interested in the water system
they had built and used. They had built an under ground aqueduct lined
with flat stones forming a stone aqueduct two bring the water from the
hot springs that were located about three miles to the northwest of the
ruins. They had engineered this aqueduct bringing it up the valley
running southeast while the river ran north and the whole valley sloped
On arrival at the ruins there was a big storage area that
was filled from the aqueduct. The main line was split into two smaller
aqueducts that ran through and under the whole compound with openings at
strategic points throughout the houses and big courtyard in the center.
Dr. DiPeso suggested that one of these aqueducts was used exclusively
for drinking and culinary purposes and the other was used as a garbage
disposal. They both came out on the southeast end of the housing area
where the water was run into irrigation ditches and used for irrigation
on its way to the river.
In one of the inner courtyards these ingenious people had
dug a walk in well where they had an emergency water supply of good
drinking water. They probably used this water for drinking in the summer
since the water from the spring was probably still hot as it came in a
covered aqueduct from the hot springs. The walk in well was about twelve
feet in diameter and had steps winding down to the water that was about
twenty feet down. This well has since been totally filled in for safety
purposes and very few people know about it.
On one occasion Dr. DiPeso took us to a site where they
had excavated a big round flat rock which had been used as a base for a
big pine log pillar or support. This rock had been made especially for
the purpose of being the seat or base of a main pillar to support the
upper stories. They had excavated carefully and underneath the base they
had found the skeleton of an infant wrapped in a woven mat. Evidently
this infant had been a sacrifice placed under this main pillar to assure
the blessings of the gods on their houses.
In the big main courtyard was where they raised and
housed their Turkeys and Guacamayas. Dr. DiPeso explained that
apparently they had used these birds for their feathers, especially the
bright plumage of the Guacamayas. There were many cages that had a door
made from a big rock with a hole in the middle and a long round rock
that fit in the hole to close the door. Apparently the parrots had
strong beaks that would destroy a wooden door very quickly. Dr. DiPeso
suggested that they supplied these feathers to the peoples far to the
south north and west. He showed us the little sea shells that they
probably used in trade. In one of the inner rooms under the bed they had
discovered a big store of these little shells. He said that they had
found enough shells to fill three wheelbarrows full. They had found
these shells in many other sites but this man seemed to have had the
most of any.
They found that the buildings in the center had been as
high as five stories high. Each room seemed to be equipped with a small
charcoal fire place and niches for lights probably oil lamps. The walls
were made by filling wooden forms with rammed earth that set up almost
like stone. The forms could be removed immediately after compacting and
placed on the next layer up. That way they did not have to wait for the
mud to dry which would take a long time in side the buildings. The walls
were usually about three feet thick with some of the main walls being
I was interested to see the east side where they did not
excavate that there was a pillar rising above the mound of the ruins.
This pillar had weathered the storms for hundreds of years. Apparently
it had been a corner of a high building that had not crumbled with the
rest of the walls. When I was a small boy our Primary Teacher Sister
Mary Taylor. (Wife of Harvey H. Taylor) took our class on a wagon with
gravel and cement up to the ruins. We poured a cement foundation at the
base of that pillar hoping that it would last longer because of the
foundation. Here thirty five years later that pillar was still standing.
Our cement foundation had been completely covered with dirt by the
weather through the years but the pillar looked the same as it did when
I was a boy.
I remember when the big pit ovens were excavated and Dr.
Di Peso explained that they had been used to cook the Sotol heads and
the big asparagus looking quiotes that they brought from the mountains.
They would burn a hot fire inside the pits for three or four hours then
they would fill the pits with whatever they had to cook and cover the
pits so that no steam could escape. After twenty four hours they could
be opened up and the good mescal could be eaten. This food lasts for
many days and is very good and was used as a health food so to
On the south side of big ruin there were some big pillars
spaced along what seemed to be the front entrance of the village. Dr.
DiPeso said that he had read an account of an early Spanish explorer
that came into the Casas Grandes Valley in the late 1500?s. The explorer
had expressed surprise as seeing these big pillars fronting the big
ruin. It had reminded him of the gleaming pillars of Greece. These
pillars at the time we saw them were worn down but still were about four
and a half feet in diameter.
Dr. DiPeso told us of the wonderful pottery they were
finding and once he told us of finding some tempered copper implements.
He also said that he was interested in finding some copper Turtles that
he thought were used for worship purposes. I don?t know what ever
happened to those copper things because I have never seen them
displayed. When we visited the museum that Dr. DiPeso set up in Dragoon
I especially looked for any display of copper but found only the pottery
and other artifacts that they had meticulously glued together and
I am very grateful that Dr. DiPeso did such a good job of
excavating the Paquimé Ruins and that we were his confidants on our
visits from the Dublan School to the ruins. We got to see many things
and learn of many discoveries as they went along in the excavation
process. He often commented that the only way to preserve these ruins
would be to roof all of the main part and leave them as they were
uncovered. They were not covered and we watched as the ruins
deteriorated. Then we watched in horror at the feeble gestures of
restoration ruining what was left of the original excavation. I do not
like too visit the ruins as they have them today. I would much rather
preserve in my memory the freshly excavated walls and plaster and relive
in my minds eye what must have been the thriving happy community of the
people of the ancient Paquimé.