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This Rediscovery Has Lead To Reclaiming Jemez' Ancestry To The Freemont Culture

THE HEMISH PEOPLE (Jemez Pueblo-Walatowa, NM)


The Fremont Culture derives its name from the Fremont River in present-day Utah, but at its height the culture extended from eastern Nevada to western Colorado and from southern Idaho to northern Arizona. The culture flourished between AD 700 and 1300; and it is typically characterized by the presence of distinctive pottery, basketry, granaries, and pit houses. Most notable among the Fremont Culture was their rock art, which includes many warlike images of what appear to be head hunters. From these depictions, it is often assumed that raiding and warfare played a substantial role in their society.


To archaeologists the Fremont is something of an enigma as it combines traits of both Great Basin and Anasazi culture groups. Their use of moccasins and their basketry patterns are clearly derivative of contact with other Great Basin cultures, but their utilization of pottery, pit house architecture, and emphasis on agriculture are all things which they share with the Anasazi. Hence, a debate has developed as to their origins. Are they a Great Basin peoples with Anasazi traits or are they Anasazi peoples who migrated into the Great Basin?


The most recent research by archaeologists, such as Dr. Scott Ortman at the University of Colorado, has suggested the latter. They argue that the Fremont people spoke a Tanoan Language and derived from the Sambrito Culture of the Basketmaker III Period (AD 500 to 700). The Tanoan Language Family, also known as the Kiowa-Tanoan Family, is a language group believed to have originated in the Four Corners Area. Today, it has four branches:  Kiowa spoken by the Kiowa, a plains tribe in Oklahoma; Towa spoken by the Jemez; Tewa spoken by the Pueblos of Nambe, Ohkay Owingeh, Pojoaque, San Ildefonso, Santa Clara, and Tesuque; and Tiwa spoken by Isleta, Picuris, Sandia, and Taos.


Of the four branches, linguists believe that the Kiowa and Towa languages are the most similar to what was spoken by the Fremont peoples. However, the Kiowa claim in their origin myths to have descended to the Great Plains from Wyoming or Montana, whereas archaeologists, such as Dr. Neal Ackerly of Dos Rios Consultants, have clearly tracked the Towa speakers, now known as the Hemish or Jemez people, to the Sambrito Culture. From that point forward, the Jemez People can be identified in the archaeological record transitioning seamlessly from Sambrito (AD 500 to 700) to Rosa-Piedra (AD 700 to 1150) to Largo-Gallina (AD 1050 to 1300) to Vallecitos-Jemez (AD 1250 to 1700) to present-day Jemez Pueblo (AD 1700 to present).


In fact, Joshua Madalena's decade of research has led to the rediscovery of this 300 year-old lost art tradition of Jemez Black-on-White pottery. A similar pottery technology utilizing Jemez spiritual motifs was maintained throughout all periods of cultural change from Rosa (AD 700) to Jemez (AD 1700) Black-on-White pottery. A 1,000 year tradition such as this clearly demonstrates continuity between their present day Pueblo and their Anasazi ancestors of the greater Four Corners area, including the Fremont Culture.


Many mysteries continue to baffle archaeologists in regards to the American Southwest and Anasazi culture. The connection between Fremont and the Jemez People is not one of them. However, as with most of history, it is likely more nuanced than we fully understand.This is not to say that the Kiowa are not Fremont. They likely are. However, their connection is more speculative and is not as well understood in the archaeological record.


The Jemez or Towa people trace their origins to the landscape of the northern Four Corners area. Archaeologists believe they can distinguish this ancestral populations early as the eighth century, a time when they lived in the mountains and valleys of the headwaters of the San Juan River. Their pottery is distinguished by the early but ephemeral use of as galena-derived lead paint, followed by reliance on a vegetal or carbon paint and a distinctive design style called Rosa Black-on-white. While the lowland residents of the Four Corners area and the San Juan Basin pursued their lives in areas that would become known today as the Chacoan world, the highland peoples held themselves apart, living in and defending their mountain homes. They moved inexorably southward through the centuries, carrying their distinctive approach to pottery with them. Vegetal paint techniques and a unique approach to design continued to set apart the pottery that archaeologists now call Gallina Black-on-White. As climate change restricted the farming potential of the northern Southwest in the thirteenth and later centuries, the ancestral Towa people continued their southern movement along the highlands. In the fourteenth century, communities were established in the Jemez Mountains, building the foundations for the strong and independent Towa communities that were encountered by the Spanish. While under the Spanish, many tribal peoples forcibly lost a substantial portion of their indigenous culture, including their Black-on-White pottery, traditional agricultural practices, and religion. These institutions remain intact among the Jemez people.


In 2014, Governor Joshua Madalena of the Pueblo of Jemez wrote a formal notice to the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and the United States National Forest to begin to consult on any issues pertaining to lands historically used or occupied by the Fremont Culture, given our undeniable affiliation to these lands based upon the current information we have (oral traditions &customs passed down through centuries of the Hemish societal way of life). As we increase our technological skills, more information will be gathered for a larger affiliation claim by the People of Walatowa of the Jemez Nation. 



Matt Barbour, Manager, Jemez Historic Site

Dr. Eric Blinman, Director, Museum of New Mexico

Joshua Madalena, Artist/Historian, Pueblo of Jemez


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