Mysterious walls in national monument still a mystery
For decades, scientific researchers have been baffled by the purpose of stonewalls located intermittently on Perry and Black mesas in the Agua Fria National Monument.
Ranchers and miners discovered the mysterious walls in the 1800's. Today, campers use them for windbreaks and hikers use them as navigational landmarks.
Who built the walls and why?
"They are pronghorn hunting walls built by the Native Americans," says Clifford Hersted, amateur anthropologist and student of Native American pre-history. Hersted lives and works at Arcosanti. His avocation is the study of the mesas, watersheds, pueblos and rock art located in and adjacent to the AFNM.
Hersted discussed his research at the Arizona Archaeology Council state conference this past October at Sharlot Hall. His findings are published later this year.
"I think he may be on to something," said Fred Kraps, AAS Yavapai Chapter headquartered in Prescott. "But he needs to find some supporting evidence."
Kraps and other AAS members joined Hersted recently on a field trip to a wall site. Hersted previously presented his wall-theory lecture at a Yavapai Chapter meeting. He invited the chapter to visit a 190-meter long wall and consider his ideas.
"Perry and Black mesas are on the southern end of a grassland corridor that starts at the north of Chino Valley," Hersted said. "This is the southern end of the pronghorn's migration route.
"My theory is that the Indians built the walls to direct the herds to a kill zone. I've identified nine walls that fit this herding-hunting pattern. The walls are all built near water sources that the pronghorn would naturally visit."
The walls vary in length from 60 to 190 meters long. They average about 3-4 feet high.
"I'll tell you one thing, it took an enormous amount of work and manpower to build this wall," said Tom Garrison, Yavapai Chapter trip coordinator. "Look at the size of some of these rocks. This wasn't built by accident."
Hunters brought the American pronghorn, usually referred to as pronghorn or antelope, to the verge of extinction by the early 1900's. Pronghorn attain running speeds of up to 60 mph. They can maintain that speed for minutes - provided they are in open country.
"That is their Achilles heal," Hersted. "Their fore and rear leg bones are very thin. They will not jump over boulders or walls in order to avoid breaking a leg. They will run along a wall, but not jump over it."
Thousands of Native Americans built pueblo communities on Perry and Black mesas starting about 1250, according to Dr. David Wilcox, "The Archaeology of Perry Mesa and its World."
Wilcox, archaeologist for the Museum of Northern Arizona, calls the inhabitants the Perry Mesa Settlement System. By1450, the PMSS peoples vanished.
"Pronghorn hunting walls are documented in the Great Basin and Great Plains but are less often reported in the Southwest," Hersted writes in his research paper, "Pronghorn Hunting Walls in the Agua Fria Grassland."
"Communal hunting walls imply a level of subsistence activity not previously recognized in the Agua Fria Grasslands."
Some researchers credit the walls to early-day ranchers or sheepherders.
Hersted says he talked to ranchers, cowboys and sheepherders that use, or have used, the grasslands.
"They also had seen some of he walls, and wondered themselves about their use," Hersted writes in "Pronghorn Hunting Walls."
"He has done a lot of analysis and his idea is really intriguing," said Connie Stone, former archaeologist for the AFNM. "Cliff pointed out how important the pronghorn were to pre-historic peoples, and another way of looking at how that importance might have been expressed on the landscape.
"He has a plausible hypothesis that I think is worthy of further investigation."
AAS member ............ said that he has no idea what the walls are.
"It's kind of like a famous petroglyph at Chaco Canyon that everyone agreed was a depiction of an ancient astrological event," he said. "Then someone came along and dated the petroglyph and found out that the event happened hundreds of years before the petroglyph was made.
"So people can agree on something historical and then all of a sudden someone comes along and pow, they blow the idea to shreds. That could be what happens if he (Hersted) can prove these are hunting walls."