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Native Economy

The first people here, Paleoindians, lived in the mountains and grasslands of what is now New Mexico and Arizona. In their travels, Paleoindian people encountered glaciers on top of the Sandia Mountains, pine and spruce forests on its foothills, and small shallow lakes on the West Mesa. A wide variety of exotic animals lived here then – mammoths, saber-toothed tigers, and gigantic bison. Paleoindians mostly subsisted on large game, but they also collected plants and seeds, moving their campsites often and by foot over great distances.

By 8000 B.C., Paleoindians were hunting and camping on the hills west of the Río Grande from Bernalillo to Belen. Their shelters were likely constructed of pole frames covered in skin to break the wind and weather. They became increasingly skilled in crafting spear points and other kinds of tools and probably traded with others for desirable materials. As the climate gradually changed, so did their food sources and, hence, their nomadic way of life. They may have gradually moved north and east, away from the Albuquerque area, or adapted to conditions here.

Archaeologists call the next stage the Archaic Period. During the Early and Middle Archaic, up to around 3,200 B.C., Archaic people lived in small shelters made in shallow depressions with brush roofs, camped near water sources and moved seasonally through the region to hunt smaller game and collect plant foods. It was during the Late Archaic, around 500 B.C., that local populations began to grow corn.

By about A.D. 500, early Pueblo life centered on agriculture although people still hunted and gathered wild foods. They grew corn and cotton along river terraces, domesticated dogs and turkeys, and made pottery. Farming didn’t demand a nomadic lifestyle, so small villages started to appear along the Río Grande. The villages were composed of two to twelve pithouses dug into the ground with ramped entrances, roof support posts, central fireplaces, and domed roofs covered with brush and mud. Pits for storing food were inside and outside the homes.

Once food could be both grown and stored, the potential for creating surpluses and trade increased dramatically. At the Airport Hamlet Site, located near what is now the Albuquerque International Sunport, the presence of non-local, black-on-white ceramics suggests trade with Ancestral Pueblo settlements to the west. Pithouses continued to be occupied in our area until after A.D. 1000. The traditional pueblo way of life, characterized by year-round living in above-ground villages and an economy based on cultivating corn, peas, and squash, did not become well established in the Albuquerque area until about A.D. 900.

Around A.D. 1000, people speaking the Tiwa language migrated to the Río Grande Valley and split into the Northern and Southern Tiwa. The Tiwa were connected to a trade network that extended in all directions through the other pueblos and ultimately to other native people of the Americas. Raw goods, such as pottery, turquoise, and salt, moved in all directions along trade routes established along the Río Grande, through Tijeras Canyon and to the western pueblos, in exchange for exotic goods such as shell, bison hides, copper bells and macaw feathers. Traders traveled by foot on established trails, along rivers when practical, with products carried in burden baskets strapped to their backs.

At Piedras Marcadas Pueblo, located west of the Río Grande near what is now Coors and Paseo del Norte Rd., the presence of black and white pottery from San Marcos and Galisteo Pueblos, and of artifacts made from bison found at Kuaua, is evidence that the Tiwa participated in this larger trade network. Dwellings took the form of multi-story villages of adobe.

The first Spanish explorers to arrive in the Río Grande Valley in 1539-40 encountered a Pueblo population of about 15,000 in the Albuquerque area. At least 40 villages existed between Bernalillo and south of Belen, and about 15 of them were located within what is now Greater Albuquerque, including Alameda and Piedras Marcadas Pueblos.

The arrival of the Spanish brought abrupt changes to Tiwa settlements and their subsistence economy. Spanish explorers first camped near and inside Pueblo villages, modifying rooms and doorways as needed. It is thought that Francisco Vásquez de Coronado’s expeditionary force wintered outside the walls of Alcanfor, a Tiwa village most likely located south of the village of Kuaua (“Evergreen”), near what is now Bernalillo.

A series of droughts, made worse by increasing pressures for food and clothing, diminished surpluses and made it difficult to create extra products for trade. Both Spanish and Pueblo villages experienced raids from Apaches and Navajos that wiped out their meager surpluses. By the time La Villa de San Felipe de Alburquerque was founded in 1706, all of the area’s Tiwa pueblos were abandoned. Both Isleta and Sandia pueblos were re-established in the middle 1700s and have survived to the present day.

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