Artifacts, Archaeology and Cabeza De Vaca (Part III)

Museum material culture appropriate to Cabeza de Vaca during his "trader" phase and his journey thence to the Rio Grande would include: arrow points (likely Perdiz, and perhaps Caracara at Falcon Lake), bone-tempered pottery (including restored or partially restored vessels at TARL and, from Choke Canyon, at the Center for Archaeologica Research at The University of Texas at San Antonio, "hide scrapers" (end scrapers) and beveled knives (bison processing equipment), large trade bifaces, manos and metates, mats (as among the Cuchendado, use Lower Pecos examples), bows and arrows, digging sticks, etc. (also derived from Lower Pecos collections but surely identical to what was in the south Texas interior). Photographs of the wooden mortars and pestles reported by Collins (1968) and Prewitt (1981) would be very appropriate, given Cabeza de Vaca's description of mesquite bean processing (the Collins and Hester specimen is from the Lower Pecos, and had prickly pear seeds in the mortar) on the Rio Grande. He clearly describes pestles, and mentions a "jar" which sounds much like the mortars that have been reported. Cabeza de Vaca in Northeastern Mexico.

When Cabeza de Vaca moves west from the Rio Grande, he entered territory that is still very poorly known archaeologically‹especially in Late Prehistoric times. No major excavations or studies have dealt with this terminal portion of the culture sequence in the region, and those that have, usually involved rockshelters (cf Hester et al. 1994)‹not part of Cabeza de Vaca's chronicle. Cabeza de Vaca's reference to rabbit-hunting sticks clearly refer to the "rabbit sticks" present in museum collections at the Witte and at TARL, from the lower Pecos and western Texas; doubtless, they are the same as he recorded in northeastern Mexico. However, there is a much discussed incident involving material culture that I would like to touch upon. This is the "copper" bell or rattle (described as "squat and wide;" M. Wade, personal communication, 1996) given to Dorante "at the base of the mountains" (Covey 1961:110; Ketchum 1988; Epstein 1991). Cabeza de Vaca relates that the gift-givers had obtained the artifact from the "north." This has led many to speculate that it is derived from Casas Grandes, the great trading and craft production center in Chihuahua studied by Di Peso (cf. Di Peso l974, who notes Casas Grandes trade networks reaching to La Junta de los Rios and other northern Mexico locales). It may have indeed come from there, but I suggest an alternate scenario. If the Krieger map is correct (cf Chipman 1987:143), this event probably took place south of Monterrey. This is only 250 miles from the Pavon site, on the Rio Panuco, in the Huastecan culture area. At this site, Ekholm (1944:478-479) reports and illustrates large copper bells (including one strikingly similar to a specimen from Casas Grandes, DiPeso 1974 510), and notes several others, including one in the form of a turtle (the one given Dorante apparently had a "face" or image on it) in the Huasteca. Indeed, Huastecan outposts in the Sierra de Tamaulipas, occupied at the time of Cabeza de Vaca (the Mesoamerican Late Postclassic) were within 100 miles! The Huastecans were very active traders, as seen in their interaction with the hunters and gatherers of the Brownsville complex in the Rio Grande delta, where obsidian, pottery, and jade is documented (see Hester 1995 for a detailed review). Further, despite all the ruminations in the various translations, could the "South Sea" and its riches not be the Pacific or the Bay of California . . . but the Gulf of Mexico with its Huastecan towns and traders?

Finally, I want to close with some observations on the material culture related to the famed "mouse-teeth" scarification event (Covey 1961: 113). It is hard to say where this took place, though Krieger's route suggests it could have been in the Big Bend area. Of particular relevance here is a basket and contents found at site 41VV171 in the 1930s and in the collections at TARL (see Figure 2). This has never been fully published, though it is sometimes called a "shaman's kit" or a "medicine kit." Among the contents are mescal beans (known hallucinogens) and a number of rodent (rabbit) mandibles. It is not hard to imagine these latter items being used for this type of scarification, especially in the scene described in the Cabeza de Vaca case. Though Cabeza de Vaca describes the event as one of parents' punishing a crying infant, one suspects that it is related to curing rituals. If so, such scarification appears not to have been the domain solely of a "shaman," (cf Ricklis 1994:416) but could be done by anyone. I do not want to stretch this too much, but simply point to this kit (or a photograph of it, again due to Native American concerns) as a possible exhibit item, given the mention of the scarification event and, of course, Cabeza de Vaca's role as a healer during much of his time in Texas and Mexico. (This text initially appeared in Windows to the Unknown: Cabeza de Vaca's Journey to the Southwest. An interdisciplinary symposium hosted by the Center for the Study of the Southwest at Southwest Texas State University, San Marcos.

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