Arizona Archaeology Society

Learn about the mysterious Patayan culture at a free lecture in Cave Creek


CAVE CREEK – “A Renewed Study of a Patayan Walk-In Well on the Ranegras Plain in Far-Western Arizona” will be presented by archaeologist Aaron Wright, which features the latest findings about his renewed study at an ancient well site.

The Patayan cultural tradition is one of the least understood archaeological constructs in the greater Southwest.  While recognized nearly 90 years ago as a distinct assemblage of material culture traits centred on the lower Colorado River, research has always been hampered by poor chronological control.  

Few Patayan archaeological sites have been excavated, and of those even fewer have yielded contexts conducive to absolute dating (i.e., radiocarbon or archaeomagnetic).  A dearth of stratified contexts compounds the problem.

Archaeologists have long heralded a site near Bouse, Ariz., as a possible panacea for this “Patayan problem.”  

Archaeologist Aaron Wright, who will be presenting his findings about the Patayan culture. (DFC-AAS)

First described by the Gila Pueblo Foundation in 1928 as the westernmost Hohokam site because of a conspicuous “hollow mound” (i.e., a ballcourt), a test excavation in 1952 by Michael and June Harner exposed this feature as an eight-meter deep walk-in well.

It contained a variety of artifacts, namely thousands of sherds of Lower Colorado Buffware.  

Based on intrusive Hohokam ceramics, Harner reported the well as infilled with stratified deposits.  Unfortunately, an excavation report was never prepared, and the collections have consequently been “orphaned.”  Moreover, the actual location of this site was lost to the archaeological community.

In 2015, Wright began a renewed study of the Patayan walk-in well near Bouse, including its relocation and a thorough site documentation, a recreation of the Harners’s excavation, analysis of the more than 6,000 artifacts recovered from the site, and the acquisition of radiocarbon dates from the well’s purported stratified deposits.  

In this presentation next Wednesday evening in Cave Creek, he reports on the results of these endeavors.

Wright holds a doctorate, and is a preservation archaeologist with Archaeology Southwest, where he leads the organization’s research and conservation efforts along the lower Gila River.  

Patayan site in Bouse, Ariz.

He authored “Religion on the Rocks: Hohokam Rock Art, Ritual Practice, and Social Transformation” (University of Utah Press, 2014), and co-authored (with Maren Hopkins) “The Great Bend of the Gila: Contemporary Native American Connections to an Ancestral Landscape” (Archaeology Southwest, 2016). He was also co-editor (with Tim Kohler and Mark Varien) of “Leaving Mesa Verde: Peril and Change in the Thirteenth-Century Southwest” (University of Arizona Press, 2010).  

He earned his bachelor’s degree from The Ohio State University (1999), and earned his master’s (2006) and Ph.D. (2011) from Washington State University.

The public may attend an Arizona Archaeology Society – Desert Foothills Chapter (AAS-DFC) meeting at no charge, to hear Wright’s presentation.  The meeting is held on September 11, and begins at 7:30 p.m.  The meetings are held in the Community Room (Maitland Hall) at The Good Shepard of the Hills Episcopal Church, 6502 E. Cave Creek Road (near the Dairy Queen). 

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