Casas Grandes (Spanish for "great houses") refers to the cultural group that existed in modern-day Chihuahua, Mexico from roughly 700 C.E. -1475 C.E. The Casas Grandes culture belongs to the larger American southwest/ Mexican northwest cultural group which shared vast cultural traditions which linked peoples of the past through relationships that shared trade goods, traditions, and art.
One of the most unique features of the Casas Grandes culture is its pottery. Ceramic production began around 700 C.E. and boomed about 1350 C.E. It was during this boom that more complicated vessels and designs emerged. Some ceramics were used for utilitarian functions, such as cooking, while others were non-utilitarian, meaning they were likely used for more ceremonial or decorative functions.
The pottery in our collection was likely traded throughout this prehistoric network.
Casas Grandes Pottery is well known for its polychromes (having three or more painted colors). This is unique because most ceramics from the Southwest region are decorated with one or two colors. If you scroll through our pottery below, you will see black, red, tan, and/or white. Not only are the colors distinctive, but so are the painted designs.
Like other Southwestern pottery, the designs are highly geometric, but painted figures are also featured. Casas Grandes potters were extremely skilled and planned the layout of their pots precisely. These master potters created some of the most exquisite pottery in the Southwest. Some of the pottery is formed in the shape of humans, animals, or plants, which we refer to as effigies. These provide information about important aspects of life for the Casas Grandes people. Our collections depict various animals such as bats, sheep, macaws, and fish.
Researchers have identified motifs that appear often on Casas Grandes pots. Some are more abstract than others and various researchers have their own theories on the significance or meaning of the motifs. Displayed are 8 of the most common motifs found on Casas Grandes pottery. How many can you identify on the pottery below?
Adopted from Samantha Bomkamp 2020
The Miles Collection Casas Grandes Pottery
Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this exhibition do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities or the New Mexico Humanities Council.
The Casas Grandes artifacts at the Blackwater Draw Museum originate from the Miles Anthropological Collection which was obtained by Eastern New Mexico University in the 1960s. This collection holds nearly 300 Casas Grandes artifacts. The catalog records before you were made accessible with support from the New Mexico Humanities Council.