Cupules and the creation of the Tewa Pueblo world
Stone cupules remain an enigma to archaeologists due to both their ubiquity in the archaeological record and apparent ‘non-utilitarian’ function. While researchers have primarily focused on the functional aspects of cupules, including their symbolic meaning, the global ethnographic record suggests that the act of creating a cupule can be as important as the resulting cupule itself. Cupules are artefacts of practice and reflect the actions, representation, and negotiations of people who were pounding on boulders and bedrock. I argue that cupule studies should move beyond ahistorical interpretation and acknowledge that the action and intentionality of creating cupules – and the resulting material remains of these practices – are subject to historical change. To illustrate this change I examine the history of the Tewa Pueblos of northern New Mexico who historically pounded cupules on landscape features to communicate with the spiritual world through prayers and offerings. I document both the morphology and landscape context of cupules associated with ancestral Tewa sites to demonstrate that while elements of cupule morphology remain constant, the context (and possibly the meaning) of cupule practice changes through time. This suggests that long-lived practices of prayer (creating cupules) were reinterpreted in the crucible of dramatic social and residential transformation.
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