Landscapes and peoples of the Llano Estacado

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In viewing the Llano Estacado (Figure 5.1) as a whole, a landscape approach is taken to provide the basis for further research. This current synthesis encompasses the physiography, biota, and cultural record of the Llano Estacado with the objective of integrating and placing that broader record within the framework of a landscape approach. The geology, flora, and fauna are not simply background material but instead are an integral part of the landscape and form many of that landscape's resources. The theoretical perspective sets the stage for a greater effort than is presented here but also provides an overall interpretive framework useful for both the synthesis and future research. The landscape is viewed as layered, with each layer composed of various parts and elements interacting synergistically. The physiographic landscape consists of landforms and landscape elements, influenced by changes through time as well as transformations in the climate and environments. Superimposed over the physiographic landscape is the biotic landscape of plant and animal communities. Superimposed over these two landscapes is the cultural landscape, involving for this purpose activities, land use, and chronology. For the Llano Estacado, different levels of information are available for these land scape layers. The physiographic landscape is addressed, what is known about the natural and cultural landscapes regionally is outlined, and the relationship among the three layers is explored. How one viewed and used the vast landscape of the Llano Estacado was a matter of cultural perspective. In 1839, an Anglo trader and explorer returning to the East from Santa Fe described the Llano Estacado as "an open plain . . . which was one of the most monotonous I have ever seen, there being not a break, not a valley, nor even a shrub to obstruct the view. The only thing which served to turn us from a direct course pursued by the compass, was the innumerable ponds which bespeckled the plain, and which kept us at least well supplied with water" (cited in Gregg 1954:252). Despite the acknowledgment of water, he also described the Llano Estacado as "that immense desert region" (Gregg 1954:357) and as "dry and lifeless" and "sterile" (Gregg 1954:362). In the 1850s, government-backed Anglo explorers reported that the area was "the Zahara of North America" (Marcy 1850:42), with "no inducements to cultivation" (Pope 1855:9). Yet twenty years later, in the 1870s, the pastores (Hispanic sheepherders from New Mexico) saw the territory as a vast, well-watered grassland ideal for expansion first through transhumance and then through yearround sedentary village pastoralism (Hicks and Johnson 2000). They called the western escarpment la ceja de Dios, or the eyebrow of God (Figure 5.2) (Cabeza de Baca 1954). This appellation imparted a much different sentiment than that of the Anglo statements. The Llano Estacado has been occupied for the past 11,500 years (all ages in uncalibrated radiocarbon years). Despite climate changes and the mobile nature of some aspects of the landscape (dust storms, dune formation, water table), parts of the territory have always been good places to live. Early systematic research into the culture history, beginning in the late 1920s and 1930s, has focused on either the most recent records or the oldest periods. Sporadic investigation has focused on excavation. Although few large-scale systematic pedestrian surveys have taken place (e.g., Hester 1975a; Hughes and Speer 1981), some smaller-scale ones have occurred more recently, all with differing field methodologies (e.g., Hughes and Willey 1978; Johnson 2002; Litwinionek, Johnson, and Davis 1997; Schroeder and Rader 1995). Analysis of distributional data across the region has been limited and seemingly conflicting (Buchanan 1995a, 1995b, 1995c; Hester and Grady 1977). The application of a landscape approach to the archaeological record of the Llano Estacado is limited and just beginning (e.g., Litwinionek, Johnson, and Holliday 2003). This synthesis, then, provides a foundation and first approximation for using such an approach within the region.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationArchaeological Landscapes on The High Plains
PublisherUniversity Press of Colorado
Number of pages42
ISBN (Print)9780870819315
StatePublished - 2008


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