A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
The discovery of 21 guanaco figurines during the excavation of a 1,000-year-old Hohokam village in Tempe, Arizona, has nearly doubled the known number of these enigmatic artifacts. To date, only 27 of the ceramic representations of dogs have been recovered from excavations at other Hohokam sites, making their significance a puzzle to archaeologists. "You could work the rest of your life on the Hohokam and never see another one," says John Lindly, assistant field director for SWCA Environmental Consultants, which conducted the recent excavations at the premier archaeological site of Los Guanacos. The earliest excavations in the area were directed by anthropologist Frank Cushing in the late 1800s. Cushing, now famous for his ethnographic work among the Zuni tribe of New Mexico, named the site after recovering 15 of the animal figurines that, to him, resembled llamas (Los Guanacos means "The Llamas").
Archaeologists hope this new discovery may clarify the function of the guanacos, now believed to be representations of domesticated dogs. Nineteen of the figurines were found within a single burned and abandoned pithouse. "We need to address the problem of whether these were made by one person or many," says Lindly. Future research will also focus on whether the Los Guanacos figurines were manufactured locally, or imported from other prominent villages. It is still unknown why this particular site was home to so many of these figurines, and what significance the facially expressive ceramic dogs had for the prehistoric Hohokam, the desert inhabitants of the Gila and Salt river basins in the vicinity of modern Phoenix.