Update SW: The Pitter-patter of A Chaco Lover’s Heart at Carhart Pueblo

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Carhart Peublo Kiva, prior to re-excavation.
Carhart Peublo Kiva, prior to re-excavation.

Nothing gets a Southwestern archaeologist’s heart racing faster than thinking about his or her favorite Chaco ruin. Chaco culture must have been grand. Its participants lives were steeped in rich tradition, ritual and artistic achievement all set against the backdrop of some of the most magnificent stone architectural creations ever imagined. Today details of their culture remain wrapped in mystery. Researchers have pondered Chacoan architecture and material culture for centuries searching for clues to their lifeways. Graduate student Erin Baxter described that search perfectly when she said in her MA thesis based on testing at Carhart Pueblo, “Chaco is a chestnut in Southwestern archaeology – gnawed upon with varying success by generations of archaeologists, but never actually cracked.”

Carhart Pueblo in SE Utah is one of the Conservancy’s very finest preserves. Occupied from the AD 1000’s to the late 1200’s, it is considered to be the northernmost Chaco outlier. Carhart Pueblo consists of a possible great house, with a square two-story structure of approximately 40 rooms built around a blocked-in, above-ground kiva. Nearby is a Great kiva and a possible road fragment, together with several surrounding community pueblos each consisting of roomblocks, kivas, and possible towers. The site has 14 identified middens.

Carhart Pueblo Map. Courtesy Erin Baxter.
Carhart Pueblo Map. Courtesy Erin Baxter.

The Conservancy first learned about this ruin from the late Dr. Dave Breternitz in the late 1980’s, who mentioned the site to SW Regional Director Jim Walker at a Pecos Conference. Tucked away behind a bean field, built at the edge of a deep canyon, waiting to be re-discovered. Negotiations with the family who owned the site stretched over 12 years. Patience and persistence is often rewarded. The Archaeological Conservancy acquired the site in 2008. Many Conservancy preserves have taken 20 years or more of landowner interaction to secure for preservation.

The Archaeological Conservancy has 45 Anasazi sites in the Southwest Region. 11 of those sites have Chaco style structures and features. 3 are officially classified as outliers, including Carhart Pueblo. According to John Kantner, there are 44 known Great Houses in the northern San Juan region. 11 of those have been studied in some detail.

There have been only a few impacts to Carhart Pueblo through the years. According to local lore, two of the rooms in the Great House were excavated, probably by students from the University of Utah, in the 1940’s. No report on that excavation has been found. The large blocked-in kiva in the Great House at Carhart measuring 6.5 meters in diameter, was excavated by family members of the property owners in 1990. I spoke to one of the diggers who confessed that it was …”harder work to dig out that kiva than I ever thought it would be….and we hardly found anything worthwhile.” Archaeologist Dave Breternitz was allowed to map the kiva after its excavation.

Carhart Kiva, re-excavation with Volunteers Pointing North. Photo Courtesy Erin Baxter.
Carhart Kiva, re-excavation with Volunteers Pointing North. Photo Courtesy Erin Baxter.

When graduate student Erin Baxter returned in 2008 to re-excavate that kiva, however, she found a world of information. She identified the kiva’s “Radial Beam” construction design, one that is uniquely Chacoan, with eight juniper beams placed on a one meter high, and 50 cm wide bench against the outer wall, above the kiva floor. The beams penetrated the outer kiva wall and extended into the surrounding fill. She also collected 18 wood samples from the radial beams, two of which were datable using dendrochronology, yielding dates of AD950vv and AD 1017v. It is believed that the first Great Houses in the northern San Juan region were built at about AD 1080. The early tree ring dates may be a function of using “old wood” to construct the kiva’s beams.

Excavation of Collapsing Kiva Bench. Photo Courtesy Erin Baxter.
Excavation of Collapsing Kiva Bench. Photo Courtesy Erin Baxter.

In addition to the construction features, Baxter recovered thousands of pottery shards, hundreds of chipped stone artifacts and debitage and hundreds of faunal bone fragments. Baxter also conducted a survey of Carhart Pueblo and created a new site map. Ceramic analysis indicated that the site was occupied to some degree from AD 920-1280 with primary occupation from AD 1040-1140, making Carhart one of the earliest Great Houses to be built and occupied in the northern San Juan region.

Artifacts recovered from the Kiva back dirt. Photo Courtesy Erin Baxter.
Artifacts recovered from the Kiva back dirt. Photo Courtesy Erin Baxter.

The Carhart Pueblo acquisition was partially funded using the proceeds from a fine paid by a Utah company holding a Corps of Engineers permit who disturbed an archaeological site during a construction project. The Corps decided it would be more appropriate to use the fine money to help preserve an undisturbed, unprotected archaeological site rather than put that money into the US Treasury. The balance of the acquisition funds were donated by Conservancy members, charitable foundations and corporations.

Carhart Kiva, ready for Backfilling for preservation.
Carhart Kiva, ready for Backfilling for preservation.

Following acquisition, the Conservancy backfilled the excavated kiva and two rooms in the Great House. We developed a management plan, fenced the site and compiled a National Register nomination. Just this year, on  July 1, 2015, Carhart Pueblo was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Thanks to the efforts of caring people like you, Carhart Pueblo is a well preserved chestnut, waiting to be cracked.

Backfilling the Kiva for Long Term Preservation.
Backfilling the Kiva for Long Term Preservation.

-Jim Walker, Southwestern Regional Director

Meet the Archaeologist and Excavator Erin Baxter, Ph.D. Student at CU

Learn More about Erin Baxter and her research as 2015 Lister Fellowship from Crow Canyon Archaeological Center

Read More about another amazing Puebloan site protected by the Conservancy:The Archaeology of Puzzle House: Preservation and Excavation

Read The Latest Chaco Research in Winter 2015 Article Summary Chaco’s Upper Class in American Archaeology Magazine

Chaco Research in Back Issues of American Archaeology. Summer 2003 UNDERSTANDING CHACO CANYON: Archaeologists have arrived at new conclusions about this amazing place.BY TAMARA STEWART

Chaco Research in Back Issues of American Archaeology. Winter 2000-2001A CULTURAL AFFILIATION CONTROVERSY
Chaco Culture National Historical Park has determined the Navajo are culturally affiliated with the Anasazi. Some Native Americans and archaeologists strongly disagree. BY JOANNE SHEEHY HOOVER

Chaco Research in Back Issues of American Archaeology. Spring 1997. NOT ALL ROADS LEAD TO CHACO. Ancient roads in the Southwest’s San Juan Basin have baffled researchers for years. David Noble introduces readers to these mysterious, monumental etchings on the land. BY DAVID GRANT NOBLE

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