Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



From Textiles in Daily Life: Proceedings of the Third Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, September 24–26, 1992 (Earleville, MD: Textile Society of America, Inc., 1993).


Copyright © 1992 by the author(s).


This study focuses on the place that textiles had in the lives of people in the central Greater Southwest after about A.D.1000, and in particular on the development of two distinctive traditions in cloth that co-existed in the central Southwest during this period. These traditions were the predecessors of two equally distinctive historic textile traditions, those of the puebloan people of the Colorado Plateau and those of the O'Odham in the Sonora Desert of southern and central Arizona.

Clothing is a basic means of indicating social identity, and in the prehistoric Southwest provides some of our most intriguing evidence of associations within and between groups of people. The study of textiles can therefore help to clarify long-standing problems in Southwestern prehistory.

In particular, the connection between the historic O'Odham (Pima and Papago) and the prehistoric people of the Southwestern deserts has been a subject of controversy for a century.

At the time of Spanish contact, O'Odham-speakers, who were apparently dissimilar in material culture to the late prehistoric Hohokam, Salado, and Sinagua, occupied the Gila and Santa Cruz drainages. Hokan-spcaking groups had settled the Gila valley as far east as Gila Bend. Those who believe that similar artifacts are necessarily associated with similar languages take this as evidence that the O'Odham arc not descended from the people of the central Southwest.

In contrast, similarities between the O'Odham and their widespread linguistic relatives in northern Mexico are substantial.

Miller stated that (1983:120):
The northernmost Sonoran group, Tepiman, consists of four closely related languages -- Upper Piman, Lower Piman, Northern Teperman, and Southern Tepehuan.... Aboriginally, Piman was spoken in a long band stretching from southern Arizona to Durango...

Therefore, it has been argued that the O'Odham are relative newcomers to the central Southwest, having arrived from the south soon before Europeans. However, in their clothing the O'Odham provided clues to their identity not only to their contemporaries, but also to anthropologists many centuries later. The origins of the O'Odham are more clearly traced in their textiles than in any other kind of object that they made and used.