Saturday, November 7, 2015


Caption:  "Fig. 23. LA 12612. The deer
trap at the rim of the mesa. Note the
easy access to the pit from Mortandad
Canyon at the right." (Steen 1977:29)

The subject of this posting is not technically rock art, but it is a piece of stone work, impressive in its own way. This hole, carved into the bedrock, is believed to have been used as a pitfall trap for deer. In his 1977 report on " Pajarito Plateau Archaeological Survey and Excavations", Charlie Steen described it as follows:

Deer trap on trail to Mortandad ruin,
Los Alamos County, NM. Photograph
Aug. 2003, Peter Faris.

"Deer pits were dug on low saddles between canyons. They were probably hidden with a covering of light brush and given wing walls of juniper and pińon branches, so that a deer could be driven from a canyon up a slope to the saddle and forced to the pit where, hopefully, it would step on the cover, fall through, and break a leg or its neck.
Sometime during the late 1940s, I visited the game pit near Navawi ruin, and at that time there were vestiges of heavy brush wing walls on either side of the pit.
The only game pit in the survey area which can safely be called a deer trap is that at LA 12612. It is located on a low saddle between two mesas, at the head of a rather gently slope out of Mortandad Canyon. It could easily have made the apex of two brush wing walls and have been used to trap game driven from the canyon." (Steen 1977: 29-30)

Cavates,  Mortendad ruin, Los
Alamos County, NM. Photograph
Aug. 2003, Peter Faris.

This feature is relatively near the large prehistoric pueblo in Mortandad Canyon at Los Alamos, New Mexico. Judging from what remains at the Mortandad ruins is was a fairly large pueblo built against the cliff face. As at Long House in Bandeliere, cavate rooms were then excavated into the soft volcanic tuff to add additional space behind the constructed rooms. About all that remains to be seen now is a number of cavates illustrating various degrees of erosion. A few seem to be complete, while many provide evidence of how far the cliff face has eroded in intervening centuries. We were led to this site in 2003 by our friends Bill and Jeanne Gibson from nearby Los Alamos.

Deer trap on trail to Mortandad ruin,
Los Alamos County, NM. Photograph
Aug. 2003, Peter Faris.

Although the excavation of the hole would have been fairly easy for these Ancestral Pueblo people, it is after all not as large as the cavate rooms they excavated into the canyon walls, it is still an impressive feature. What I find interesting is that the easiest access, and the assumed drive lines, come out of Mortandad Canyon which was, as mentioned above, well occupied by people. How many wild deer would have felt comfortable enough around that many people to be in place to be driven. Perhaps the situation then was the same as the situation in many suburbs today, where suburban deer have gotten comfortable enough around people to be seen virtually daily. But then, would not the easy hunting have led to a heavy predation on the deer by hunters eliminating any of the animals that were not fully wild? I will have to leave this question to those who know deer behavior better than I do.


Steen, Charlie R.
1977    Pajarito Plateau Archaeological Survey and Excavations, Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory of the University of California, Los Alamos.

No comments:

Post a Comment