The Latest Metate

While out fencing along the eastern riverbank of the San Simon Riverbed on the expanded Painted Pony Resort  more evidence of earlier inhabitants came to light.  While working down in an arroyo another metate was discovered.  With only a few inches of one end sticking out of the ground it was recognized by the distinctive pecking along the bottom where the stone was partially shaped to create a usable grinding tool.  Upon further examination of the area adjacent and upstream from the metate the rocks on the arroyo slope took on a different characteristic.  Instead of the normal rounded gray cobble which underlies the bench above the riverbed and lines the slopes of the arroyos, a band of reddish more angular stones, some with lichen, were noted which stretched from the top of the bench to bottom of on one side of the arroyo.  This suggested the presence of a former structure on the bench top which collapsed spilling masonry rock down the slope of the arroyo, including the metate which became buried along the arroyos edge.  A walk on the bench above the band of reddish rock led to several large lichen covered boulders which may have served as corner stones for a masonry structure possibly a field house.

Mimbres field houses were a cultural expression found during the Mimbres classic period where the majority of people inhabited large pueblo villages but maintained secondary structures some distance away by agricultural fields.  These field houses were of less substantial construction containing less material goods and it is argued served as only part time residences.

Isolated masonry foundations are consistently found on the eastern bank of the San Simon along a stretch where drainage from Sulphur Canyon, an old branch of Cave Creek Canyon, and the San Simon Riverbed meet while masonry foundations/structures are not observed along the western bank, over the same stretch of riverbed. Although Mimbres pottery is reported from the west bank, no architectural features suggesting masonry construction typical of Mimbres were found.  It is possible the San Simon Riverbed represents the western edge of the Mimbres culture during the classic/post classic period and the furthest western extent of Mimbres style rock art is found in the valley on the eastern slopes of the Chiricahua Mountains suggesting the valley also served as a De facto border between different cultural groups.

Although no diagnostic pottery was found, the presence of above ground masonry is consistent with a classic/post classic Mimbres site.  The current lack of ceramics is also consistent with a Mimbres field house which would only receive use part time during the growing season as is the limited wear, about 1 inch, and somewhat irregular shape of the metate where less energy was expended in construction and on creating material goods at secondary sites.

Based on the observation that the metate was associated with collapsed masonry and the documented use of field houses by Mimbres, this find is tentatively identified as Mimbres in origin and would date to about the 12th century.

desert rocks
Masonry foundation outline in the San Simon valley

grinding stone in southern new mexico
Metate found in association with masonry (south of the location shown above)


  1. What a great find! We sure are lucky to live in the San Simon Valley with so much history and still finding part of the past of of so long ago.

  2. You are quite correct, the valley has a long history and evidence of part inhabitants is constantly turning up. One question I have been trying to answer by exploring the past is how many people inhabited the area through time? It is a difficult estimate to obtain.