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Desert Diary


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Eight hundred years ago, Paquimé was a major trading center, nestled in the Casas Grandes Valley in northwestern Mexico. One can imagine a thriving market place with caged macaws to be transported north. There is even a merchant on his way south who is awing a crowd with his cloth filled with turquoise. An I-shaped ceremonial ballcourt, a circular platform temple, a cross-shaped platform oriented to the four directions, and a Feathered Serpent Cult mound are prominent features of the town. The urban layout and architecture are a mixture of Mesoamerican stepped platforms and Southwestern pueblo-style adobe apartment buildings.

But suddenly, it is 1261—the prosperity has ended. The ceremonial spaces are filled with poorly-built houses and the elegant apartments are subdivided into warrens of tiny rooms. To this day, its decline remains a mystery—was it an attack from without or internal strife? Regardless, Paquimé was finally abandoned after a fire in 1350. The ruins and ceramics continue to tell the story of the 200 years that Paquimé prospered and was home to 5,000 people.

You can see Paquimé pottery at the Centennial Museum on the UTEP campus.
pen and ink

Listen to the Audio (mp3 format) as recorded by KTEP, Public Radio for the Southwest.


Contributor: Florence E. Schwein, Hostess of Desert Diaries on KTEP.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Casas Grande Macaw Pot

Casas Grandes pot. The human figure on the right is wearing a stylized macaw headdress. From the Centennial Museum collections.



Coe, A. 1998. Archaeological Mexico:  A Traveler's Guide to Ancient Cities and Sacred Sites.   Moon Publications, Inc., Chico, CA, 391 pp.

DePeso, C. C., J. B. Rinaldo, and G. J. Fenner. 1974. Casas Grandes: A Fallen Trading Center of the Gran Chichimeca. Northland Press, Flagstaff, 940 pp.

Web Resources

Casa Grandes.

Casa Grandes Interaction Sphere-Chronological Correlations. After Kurt Schaafsma, 1995.