Gallina: the culture hidden in the hills

By Henry Kornfeld


In what is today northwestern New Mexico, the vast landscape of mesas, sage flats, Ponderosas, arroyos, and impressive stone outcroppings, have stood solemnly for millions of years. In the impressive terrain, there is a sense that the history of the place is almost palpably infused in the landscape. And it is hardly surprising to note that people have left a considerable mark. It is not obvious to the casual observer, but looking out at the landscape, it is possible to see these often-subtle impressions. A slight depression in the earth, a scatter of chipped stone, a change in soil color. The land is a witness, yet it is often difficult to obtain and to interpret this testimony of life in the past.

Archaeology as a discipline has been mired in major arguments about methodology and theory for the past few decades. Native Americans and non-native Archaeologists have both expressed profound frustration at the archaic and arbitrary nature of archaeological practice. The “old” manner of doing archaeology is hinged upon the belief that there is one correct interpretation of the archaeological record, that a skilled archaeologist can use the scientific method to observe all of the facts of a site, and can then determine that correct interpretation. This is coupled with the belief that humans as the objects of study can be fully understood by documenting and analyzing the physical trace of their presence.

Archaeologists have had to simultaneously ask a number of difficult questions. How valid is archaeological knowledge? Archaeology involves taking a minute sample of the physical remains of a culture, subjecting these to a small number of tests and then using these to make inferences about a foreign culture from the ancient past. In addition to this, the researchers are subject to pressures which affect their work. Pressures to publish information, regardless of its quality. Pressures to find sites and data which appeal to contemporary American (generally more Anglo-American) society. Pressures to conduct research that will receive funding from universities which want research they can boast about.


These pressures have had a great effect upon how research is conducted across the landscape. Just as rural regions can be ignored in modern politics, less densely populated regions are often ignored in the politics of academia. For instance, famous, densely populated culture-areas such as Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde are much more studied than some of their contemporaneous neighboring groups. Among the large grouping of cultures who are the ancestors of today’s Pueblo groups, the material remains of the people who built the Great Houses at Chaco Canyon are probably the most well-known. But there were many other ancestral Puebloan groups throughout the Four Corners region. “Developments such as the Sinagua, Virgin, Fremont or Gallina were long interpreted as the frontiers of Chaco, spinoffs, satellites, rogue states or backwards communities”(Bremer, 2017) This highlights some of the problems in current archaeology. The massive great-houses and cliff dwellings hog the spotlight, and are studied over and over again, while we lack basic data from most of Gallina and other cultural regions which don’t have the wow-factor to draw museum crowds (Borck 2017).

Archaeologists tend to categorize past cultures into familiar groupings. We want to see empires, kingdoms, municipalities with administrative centers and clear boundaries between groups. But this is not Europe, and that is not how this continent is organized. We chop up the landscape into artificial ‘sites’ based on how densely artifacts can be seen from the surface and ignore the space in between. After all we’re looking for lost cities aren’t we?

Lewis Borck has noted how the tendency to view the map in terms of positive and negative space (as cities, and the big empty places in between cities) is based in this desire to find hierarchical, “sexy” societies with colossal structures. “Many of these frontier and borderland zones in the Greater American Southwest —these non-places—are often non-hierarchical, or at least less hierarchical than many areas in the Chacoan World. Some of these non-places even prefer a more traditional style of architecture. Places like the crater houses around Chimney Rock (Chuipka 2011), the Gallina, the Valdez Phase near Taos (Boyer 1997; Fowles 2010), and Homol’ovi Pueblo III pit house communities (Barker and Young 2017) often get labeled as “Out-of-Phase,” as though they failed to predict the eventual rise of the Pecos Classification System or the Northern Rio Grande Sequence. This highlights one of the major underlying processes for the construction of “sexy,” the construction of archaeological popularity, in archaeology. Things that look more like us, get more attention. And in the US Southwest at least, hierarchy is sexy (Borck under review).” (Borck, 2017)

Archaeology may be strongly influenced by cash, but that doesn’t dictate that archaeologists must all follow the trend to study popular topics. In fact there are a myriad of people studying such obscure topics as Gallina paleo-ethno-botany. These folks are doing the real hard work; laying out the course for future researchers to study these relatively unexamined areas. And to their credit, these researchers are trying to include many sources of knowledge in their work.

