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Anthropology Museum
Mata Ortiz

In the 13th century, the city of Paquimé was built in Chihuahua, Mexico by the Casas Grandes culture, later becoming the most complex regional center in the southwest United States and northern Mexico. The height of the Casas Grandes culture was from 1200 to 1400 A.D. Paquimé was built from adobe in the form of ancient pueblos and contained over 2,000 multistory rooms and plazas, making it the home of over 3,000 people. The site also contains ball courts, macaw breeding cages, platform mounds, and uniquely shaped doorways and altars. Ball courts at Paquimé would have been essential for gatherings, and economic and religious purposes. One of the most iconic mounds at the site is the mound of the cross, which points in the four cardinal directions.

The Casas Grandes people were best known for their beautiful and intricate pottery designs, and were involved in the trade of copper, shell, turquoise, and macaws. Macaws were an important part of the Casas Grandes culture and are often featured in effigy jars or in the decoration of jars and pots. Macaws and serpents are reoccurring themes in Casas Grandes pottery and it is thought that the portrayal of serpents could have been related to the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl. Serpents are also associated with water, which may have been important for the Casas Grandes culture. Macaws were also important for religious practices and there is evidence indicating the possible ritual sacrifice of macaws. There is also evidence for the creation of pottery, stone and copper working, craft specialization, and weaving.       

Effigy jars are often seen and found and were made in the forms of birds, dogs, turtles, fish and combinations of different animals. One distinct type of effigy jar is known as a Janus jar and these contain faces on both sides of the jar. There are also human effigy jars that indicate the Casas Grandes people had clear ways of depicting men and women. Women often have both legs extended before them in effigy jars while men may have their legs in different positions such as kneeling or one leg drawn in towards the chest.

Overtime the Casas Grandes pottery was not only used for practical purposes, developing into an art form and becoming more complex. The pottery designs started to be made in tri-color designs and polished black ware pottery was also made. Casas Grandes pottery makers are thought to have been part-time specialists based on the intricacy and skill required to make the pottery. Along with the distinctive designs of Casas Grandes pottery, there are many similarities in the form such as rounded bases and uniform manufacturing methods. Based on study of Casas Grandes pottery, it has also been suggested that some forms of pottery may have been made for higher status individuals, since there was no evidence of use.

Go to Mata Ortiz Object Gallery