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Long-term Corn Storage

Granaries with unique design features associated with the Paquimé cultural system (AD 1250-1425) have been known to exist in the northern Sierra Madre mountains for over 100 years. In the past decade, granary systems have also been found at several Salado sites, including Schoolhouse Point Mound, and at Punkin Center, where the system is actually named Granary Row Locus 2 (see Figures 3 and 4). Evidence of other granaries exists at Canyon Creek and in the San Pedro Valley , in central and southern Arizona , and in the Mimbres area of southwestern New Mexico (Lindauer 1978:845). All of these appear to be post-Chaco sites. At the recently discovered Sky Island Paquimé culture site, the granaries are both extremely well-preserved and self-evident.

Archaeological debate over the usage of the smaller kivas at Chaco (AD 850-1130) continues, however. Specifically, I am addressing the 10 small, paved key-slot kiva/granaries in Pueblo Bonita’s east wing; the basic question is whether all of the kiva-type rooms were just that, i.e., religious kivas, or were actually, primarily, long-term corn storage granaries. Our natural and human systems model tells us that the Chaco kiva/silos and the Paquimé granary/ollas were specifically designed, technologically advanced structures used primarily for the long-term storage of corn .

Based on my extensive research of Paquimé granaries, I propose that the smaller kivas be re-evaluated as multipurpose structures that, depending on seasonal or periodic needs, were used for three distinct purposes: as smoker granaries/long-term storage facilities, as religious/ceremonial chambers, and, occasionally, as living quarters.

Granary usage explains the hearth and ventilation system that are built into the smaller kivas, features that have confounded archaeologists for years. The ventilation system controlled humidity and provided air passage to the hearth, located below the humidity control box, where a small fire could be used as a secondary method of controlling humidity. Smoke and tannins from the oak wood hearth fire also could have been used as a preservative, protecting the stored grain from mold, mildew, insects, and rodents, while adding flavor, as well.

Corn must be stored at 12 percent or less moisture content or it will mold and become inedible. Silo/kiva “benches” and horizontal wood beam pilasters, like those found in Chaco Canyon kivas and at the Sky Island cultural site, may have supported a latticework floor with an air space beneath to keep the corn dry (Robert M. Adams). Space for horizontal wood beam pilasters is clearly visible on the exteriors of some of the Paquimé granaries.

As shown in Figure 5, the Hohokam had a less well understood structure that had a raised floor, fire pit, and schist stone risers; it is possible that this functioned in the same way as Chaco kiva/silos and Paquimé olla/granaries (Haury 1932).

 To provide effective long-term storage, the smoker granaries could be tightly sealed using a thin, round stone and adobe mud. They could still be opened as necessary to control the environment in the storage vault; this could have been accomplished by manipulating the ventilation system during periods of very low ambient humidity using the hearth. Also, as Robert M. Adams, has observed, carbon monoxide from a sealed chamber is a highly effective pesticide that produces no harmful effect on grain used for food. Using an advanced carbon monoxide alarm system, I have performed scientific experiments on scale models of Paquimé/Chaco smoker granaries; they demonstrate clearly that the carbon monoxide produced by one live charcoal briquette exceeds the deadly level by 10 times in less than 60 seconds. This strongly suggests that the Paquimé/Anasazi cultures were well aware of naturally occurring long-term corn strategies – including CO pest control and smoke/tannin preservative qualities – when they designed their granaries. I propose that this highly effective kiva/granary smoker/storage technology helped Oasis America cultures survive periodic severe, prolonged droughts.

Today’s Tarahumara know at all times the ambient humidity in their cornfields, even during the dry season. They know under what soil humidity conditions the seed will sprout without rain and they also know when not to plant the seed at all if soil conditions are too dry to induce sprouting. As virtually no rain falls on the Sierra Tarahumara in the spring, it is only soil humidity that causes the seed to sprout. The difference between adequate humidity for agriculture and too dry is only a few percentage points, yet they know it. They also know at all times the ambient humidity in their storehouses. How they assess these conditions is unknown, but their judgment and accuracy means the difference between starvation and survival. By natural and human systems extrapolation, it is evident that the Paquimé, Anasazi, and Mesoamerican cultures were equally attuned to the requirements of their environment.

The second use of the smaller kivas was as religious and ceremonial chambers. As corn storage and all other aspects of corn agriculture were considered religious practice, the storage facilities would naturally have been the focus of religious activities when empty. When the population of Oasis America began to decline, in AD 1300, there was a shift from a surplus agrarian culture based on corn to the subsistence agricultural-pastoral culture found today. Corn storage facilities were thus left empty and their primary usage shifted to religious and ceremonial activities.

Further supporting my analysis that these kivas were not only, or even primarily, for religious use are the following arguments:

Granaries all over the world are round; most religious structures are not round

Grain is almost always stored in single or double rows of round structures, like those at Pueblo Bonito

Other religious structures – platform mounds – already existed at Pueblo Bonito

These platform mounds have been ignored by most archaeologists, yet evidence of their existence at Pueblo Bonito is clear. The mounds stood 6 feet tall, were surrounded by masonry walls, and were most likely capped with flagstone. They are filled with the remains of hundreds of thousands of water carrying jars. In Mesoamerica , platform mounds were the precursors of pyramids, which, undisputedly, were religious structures. As my analysis shows that the cultures of Mesoamerica and Oasis America were definitely in contact with each other, I propose that the platform mounds at Pueblo Bonito are similar to those found in Hohokam and Paquimé areas and were the primary religious structures at Pueblo Bonito.