Figure 1: Map showing direction of nonlocal ceramics in the Gallina Region. From Borck and Simpson 2017 and  Borck 2018. Image by Catherine Gilman

Contrary to the past model, where the expert archaeologist (normally upper-class, middle-aged, white males) dictated fact to the poor benighted non-initiates into PHDdom, they are utilizing Native knowledge in their work. For example, Lewis Borck is seeking to create a dialogue where Native oral traditions and academic knowledge can become complementary. To paraphrase his words, he is of the belief that historical events can be viewed from numerous perspectives, which are not necessarily contradictory. There is essentially no single story to tell, since history is as varied and dynamic as humans are, and no one monologue will teach us the entire truth.

Recognizing what one author wrote about the validity of western knowledge as it relates to other forms of knowledge (specifically Native oral history) “Academic knowledges are organized around the idea of disciplines and fields of knowledge. These are deeply implicated in each other and share genealogical foundations in various classical and Enlightenment philosophies. Most of the “traditional” disciplines are grounded in cultural world views which are either antagonistic to other belief systems or have no methodology for dealing with other knowledge systems. Underpinning all of what is taught at universities is the belief in the concept of science as the all-embracing method for gaining an understanding of the world.”(Smith 2010)

Gallina may be the key to learn about Rio Grande Pueblo group’s migration from the Four Corners Region

Archaeological remains associated with the Ancestral Puebloans span a period of time from the beginning of the common era into the colonial period. During this time, most Puebloan groups moved from dispersed, subterranean dwellings known as “pit houses” into larger settlements of apartment style rectangular houses. When the Spanish arrived to the Southwest, they began calling them and those who dwelled in them ‘Pueblos’, the Spanish word for village.

There were, however, some groups who continued to live in pit houses. One notable such group are known as the Gallina (AD 1100-1300). Gallina settlements appear on high ridges throughout a number of valleys in Northwestern New Mexico. “Habitations built on ridges including pit-houses, surface houses with low-walled storage bins and ventilators oriented to the south, and small “pueblos” with thinner walls built of upright posts and adobe mud.” (Bremer, 2017)


Archaeologists had inferred from the lack of foreign trade goods, Chaco-style kivas (a circular subterranean earth-lodge used for ceremonial, religious ceremonies) and Great House structures that the Gallina were an isolated group. Since archeologists can only see the physical objects that people leave behind, they must make inferences about past people based on that. They determined that since there was little ‘archeologically visible’ contact with adjacent Ancestral Puebloan groups in the Rio Grande, Chaco and Mesa Verde areas (in contrast to the extensive sphere of influence of the Chaco Canyon Ancestral Puebloans) Gallina culture was quite isolated. “Contacts between the Gallina and these groups, as evidenced by trade ceramics, were minimal and limited to fringe areas on the northwest and south of the Gallina region.” (Seaman, 1976)

unit house

Since that time, it has emerged that this lack of imported foreign ceramics may not indicate that the Gallina were ‘isolated’, but instead that they had emigrated from around the neighboring Rio Grande, Chaco and Mesa Verde, Kayenta and Virgin regions. Lewis Borck demonstrates in his study of foreign ceramics in the Gallina Region, that non-local ceramics in the Gallina region do not originate from one direction, but instead originated from various directions and are often much older than the sites they are found on (Borck 2018). This implies, according to him, that the Gallina people may not have had a common origin but may be descended from a number of different groups from various places throughout the Southwest.

