It's been an archaeological puzzle for over 50 years. Recent excavations near Roosevelt Lake, northeast of Phoenix, may shed new light.

Salado Summary

· Before the Upper Salt River was dammed to create Roosevelt Lake, the region called the Tonto Basin was once home to people who built towns of adobe and created beautifully decorated pottery. The people who lived in that area during the 13th century are called the Salado Culture, after the Salado River (Spanish for salty river).

· Archaeologists have been studying the Salado Culture for more than 50 years, yet there is still considerable debate about who these people were.

· Early archaeologists argued that the Salado people migrated into the Hohokam Culture region of central and southern Arizona during the 13th century and conquered the Hohokam people. This theory is not in vogue among modern archaeologists, who note that the general life ways of the Hohokam during this time (called the Classic period) were rooted in earlier patterns.

· Recent archaeological excavations of prehistoric villages by Arizona State University for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Tonto National Forest have provided a wealth of new information about the Salado. The exhibit focuses on those investigations.

· ASU archaeologists determined that the Salado should be viewed as an archaeological "horizon,” not as a culture, since a variety of materials identified as Salado occur beyond the Tonto Basin in other parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Mexico. In other words, the term­ Salado could refer to several different cultures that shared certain material and, architectural traits over a broad area.

· The Salado Horizon includes the following traits: (1) Salado polychrome pottery, (2) communities laid out as walled adobe compounds, and (3) a shift from cremation to burial of the dead. Some of the compounds in the Tonto Basin also contained earthen platform mounds, similar to the Hohokam of the Salt River Valley.

· ASU's work in the Tonto Basin revealed that the Salado of that region may have been a mix of local people and immigrant groups from other areas of the Southwest. This conclusion is debated by other archaeologists.

· The reason for the spread of Salado Polychrome pottery among different cultures located in several regions also is still debated. Older theories stated that Hohokam elite controlled the distribution and use of this beautiful red, black and white pottery. Archaeological data, however, indicate that Salado pottery was not restricted to only a few members of a village, but was used for general household purposes by individuals that did not have elite status.

· A recent hypothesis states that the spread of this pottery may represent participation of different groups in a new belief system generated by the migration of Pueblo groups. This explanation does not explain the adoption of other Salado material traits such as architectural changes.

-Compiled and written by Todd Bostwick, Pueblo Grande Museum