BESH-BA-GOWAH ARCHAEOLOGICAL PARK
© 1998 by James Q. Jacobs
At Besh-Ba-Gowah Archaeological Park in Globe, Arizona, visitors walk through a 700 year old Salado Culture pueblo, climb ladders to second story rooms and view the typical furnishings of the era. Numerous artifacts of this remarkably advanced culture are also displayed in the Besh-Ba-Gowah Museum. Besh Ba Gowah Pueblo is located at the confluence of Pinal Creek and Ice House Canyon Wash, south of present-day Globe, Arizona. Besh-Ba-Gowah has one of the largest single site archaeological collections in the southwest and is one of the most significant finds of Southwest archaeology. It is one of the largest and most complex of the Salado communities. Archaeologists consider Besh-Ba-Gowah a ceremonial, redistribution and food storage complex. Salado Culture is identified as the cultural period from 1150 to 1450 in the Tonto Basin.
During the prehistoric era a continually flowing spring flowed near the ruin. Pinal Creek, just below the ruin, flowed all year and contained fish. Pinal Creek is located in the north slope foothills of the Pinal Mountains and drains to the Salt River. The Pinal mountains attain over 8,000 feet in elevation and support a pine forest. Snow was visible from the ruins on March 11, 1998, the day of my most recent visit. Besh-Ba-Gowah is situated at 3590 f.a.s.l. Most of the annual 18 inches of rain falls in the summer monsoon season, July and August. Four inches falls during the winter. The growing season is about 228 days long. Corn must be harvested by the Fall equinox to avoid molding.
The immediate local ecology lies between the Upper Sonoran Life Zone and the Transition Life Zone. Readily accessible plant zones also include Desert-Grassland and Desert Riparian. Lower and higher altitudes are easily accessible and the prehistoric occupants enjoyed a wide range of natural resources.
Cultivated food crops included corn, squash, pumpkins, beans. Prehistoric stone lined irrigation ditches were cleaned out and used by modern settlers. Three reservoirs on elevated mounds are also known. Wild plants gathered were of primary importance to survival. Genera utilized were Agave, Yucca, Dasylirium, Opuntia, Mammilaria, Prosopis, Acacia, Larrea, Quercus, Simmodsia, Populus, Pinus, Juniperus, Juglens, Celtis, Vitis, Amaranthus, and Phragmites.
A major trade route from Casas Grandes, Chihuahua, Mexico proceeded up the San Pedro River drainage and passed along Pinal Creek en route to the Salado River. The trade route was in use from 1100 to 1450 AD. The largest pueblos on Pinal Creek are viewed as having been cosmopolitan trade centers. Exports included ground pigments, turquoise, beads, and ceramic bowls. Import included shells from the Gulf of Mexico, the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Cotton from lower altitudes was woven into fine cloth. The Besh-Ba-Gowah potters were masters of the craft. The apex of their product is Gila Polychrome. Salado Culture pottery has the largest areal distribution of any Southwest ware.
Salado occupation is equated to the 1225 to 1400 AD period. The previous temporal phase is identified with the regional Hohokam Culture. Salado overlays Hohokam sites and a continuity of occupation is evidenced. Hohokam pit houses under Besh-Ba-Gowah date to the 550 AD. A Hohokam village on the site dates from 800 to 1150 A.D. Continuous occupation of the area is evidenced from 750.
On Pinal Creek a group of eight Salado Culture pueblos were constructed. Gila Pueblo, located about a mile upstream from Besh-Ba-Gowah, is the type site of the Salado Culture. Gila Pueblo, the largest nucleated settlement along Pinal Creek, had two story sections and possibly three and four story sections. One hundred small hamlets and dozens of villages were also found in the area. In the vicinity there are 20 to 70 sites per square mile.
Gila Pueblo developed around 1225. Arrowhead evidence indicates an attack from outsiders around 1260. This is the first evidence of raiding. Fire destroyed the pueblo at that time. Gila Pueblo was destroyed by earthquake and another fire in 1340. The pueblo was attacked at the same time as the earthquake destruction. Under 1.5 feet of rumbled archaeologists found unburied bodies. Gila and Besh-Ba-Gowah may have fought over water resources. A severe drought struck the region from 1276 to 1299.
