Congenital Limb Deficiency in Early Arizona


The petroglyph or stone pictograph shown in Fig. 1 represents an attempt by a pre-Columbian Indian to describe the deformity of a tribal brother. Artist and subject were Hohokams. a distinct Indian people who migrated from Mexico 1,000 to 1,500 years ago. They occupied southern Arizona from Casa Grande to the Mexican border1. Today this geographical area includes Tucson, Tubac, Tumacacori, Tombstone. Nogales, and much additional land to the east and west of this area. It is known as the Pimeria Alta or high desert.

The Hohokams were subsequently replaced by the Pima, Papago, and Apache civilizations, which were in residence when Father Eusebio Kino appeared on the scene in 1691. He was a Spaniard of the Jesuit order and the first white man to set foot in Arizona3.

An Earlier Civilization

From their investigations the early Spanish settlers believed that a higher culture had preexisted the natives they found occupying the Pimeria Alta. This opinion has been confirmed by archeologists, these earlier people being the Hohokams. Some authorities suggest they were an extension of, or related to, the Incan and Mayan civilizations. The color and design of pottery, ruins of cities, vestiges of irrigation systems, and some of these petroglyphs support this supposition3.

"Always Been There"

When Father Kino found Pima Indians worshipping "carved and painted rock altars" near the site of Mission San Xavier del Bac, he asked them the origins of the inscriptions and drawings. The Indians replied: "They have always been there. They were made by the ancients."

Fig. 2 shows one of the larger specimens weighing about one ton. The many abstract and symbolic characters at the bottom of this stone have never been deciphered. Deer, dog, goat, and other four-legged creatures can be identified. Man is depicted in sticklike drawings, singly and in family groupings. Strangely enough some of these humans appear to have a quite distinct taillike appendage. None of the animals resembles the horse which was introduced much later by the Spaniards.

Moved from Original Location

The stones bearing these particular carvings are but two of 105 carefully guarded specimens artistically placed about the residence and pool of Mr. and Mrs. Don D. Williams and their son, Jeff ("J.D."), of Tumacacori, Ariz. (Figs. 3 and 4 , and Fig. 5 ). These stones were discovered in 1947 by the grandfather of J.D. on the east mesa of the Santa Cruz River valley. They were frequently visited and photographed by the Williams family and their friends. A few years ago the land on which they stood was being cleared for a power line and J.D. and his wife, "Mike," noted breakage in two of the relics. After obtaining the permission of the rancher who owned the property involved, all 105 were moved to their present location. They vary in weight from 50 to 2525 lbs. (one and one quarter tons). This task involved much time and labor, and utilization of heavy equipment, to place the stones carefully and creatively in their present positions. When the workers had completed their job J.D. and Mike reviewed the arrangement of the stones and discovered that one near the swimming pool had been photographed more than 20 years before in its original location with J.D.'s grandfather standing beside it.

There was no particular evidence of erosion about the stones when they were in their original positions. In only a few instances were the drawings partially covered. Some stones did show evidence of attempts at removal.

In the petroglvphs the shallowly carved markings show as contrasting lighter lines against the darker exposed and weathered surfaces of the stones. The only stone readily available to the early Indians which was harder than the conglomerate rock on which these drawings were made was flint. This material was used for weapons, knives, skin scrapers and other implements, the shape being adapted to the intended use. While no particular instrument for stone markings has been identified, it probably was a flint tool, possibly shaped like a chisel.

The stones in the Williams collection were found scattered at random, not grouped as would be expected if they were at a village or ceremonial site.

Anomaly Diagnosed

Our patient is depicted as having an internally rotated, possibly shortened, right lower limb with the foot inverted. Of diagnostic importance is the absence of a toe. We have the temerity to suggest that it is the absence of the great toe, or medial ray. In the FrantzO"Rahilly nomenclature then, this would be a terminal longitudinal defect classified as complete paraxial hemimelia tibial2. It is the only picture of a man in this large collection in which the feet are drawn separately. The artist apparently deemed the absence of a toe sufficiently provocative to warrant permanent recording.

In this case we can assume that such factors as chemotherapy, atmospheric or water pollution, or other environmental factors, were of no etiological significance.

Since the subject of the diagnosis is so remote in time, the author takes some degree of diagnostic freedom. If any of his former colleagues in the fraternity of Child Amputee Clinic Chief's doubt the diagnosis, it is suggested that the matter can only be resolved by a site visit and discussion.

Photography by Charles E Potter Tubac, Arizona


    1. Di Peso, Charles C, The Upper Pima of San Cayetano del Tumacacori. No. 7, Amerind Foundation, Inc., Dragoon, Ariz., 1956.


    1. Frantz, Charles H., and Ronan O'Rahilly, Congenital skeletal limb deficiencies, J. Bone and Joint Surg., 43-A :8:1202-1224, December 1961.


  1. Panitch, Mark, Arizona Daily Star, Sunday, Dec. 5, 1971.