Although there appear to be no contemporary indigenous communities who claim descent from the people living in the Gallina region during A.D. 1100-1300. There are Native oral histories which may shed light on the relation of contemporary groups to this region.

It is difficult to speak of a “Gallina people” per se, based solely upon the material remains excavated in the Gallina region. “while most archaeologists would agree that the largely technological bases for archaeological culture histories are not biological or even cultural groups, the reality is a pervasive confusion in academia, legal proceedings, and the general public about what really defines groupness within the archaeological record- and how archaeological culture histories inevitably shift into “people.” Given that much of what archaeology tells us is about technology and materialism essentially, it is perfectly understandable that technology is what underlies categorizations through time.”

It is likely that the Gallina culture in the archaeological record actually consists of a diversity of different linguistic and family groups, and that the ancestors of modern Tewa and Towa groups may have passed through the region on the way to their current homes along the Rio Grande and in the Jemez mountains. What is more clear is that they migrated south. This aligns with Zuni, Hopi, Tewa and Jemez oral histories.

  • Bremer, J. M. (2017). From Discovery to Explanation: The History of Gallina Archaeology. KIVA, 450-470. doi:10.1080/00231940.2017.1386814
  • Borck, L. (2017). Connected and Isolated A Discussion About Gallina Archaeology with no Resolutions. Kiva: Journal of Southwestern Anthropology and History, 443-449.
  • Borck, L. (2018). Sophisticated Rebels: Meaning Maps and Settlement Structure as Evidence for a Social Movement in the Gallina Region of the North American Southwest. In Life Beyond the Boundaries: Constructing Identity in Edge Regions of the North American Southwest
  • Borck, L. & Erik Simpson (2017) Identity is an Infinite Now: Being Instead of Becoming Gallina, KIVA, 83:4, 471-493, DOI: 10.1080/00231940.2017.1391155
  • Barker, Claire S., and Lisa C. Young 2017 Networks of Ceramic Exchange: Comparing Homol’ovi Pueblo III Pithouse and Pueblo Communities. KIVA: Journal of Southwestern Anthropology and History 83(2):183–202.
  • Chuipka, Jason P. 2011 The Chaco to Post-Chaco Transition in the San Juan Region: Persistence of Cultural Traditions on the Northeastern Frontier. Paper presented at the 76th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology. Sacramento, California.
  • Boyer, Jeffery L. 1997 Dating the Valdez Phase: Chronometric Re-Evaluation of the Initial Anasazi Occupation of North-Central New Mexico, vol. Archaeological Notes 164. Office of Archaeological Studies, Museum of New Mexico, Albuquerque.
  • Fowles, Severin 2010 A People’s History of the American Southwest. In Ancient Complexities: New Perspectives in Pre-Columbian North America, edited by Susan Alt, pp. 183–204. University of Utah Press, Provo.
  • Donald M. Julien, T. B. (2010). Paleo Is Not Our Word: Protecting and Growing a Mi’kmaw Place. In Indigenous Archaeologies: A Reader on Decolonization (pp. 163-170). Walnut Grove: Left Coast Press Inc,.
  • Smith, L. T. (2010). Colonizing Knowledges: Establishing the Political Superiority of Western Knowledge. In Indigenous Archaeologies (pp. 57-62). Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press, Inc.
  • Timothy J. Seaman Archeological Investigations on the San Juan -to- Ojo 345KV Transmission Line for the Public Service Company of New Mexico: Excavation of LA 11843: An Early Stockaded Settlement of the Gallina Phase. Laboratory of Anthropology Note Number 111 G, Santa Fe, New Mexico. 1976

2 thoughts on “Gallina: the culture hidden in the hills”

  1. Very informative and well written. The entire article had a polished and professional feel to it.

    I assumed that the final long quotation, at the end of the second to last paragraph, was still from Lewis Borck, but that was not clear to me without some sort of lead such as; “As Borck explains, …” Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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