Lawrence E. Aten

NORTHGATE SITE. The Northgate Site is located in the northern part of El Paso between the base of the alluvial fans extending from the mouth of Fusselman Canyon and the borders of the playas that line the western margin of the Hueco Bolsón. The site was recorded in 1964 in the Texas archeological site survey file at the University of Texas at Austin. The site consists of three distinct sets of archeological remains. The first and largest archeological zone is primarily confined to an ancient land surface now buried at an average depth of about thirty centimeters. This portion consists of at least five separate but adjacent villages, each delimited by a peripheral arrangement of burned rock mounds surrounding several houses and small trash (midden) piles. Trenches excavated through this section of the site also led to identification of a second set of archeological remains buried at depths up to one meter below the ground surface. Nothing is known about the nature of these earlier deposits except that they appear to consist only of small hearths and no house or other structures. A third set of remains exists adjacent to the west side of the main archeological zone. These are a dense concentration of rock hearths and at least one midden circle. Little is known about this portion of the site; it contained none of the tools and other evidence of seed parching so common in the burned-rock hearths around the villages. For this reason, this last group of archeological features seems to be functionally distinct, and possibly historically separate as well, from the remainder of the site.

The principal investigations at the Northgate Site were in the first of the three areas, the large one containing the nearly buried villages. These appear to have been seasonally occupied, rather than year-round occupations, to take advantage of the abundant seeds produced by amaranth and other wild plants growing adjacent to the playas. The most visible characteristics of the villages are related to processing these seeds. Each burned-rock mound (over 180 were mapped) contained several individual hearths; the sedimentary matrix of the hearths and rock mounds contains very large quantities of charred and parched seeds. The most abundant artifacts found at the site were broken fragments of pottery vessels that had been ground smooth around their edges to make relatively flat parching griddles. Many of these ground sherds had been scorched by the fires. No evidence was found of corn or other cultivated foods. Although numerous species of vertebrate animal bones recovered indicated they were consumed at the site, the large number of hearths and seeds and the quantity of processing equipment indicate that the site was primarily oriented to the seed processing. The ceramic artifacts found in the houses and hearth areas are types found widely over southern New Mexico and the Hueco Bolsón.

The Northgate Site is significant also because of the evidence it contains for architecture and settlement planning. Two kinds of domestic structures were recorded at the site. The first is a true pithouse, which is a small building erected over a circular pit that was excavated to a depth of about one-half meter. The other was a structure erected essentially at the ground surface over a shallow (about fifteen centimeters deep) rectangular excavation. The latter was of a type known as a "jacal" structure and had pole-and-thatch roof and walls, with the roof also covered with a thick layer of mud. One of the houses was dated by the radiocarbon method at A.D. 730 to 750. The village plan appears to have been for the houses and trash piles to be clustered closely together and for the numerous burned-rock hearth mounds, which were the site of the large-scale seed processing, to be situated around the periphery of this domestic area. This village pattern may postdate the deep pithouses, and certainly predates the multiroom adobe structures used in prehistoric villages of the El Paso area.

Very little excavation has taken place so far at the Northgate Site, and what has been done was only for the purpose of determining whether the site should be protected from destruction by the proposed construction of a flood-control structure. The assessment indicated that the site has much important information remaining about several different aspects of West Texas prehistory, and so the site has been protected. The excavation was performed cooperatively by archeologists from the universities of Texas at El Paso and Austin. The records and specimens are curated at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Lawrence E. Aten, Evaluation of the Cultural Resources of the Northgate Site, El Paso County, Texas (Texas Archeological Salvage Project Research Report 5, University of Texas at Austin, 1972). Michael E. Whalen, Settlement Patterns on the Western Hueco Bolsón (El Paso Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso, 1978).

Image Use Disclaimer

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to:

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.


The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Lawrence E. Aten, "NORTHGATE SITE," accessed October 19, 2019,

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
visit the mytsha forums to participate

View these posts and more when you register your free MyTSHA account.

Call for Papers: Texas Center for Working-Class Studies Events, Symposia, and Workshops
Hi all! You may be interested in this call for papers I received from the Texas Center for Working-Class Studies at Collin College...

Katy Jennings' Ride Scholarly Research Request
I'm doing research on Catherine Jennings Lockwood, specifically the incident known as "Katy Jennings' Ride." Her father was Gordon C. Jennings, the oldest man to die at the Alamo...

Texas Constitution of 1836 Co-Author- Elisha Pease? Ask a Historian
The TSHA profile of Elisha Marshall Pease states that he wrote part of the Texas Constitution although he was only a 24 year-old assistant secretary (not elected). I cannot find any other mention of this authorship work by Pease in other credible research about the credited Constution authors...