THE MATERIAL ON THIS PAGE IS COPYRIGHTED AND SHOULD BE APPROPRIATELY CITED (C) 2013-2014, Deni Seymour
Our work at Guevavi Mission continues.
I conducted my first work at Guevavi Mission in 1990 and have worked intermittently on this mission site since then. In the mid to late 2000s I conducted excavations in one of the Sobaipuri-O'odham
areas at Guevavi and excavated the structure now thought to be the one Kino referred to as his "neat little house and church." The currently proposed dating project clarifies many long-standing
questions about the site and its development using a tried-and-true dating technique not available when work first began there.
Jesuit Father Eusebio Francisco Kino passed through Guevavi in 1691. He then established a mission at this Sobaipuri-O'odham village, making Guevavi the head mission in 1701. Since then it was a
major focus of missionization efforts among the Sobaipuri-O'odham, a historic people whose descendants reside at San Xavier today and are participating in this research.
As an archaeologist-ethnohistorian I am excited about the likelihood that we have identified the 1751 Jesuit mission at the Spanish Colonial site of Guevavi. The long adobe foundation and rubble
mound is found on City of Nogales property not far from the Arizona-Mexico border. There are six adobe structures present in this area surrounding the recognized mission. I intend to date each of
these from adobe samples taken from the walls of each that can be dated using the luminescence technique. This will allow me to tell which of these adobe structures date to the Kino period (1690s
early 1700s), which date to other building episodes during the Jesuit period (up to 1767), which might be Franciscan, and which are likely related to later mining operations and ranching in the area.
Where are the Spanish Colonial Jesuit Missions at Guevavi?
For years historians have suggested that the standing ruins (now on National Park Service land) are the remains of the mission originally built in 1751. Yet, few Jesuit missions in this portion of the
Pimería Alta (southern Arizona) are so large. Moreover, when new priests came they tended to consecrate new altars, and often this meant building a new mission. It is highly unlikely that the
Franciscans would have used the same church as the Jesuits, as most Franciscan churches in this region are in different locations than the Jesuit ones, sometimes miles away. Additionally the
artifacts found with this new building are consistent with this alternate structure being from the Jesuit period. It lacks artifacts from later in the era as well. The north-south orientation also suggests
it is a church, as this is consistent with standard European mission building practices. This suggests that European missionaries started standardizing religious architecture at about mid century
(1751), as they committed greater resources to the conversion of the area's indigenous residents. Guevavi was a head mission at this time, with the better known missions of Tumacacori and San
Xavier within its jurisdiction.
Spanish documentary sources indicate that several distinct chapels or churches were built at Guevavi, at least three during the Jesuit period before they were expelled in 1767. Subsequently the
Franciscans took over and built the large church complex recognized today that is situated on NPS land. A few years ago on this same parcel I uncovered Father Eusebio Francisco Kino's chapel
from 1701, which in his memoir he referred to as a "neat little house and church." My excavations revealed that the chapel was destroyed by fire, probably during an indigenous uprising. A
luminescence date on this structure showed that it dates to the correct time period to be this "neat little house and church." It is also located in the midst of the native Sobaipuri-O'odham
residential area that I also excavated. During Kino's time the mission would have been placed within the existing indigenous village, and this is what we see here at Guevavi. The Sobaipuri-O'odham
residential site was reused through the years, with houses built on top of one another. We see at least three distinct occupations. Houses related to the last occupation (sometime at the end of
the 1700s or early 1800s) are densely packed and positioned close together, in a defensive formation, something documentary sources from the time mention with respect to other
Sobaipuri-O'odham villages. This was a dangerous time on the frontier, with attacks on Sobaipuri-O'odham and Spanish settlements by Apaches as well as by O'odham who were not happy with
the colonial condition.
