Where are the Spanish Colonial Jesuit Missions at Guevavi?

Raised of $2,450 Goal
Ended on 2/10/14
Campaign Ended
  • $681
  • 28%
  • Finished
    on 2/10/14

About This Project

Guevavi was a major focus of missionization efforts among the Sobaipuri-O'odham. We think we have identified the 1751 Jesuit mission among six adobe structures that surround the recognized NPS mission. I will date each with adobe wall samples using the luminescence technique. This will inform on which of these adobe structures date to (a) the Kino period (1691-1711), (b) 1751, and (c) which are Franciscan or later mining/ranching features.

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What is the context of this research?

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.

More background information can be found in papers at the following web sites:




What is the significance of this project?

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 appropriately preserved. 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.

What are the goals of the project?

The funds will be used to run six optically stimulated luminescence dates on the walls of the adobe structures. These cost $400 each and I have included $50 for postage of the samples, which will 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 each month and when the results are published and public presentations given I will acknowledge donors for their important contribution to this work.


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Contributions to this project are tax deductible. Jornada Research Institute, a non-profit, will receive the funds and pay for the dates on my behalf, making all contributions tax deductible. http://jornadaresearchinstitute.com/?page_id=23

Funding will be used to date six luminescence samples and to pay for postage to send the samples to the University of Washington Luminescence Laboratory. 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:


Meet the Team

Deni Seymour
Deni Seymour

Team Bio

Deni has been researching the Spanish Colonial period and the Sobaipuri-O'odham, especially related to the Jesuit period, for almost 30 years. Her work is undertaken in coordination with the descendant groups of Sobaipuri-O'odham. She carries out her research entirely with volunteers. She has identified dozens of Kino-period Sobaipuri village sites on the San Pedro, Santa Cruz, Babocomari rivers, and Sonoita Creek.

She conducted her first work at Guevavi Mission in 1990, and has worked intermittently on this mission site since then. In the mid to late 2000s she 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.

Deni Seymour

Dr. Deni Seymour is a leading regional authority on protohistoric and historic Native American and Spanish colonial archaeology and ethnohistory. For nearly 30 years she has studied the ancestral Apache, Sobaipuri-O’odham, and lesser-known mobile groups (Jano, Jocome, Manso, Suma, and Jumano). She has excavated two Spanish-period presidios (Santa Cruz de Terrenate and Tubac) and several indigenous sites of the period, works with indigenous groups in reconnecting with their heritage, tackles Coronado and Niza expedition archaeology, and is rewriting the history of the pre-Spanish and colonial period southern Southwest. She has published extensively on these groups and this period, with more than 75 publications in referred journals, edited volumes, and popular venues, and has served as guest editor for journals. She has also authored three books with a fourth under review:

(1) Where the Earth and Sky are Sewn Together: Sobaípuri-O’odham Contexts of Contact and Colonialism.

(2) From the Land of Ever Winter to the American Southwest: Athapaskan Migrations, Mobility, and Ethnogenesis;

(3) A Fateful Day in 1698: Archaeological Insights into the Remarkable Sobaipuri-O'odham Victory over the Apache and their Allies.

These and many of her other publications are visible on https://independent.academia.edu/DeniSeymour
She received her doctorate and master’s degrees in Anthropology from the University of Arizona in 1990 and her Bachelor's degrees with honors in both Anthropology and Environmental Studies from the University of California, Santa Cruz in 1980. She has taught, was employed by a number of state and federal agencies, and has worked for a number of cultural resource management firms, including one she founded and directed. Now she is a full-time research archaeologist affiliated with two academic institutions and the nonprofit research group Jornada Research Institute and she serves on the boards of two non-profit organizations.

Project Backers

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