Pueblo Turquoise Network May Be More Extensive Than Originally Believed

George Nielsen

The Pueblo Indians were much better networked than previously thought, according to a new study. Where before researches assumed that Pueblo turquoise came entirely from nearby mines, new evidence shows that mine sources ranged between Colorado, New Mexico, California and Nevada.

For the Pueblo people, turquoise was valued as highly as our society values diamonds. More than 200,000 pieces were found in Chaco Canyon, used as treasured keepsakes or decoration. Turquoise is a central part of Pueblo culture. Turquoise jewelry, turquoise embedding, turquoise figurines, these are what define Pueblo culture. For researchers, to confirm that the sources of Pueblo turquoise are this far reaching comes with many implications. Trade, mining, and travel are now confirmed to be further reaching than previously believed.

"People usually think of the Chaco Canyon as this big center [for turquoise]," said study lead author Sharon Hull, an anthropologist at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada. "But we show that people were bringing the turquoise back and forth between the western and eastern sites."

And, to further solidify the claims of Hull's team, turquoise samples from a settlement in Moapa Valley have similar patterns reaching as far as Colorado and New Mexico.

Previous theories surrounding the turquoise network were based on circumstantial evidence at best. Hull and her team were able to get definitive results by comparing the isotope overlaps that define turquoise pieces and link them to specific sites. "Copper isotopes don't work and hydrogen isotopes don't work. But between the two, you have an isotope overlap that is pretty distinct for each resource," Hull described. Of the 74 turquoise artifacts from Puebloan sites in the San Juan Basin, southern Utah and the Moapa Valley in Nevada, 42 were accurately identified with geological sources. The rest sources for the rest of the artifacts are expected to be identified as soon as more mines are added to the data.

The Pueblo people have always made for an informative study. This latest development shows just how resourceful and interconnected they historically were. Hull's team now intends to map the movement of turquoise across the southwestern United States. After more information is known, it's hoped that we can learn more about the individual groups of Pueblo Indians. They intend to also use their new technique to investigate turquoise and geological sources in parts of South America. Watch for the Journal of Archaeological Science May issue to find the Hull's published study.