I brought 40 O'odham elders and community members from San Xavier to this location to reconnect with their Sobaipuri-O'odham heritage. They are the direct descendants of the people who lived
here and were ministered by Guevavi mission. Most of what scholars know of their ancestors comes from Spanish documentary records written at the time. Historians have written about this
mission and the indigenous residents, but it seems that many of the basic assumptions have been incorrect. For example, because of my recent research and chronometric dating we now know
that the Sobaipuri-O'odham were sedentary farmers who built irrigation canals and farmed along key rivers, not the mobile hunter-gatherers or part-time farmers of the western brethren. They
resided in large, planned, well organized villages rather than the scattered rancherías of their western neighbors. Their specific way of life first shows up in the archaeological record in the A.D.
1200s, which is 400 years earlier than archaeologists have previously suggested. We also now know that instead of just a scattered and unconcentrated indigenous presence around the mission
itself, we have six areas of Sobaipuri residence, making this the largest, densest, and most important Sobaipuri-O'odham mission site in existence! This is probably to be expected given this was
the head mission for the region. We see changes in village layout through time as well, the latest being defensively organized and so houses are closely spaced and formed in a rectangle. We
also have evidence of a Sobaipuri-O'odham presence after the mission was said to have been abandoned in 1775. We also know why Kino and other Spaniards never again mentioned Kino's "neat
little house and church." This is because it was burned, probably during an indigenous uprising.
Now we have the opportunity to examine other aspects of received knowledge about the Sobaipuri-O'odham, the Spanish Colonial Mission period, and the development of Guevavi Mission itself.
Yet it is critically important to get the place right when drawing inferences so that we may have an accurate assessment of history. This project will allow us to place each adobe structure in the
correct temporal context, which means we will be able to pinpoint which structures go with which part of the historic record. We will know if Kino built two structures, a house and a church, or
whether one building served both purposes. We will learn if another church-sized adobe and stone structure is the one built the year of the O'odham Revolt in 1751 and if so, this structure can be
Once again I will invite O'odham descendants to step on the floor on which their ancestors prayed. This research provides insights into new aspects of the Spanish Colonial period, Kino's
contributions to the Pimería Alta, into indigenous acculturation, and Sobaipuri lifeways as they changed through time.
Help Fund this Project:
Crowd-Funding is being sought at this link:
If you are interested in participating in this research by helping fund these dates please click on the link and donate before the deadline expires.
The funds will be used to run up to six optically stimulated luminescence dates on the walls of the adobe structures. These cost $400 each. The samples include adobe and dirt, as required by the
lab. The University of Washington Luminescence Laboratory will be used, as I have used them before with good results. I have previously run adobe wall samples with this lab and the results have
contributed tremendously to our understanding of the construction sequence and development of Santa Cruz de Terrenate presidio. The sample material will be sent in as blind samples so that the
results are not biased in any way by preconceptions.
If I get more funding than requested, I will run more dates and learn more about each of the Sobaipuri-O'odham residential loci and what they date to using luminescence dating of sherds.
I will update donors and when the results are published and public presentations given I will acknowledge donors for their important contribution to this work.
Funding will be used to date up to six luminescence samples. Samples cost $400 each.
Luminescence dating includes thermoluminescence (TL) and optically stimulated luminescence (OSL). In brief, TL documents the last time a material was heated to a certain temperature. This
can be when a pot, brick, rock, or stone flake was last fired, either during manufacture, when it was heated on a cooking fire, or if it was burned in a conflagration that destroyed a house. In
contrast, OSL dates the last time the quartz, feldspar, or similar particles were last exposed to light. This should represent when a sample was manufactured (or deposited if sand in a natural
stratum) and can be a useful dating technique for pot sherds, adobes, fired bricks, and even canal sediments.
I intend to date these adobe walls using the OSL technique. I have used this before with good success and so expect that these efforts will provide definitive results.
Samples will consist of a small piece of adobe from the wall (either brick or mortar) that will inform on when the adobe walls were made, that is, when the sand particles were last exposed to light.
This would have occurred when the mortar or adobe was mixed.
You can read more about the success of dating Sobaipuri-O'odham sites using this technique in the following paper:
2011 Dating the Sobaípuri: A Case Study in Chronology Building and Archaeological Interpretation: Old Pueblo Archaeology Bulletin 67:1-13.
This is available at the following web page:
A rock and adobe mound that will be dated.
Kino's "Neat Little House and Church" excavated and dated.