Mata Ortiz: Paquimé?

What is Paquime?

The Amerind Foundation in Dragoon, Arizona, is known and respected for its work in Mexico. One of the Amerind Foundations's signature projects was the excavation at Casas Grandes, also known as Paquimé. The archaeological site is located in northwest Chihuahua, Mexico and was part of the Mogollon culture.

In 1958 the Amerind Foundation and Instituto Nacional de Antroplogía e Historia (INAH) initiated the Joint Casas Grandes Project (1958 - 1961). Paquimé was the center of trade for a large area during its height. It may have been a link of sorts between the cultures of Mesoamerica and the Pueblo cultures of the American Southwest.

It is estimated to contain the remains of some 2,000 rooms in clusters of residential rooms, workshops, and stores. At its peak in the 14th century, Paquimé may have supported a population of up to several thousand.  It was part of the Mogollon culture.

Casas Grandes possessed an elaborate water system. It was comprised of reservoirs connected by channels that distribute water to the various room blocks of the complex. Some canals were also designed to remove waste from the residential areas of the complex. Water was also collected from a large cistern located in the aptly named "House of the Wells".


In 1998 Paquime was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

What did these people trade?

Scarlet macaws may have been the first “rain birds” to arrive in the desert oasis southwest. Originating in the humid tropical lowlands of southern Mexico, scarlet macaws were transported a minimum of 700 miles up to a total of 1400 miles. One of the 700 mile legs was from Mesoamerica to the ancient village of Paquimé, also known as Casas Grandes, in northwestern Chihuahua, Mexico.

Scarlet macaws required intensive care. They hatch in March and must be removed from the nest at seven weeks of age. They must be carried in baskets, protected from chilling, and fed chewed hominy, often straight from the keeper’s mouth, every few hours, day and night.

Structures designed as “nesting boxes” for the scarlet macaws were excavated and preserved at the site.

Approximately 15 miles from the archaeological site of Paquimé is the village of Juan Mata Ortiz.  From the late 1950s Mata Ortiz potters have been collecting pre-Hispanic pottery shards and inspired by images from cave art paintings in the nearby mountains. These ancestral symbols have created a unique artistic language the potters use in their contemporary art forms.


Many of these realistic and abstract symbols are scarlet macaws. Paquimé was an important trade route between Mesoamerica and the southwestern United States. The people of Paquimé raised macaws for their vividly colored red, yellow, and blue feathers that were used in religious dress, trade, and burial ceremonies.

Contemporary potters, such as Jerardo Tena and his wife Norma Hernandez, second generation master potters from Barrio Porvenir in Mata Ortiz, use these ancient macaw images in their slip and clay designs. Their art is exhibited and collected throughout North America.

Monumento a la Raza Paquimeita was installed in 2007, by Vladimir Alvarado (Mexican, 1938- ).

The monuments greets travelers as they cross the Casas Grandes River just to the north of Casas Grandes.  Made of bronze, it stands 2.30 meters high. Photo by Jeff Romney.