Prehistoric Pottery Points to Peace in Ancient Southwest

Ancient potteryAn anthropologist claims a style of pottery reveals that a religiously inspired women’s peace movement may have altered the course of prehistory in the North American Southwest. Called Salado ceramics by archaeologists, the pottery is easily identifiable and superbly crafted and painted. The origins of the tradition, named for Arizona’s Salt River (Río Salado in Spanish), have been debated by archaeologists since the first discoveries in the 1930s. Precisely who made these ceramics remains a mystery, and a major issue in Southwestern archaeology.

Salado pottery first shows up in the Southwestern archaeological record amid the violent late 1200s. It has been found in three neighboring cultural areas: the Hohokam (southern and central Arizona), the Mogollon (southern New Mexico), and the ancestral Puebloan, or Anasazi (northern Arizona and New Mexico). Each culture group had its own religious traditions, but the pottery contains similar designs: complex black, red, and white geometric motifs and symbols that are interpreted as having sacred meaning because they resemble later groups’ religious designs. From the late 1200s to the mid-1400s, the region was torn by political conflict, resulting in refugee migrations, as people abandoned their native areas.

The religious expression in Salado pottery appears to emphasize fertility and cooperation. This may be evidence of a grassroots movement that aimed at integrating immigrants who were socially and ethnically distinct, while preventing the spread of warfare. Since pottery as a craft was not usually practiced by men, it tended to bring women together, decreasing competition among them. Across these culture regions, women were likely ethnically diverse. Thus, because archaeologists agree that Salado pottery does not correspond to a specific ethnic group, its shared patterns indicate connections between groups.

Related Links

  • 13th-century Women’s Movement
    This article by the University of Missouri anthropologist whose theory about a women’s peace movement in the ancient American Southwest is the subject of renewed debate around Salado pottery.
    (Source: Archaeological Institute of America, March 17, 2010)
  • Pottery Leads to Discovery of Peace-seeking Women in American Southwest
    This article, also by the University of Missouri anthropologist, suggests rethinking the meaning of a style of pottery associated with areas of present-day New Mexico and Arizona—to focus on the role of women potters who sought peace amidst a violent culture.
    (Source: University of Missouri News Bureau, March 9, 2010)
  • Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, Laboratory of Anthropology
    The official Web site of the Museum of New Mexico system’s premier repository of Native art and material culture of the Southwest from prehistory through contemporary art; includes virtual exhibitions and podcasts.
    (Source:; accessed March 31, 2010)
  • Gila Pottery
    This article describes culture groups, including the Salado, of the Gila area in the southwestern present-day New Mexico and their pottery; includes a map of the larger area and links to other pages of the “emuseum.”
    (Source: Minnesota State University; accessed March 31, 2010)


  1. adrianna says:

    i think these pots are verry creative and nice for decorating 🙂

  2. Alexia says:

    I think that this is a very interesting way to express and/or create a peace movement made by women.