Ancient Morteros Have Tales To Tell - Hiking Arizona Trails
May 1, 2018
Arizona is known for its picturesque and rugged natural beauty. What better way to view the wilderness than to hike one of the thousands of trails throughout the state?
While adventuring on foot, keep an eye out for morteros. These "bedrock mortars" are fascinating archaeological remnants from the ancient past. Visually, morteros look like simple, bowl-shaped depressions in flat slabs of rock that range from relatively shallow to 18 inches deep.
Spanish Meaning: Mortar
In Spanish, mortero means "mortar," as in mortar and pestle, which was what they were used for by past indigenous peoples thousands of years ago. These bedrock mortars - imagine how many years of grinding it took to wear an 18-inch-deep bowl in solid granite - are usually found in clusters, near trees with acorns, nuts, or beans. Archaeologists don't know all of the exact types of plants that were ground up.
Also Known As 'Gossip Stones'
Another name for a rock with a cluster of morteros is a "gossip stone" because it is believed that people would gather together and bond while grinding food. Imagine, way back in time, sitting down with family and friends and chatting. What were you grinding? What did you eat? What did you discuss? Scientists are still searching to solve these and other mysteries surrounding morteros and gossip stones.
Found Beyond The Southwest
Morteros are found most commonly in the Southwestern United States and Northwestern Mexico, but occur throughout the world. Morteros sometimes appear near rock art, leading some to think that perhaps they were used to grind the very pigments utilized to create these pictographs.
Where To Find Them
If you're interested the ancient unknown past and want to check out morteros, visit Los Morteros, a Hohokam site peppered with bedrock mortars. Some morteros at this site near Tucson date back to 850 AD. Los Morteros Conservation Area is located near Tuscan's Linda Vista Boulevard and has trails easy enough for beginning hikers.
There are other places to find them around Tucson too! Use web-based mapping tools to get driving directions to -
• Wild Burro Trail in the Tortolita Mountains in Marana offers beautiful views, local flora and fauna, and outcrops with dozens of morteros. This site can be accessed from a trailhead behind the Ritz-Carlton on N. Secret Springs Drive.
• Ventana Canyon Trail offers beautiful vistas as it winds from a trickling stream up almost half a mile to its peak...and a chance to find bedrock mortars!
'Do Not Disturb'
Morteros, whether in a known area or freshly discovered, should be left alone. Avoid the temptation to scrape out debris within. Believe it or not, archaeologists may still use such debris to understand crops, foods, and practices of these mysterious and unknown peoples of the distant past.
It is important to leave all archaeological sites undisturbed, and not to collect any artifacts. There are still many mysteries in the ancient ancestors of the Southwest. Sites should be preserved for further knowledge of heritage and culture for future generations to learn and discover.
About The Writer
Editor's Note: Elle Innis, an archeologist who recently graduated with honors from the University of Montana, is an avid hiker and outdoorswoman.