The Social Significance of Mimbres Painted Pottery in the U.S. Southwest

Michelle Hegmon, Will G. Russell, Kendall Baller, Matthew A. Peeples, Sarah Striker

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Mimbres painted pottery from the U.S. Southwest is renowned for its spectacular designs. Literature on style and identity suggests three concepts helpful for understanding its social significance: boundaries, multiple dimensions of variation, and historical context. This article investigates these concepts by synthesizing past studies with new analyses. The distribution of Mimbres pottery is strongly bounded, demonstrated with data from the cyberSW project. Variation in designs is multidimensional: (1) individual artists created distinctive styles; (2) specific designs are distributed homogeneously across the region, a conclusion demonstrated in part with new analyses of the geometric designs; and (3) pan-regionally, the designs' content, regular structure, and appearance on multiple media suggest they were meaning-charged. Considering these findings in their historical context provides insights into the pottery's social significance and elaboration: population growth in the resource-rich Mimbres region engendered land tenure systems, marked in part by burials that included pottery. The pottery came to convey the message I belong here from two perspectives. By adopting the pottery, people, including migrants, signaled their acceptance of established ways of life in the region, and their access to the pottery indicated their acceptance in the social milieu.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)23-42
Number of pages20
JournalAmerican Antiquity
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2021


  • Mimbres
  • Southwest archaeology
  • land tenure
  • pottery design
  • social boundaries
  • social organization
  • stylistic analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Archaeology
  • Museology


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