Much must have been destroyed when the site was attacked, burned and abandoned around 1340 – either by a marauding nomadic tribe, such as the Apache, or in the course of a more local rebellion. Either way, Paquimé was not inhabited again, its people leaving their already depleted trade for the greater safety of the sierras. When excavation began in the late 1950s, there were only a few low hills and banks where walls had been, but by piecing together evidence archeologists have partly reconstructed the adobe houses – the largest of which have as many as fifty interconnecting rooms around an open courtyard or ceremonial centre. The foundations of the houses, which were originally two or three storeys high, have been reconstructed to waist height, with an occasional standing wall giving some idea of scale.
Museo de las Culturas del Norte
To fully appreciate the sophistication of this civilization, first visit the Museo de las Culturas del Norte, a beautifully laid-out, if thinly stocked museum, architecturally designed to mimic the ruins of the defence towers that once stood on the site. Inside you’ll find a large model of how Paquimé must have looked, interactive touch-screen consoles with commentary in Spanish and English and intelligent displays of artefacts. Modern examples of finds from the surrounding area – drums, dolls in native costume, ceramics and ceremonial masks – compete with Paquimé objects, notably striking pottery, often anthropomorphic vessels decorated in geometric patterns of red, black and brown on a white or cream background.