Besh Ba Gowah was also destroyed by the earthquake and a fire in 1340. Both pueblos were rebuilt in 1345. Five to six building phases are known from 1225 to 1400. The final fall of Gila Pueblo in 1430 was due to a fourth attack and fire.
Besh-Ba-Gowah had about 400 rooms, of these about 250 were ground floor rooms. Precise numbers are impossible due to modern destruction of sections. Entrance to the pueblo was via a long narrow ground level corridor covered by the second level. The corridor opened onto the main plaza. This may have had defensive purpose.
The present day interpretive trail uses plaques are used to inform the visitor. It begins with the ancient entrance way to the main plaza. The main plaza measures 12 x 27 m. About 150 elaborate burials were placed under the plaza. Hereditary high status is suspected from burial evidence in the plaza. The ruins had very few doors. Room access was by by roof hatchways with ladders. Several reconstructed rooms with prehistoric contents are featured.
Cross-sections illustrate the roof construction of logs covered with layers of reeds, mats and a thick coat of mud. The trail leads past the largest room in the pueblo, the so-called ceremonial room. A sipapu filled with turquoise dust and covered with a large quartz crystal was found in the room. The room contains built-in benches at various levels, four large roof support posts and an altar on the east wall. Another unique feature of the pueblo is a small platform mound.
Construction is of granite stone cobble with adobe mortar covered with calcareous adobe plaster which produces a white finish. Walls are over one foot thick.
Besh-Ba-Gowah is an Apache work meaning "Place of Metals," and refers to modern mining activity. First archaeological investigation was by Adolf F. Bandelier in 1883. Bandelier surveyed the ruin and produced a map. In 1935 excavation was begun. Complete excavation of the surface rooms was eventually accomplished. Three hundred and fifty burials were found. The project ended in 1940 and results have not been published due to the untimely death of the project director.
Half of the pueblo ruin has been bulldozed. The north quarter of the ruin and parts of the east and west edges have been bulldozed. In 1948 the Army Corps of Engineers bulldozed part of a ruin to smooth an area for a Boy Scout gathering. In 1982 the eastern edge was bulldozed for a softball field. The ruin is part of a city park.
Inside the museum two models of the ruins are presented. One shows the present condition. The other is a hypothetical reconstruction of the pueblo in 1325 A.D. It shows 20 courtyards and 2 three story sections. One of the displays illustrates the archaeologist's tool kit.
Stone items on display include manos and metates, delicate carved stone palettes, stone axes and hoes, obsidian points, turquoise beads, local minerals and a bow drill for bead making. Shell jewelry evidences trading networks extending to the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean. Fabric artifacts include woven baskets and mats, sandals woven from yucca leaves, and fine woven cloth.
One wall of the museum is covered with shelves of ancient pottery two pieces deep. A wide and diverse range of pottery includes red and white ware and plain and decorated pots. Besh-Ba-Gowah has a high percentage of decorated ware. The painted wares include Gila, Pinto and Tonto polychromes. Some Gila polychrome have Mimbres-like designs of stylized bird, insect and animal motifs. A unique type of local pottery is the donut-shaped canteen.
The museum includes an excellent Bookstore and Gift Shop and a small theater. Videos inform visitors about the ancient cultures and the ruins. An excellent assortment of informative books and scientific journals can be accessed by visitors. A new larger theater is near completion. It will be able to seat the large school groups which frequent the site.
Besh-Ba-Gowah Archaeological Park, Ruins and Museum, Brochure and Museum displays, City of Globe, Arizona.
McKusick, Charmion R. and Jon Nathan Young, The Gila River Salado, Salado Chapter Arizona Archaeological Society, Globe, Arizona, 1997.
Ruin stabilization and Park Development for Besh Ba Gowah Pueblo, Compiled by John W. Hohmann, Studies in Western Archaeology Number 1, Cultural Resources group, Louis Berger & Associates, Inc., Phoenix, Arizona, 1990.
The route to Besh-Ba-Gowah is well signed, beginning on U. S. 60 in Globe. From Phoenix U. S. 60 is a scenic drive with views of the Superstition Mountains, Weaver's Needle, Picketpost Mountain and the Pinal Mountains. Boyce Thompsom Arboretum is also on the route and is a highly recommended stop.
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