Searching For The Origins Of Pueblo Culture

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Archaeologists Steve Copeland and Caitlin Sommer document features on the floor of the great kiva.
Archaeologists Steve Copeland and Caitlin Sommer document features on the floor of the great kiva. Courtesy Crow Canyon Archaeological Center.

Spring 2015: Searching For The Origins Of Pueblo Culture By Tamara Stewart.

Dirt flies as archaeologists Caitlin Sommer and Steve Copeland, along with many volunteers, search for the hearth in the Dillard site’s great kiva. Since 2011, researchers with Crow Canyon Archaeological Center have been investigating Dillard and other associated pit structures that formed part of an ancient community near Cortez, in southwest Colorado. The investigation is part of Crow Canyon’s Basketmaker Communities Project, which focuses on early Pueblo society in the Mesa Verde region. Preliminary evidence suggested that Dillard could be among the earliest complex sites in the central Mesa Verde region. It dates to what is known as the Basketmaker III period (ca. A.D. 500 to 750), a time when people first began making pottery and transitioning to a dryland agricultural lifestyle.

Crow Canyon archaeologists are trying to understand the origins of Pueblo culture. “Very few Basketmaker III settlements have been studied on the community scale, which is one reason we initiated the Basketmaker Communities Project,” says archaeologist Shanna Diederichs, who is supervising the excavation. “The Dillard site inhabitants are part of a diaspora of Basketmaker III people into open farming territories across the Colorado Plateau in the seventh century A.D. Where people are migrating from is one of Crow Canyon’s primary research questions.”

Pueblo culture appears to have taken shape around the time of the area’s Neolithic Revolution, which marked the shift from hunting and gathering to agriculture, bringing about major changes in subsistence and social organization.is transition occurred over a 2,000-year period and it featured such technological advances as the creation and use of pottery for cooking and storing foods, and the adoption of the bow and arrow for hunting and defense.

In the early centuries A.D., there is evidence for the interaction of immigrant Western Basketmaker farming groups from the south, who were drawn to the region’s fertile soils, with local Colorado Plateau foragers known as Eastern Basketmakers. Around A.D. 600 this growing, multi-ethnic population began expanding into upland areas suitable for dryland farming. It was right around this time that the community, with its great kiva and associated pit structures—the archaeologists have found roughly 100 of them—was first established.

Summary. Read full Article in American Archaeology Vol. 19 No. 1

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