Archeological Excavations in Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado • 1950
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Although the cliff dwellings are the most spectacular and the latest ruins of the Mesa Verde, it has long been known that earlier, though less spectacular, ruins exist. In 1891, Nordenskiöld suspected earlier cultures were present because of crude pottery found in Step House Cave (Nordenskiöld, 1893, p. 82). In 1926, Nusbaum, digging in the south end of Step House Cave, found three early seventh century pithouses under a deep layer of trash left by the 13th century occupants of a cliff dwelling in the north end of the cave.

Thus, in a single cave, were found the extremes in the architectural types now known for the Mesa Verde. The builders of the early pithouses were considered to have been ancestral to the people who built the cliff dwellings, so it was obvious that other ruins should be present in the Mesa Verde that would show the architectural progression from pithouses to cliff dwellings.

In 1919, Linton excavated one of the early pithouses, Pithouse A, on the mesa top near Square Tower House (Fewkes, 1920, p. 58). Thus it became evident that the earlier ruins were present in the Chapin Mesa area where they might be made accessible to visitors. During the past 10 years an effort has been made to excavate ruins in the proper sequence along the Square House-Sun Temple Road to show the various stages in architectural development in the Mesa Verde.

Pithouse A, excavated by Linton, was in a poor state of preservation, so, in 1941, the senior author excavated an excellent pithouse, Pithouse B, in the same area (Lancaster and Watson, 1943). This ruin produced tree-ring dates indicating a construction date of about A. D. 600. In 1947, O'Bryan excavated 2 pueblo ruins in the Twin Trees area, 1 mile beyond Pithouse B on the Square Tower House-Sun Temple Road (O'Bryan, 1950). One of these, a slabhouse village, dated at approximately A. D. 840, while the other, a small unit pueblo, dated at about A. D. 950. These pueblos were in an excellent position for use in the interpretive scheme, but a long gap, both in time and architectural type, existed between the pithouses of A. D. 600, and the slabhouse village of A. D. 840.

In order to bridge this gap, a ruin dating about A. D. 700 was excavated in 1950, and this ruin, now referred to as the "Deep Pithouses," is the subject of this report. Approval for the excavation was granted by the Director of the National Park Service on February 24, 1950, and the work was done by the senior author and two Navaho laborers in June of that year.

Selection of the Twin Trees Site

Previous excavations have indicated that during the latter part of the seventh century and the early part of the eighth, pithouses of a characteristic type were common in the Mesa Verde and surrounding areas. Three of these pithouses had been excavated in the Mesa Verde but none were so located that they could be used in the interpretive program. One was excavated in 1939, after it had been cut by a pipeline trench (Smiley, 1949, p. 167). This pithouse gave tree-ring dates at about A. D. 700. A second was excavated by O'Bryan in 1948 (O'Bryan, 1950). This ruin, located one-fourth mile south of the Twin Trees Site, gave tree-ring dates at about A. D. 664. A third pithouse of this type was partially excavated by the senior author in 1948, when it was encountered under the edge of the pavement at the Twin Trees Site during road widening operations.

Although none of these pithouses were suitably located for interpretive use, they indicated that at the end of the seventh century deep pithouses of rather uniform type were more or less common in the Mesa Verde. Since these deep pithouses were a distinct advance in type and time over the shallow pithouses of the Pithouse B type, and were definitely earlier than the slabhouse villages, it was decided to excavate one if it could be found in the proper location on the Square Tower House-Sun Temple Road.

Because of the need for fitting the ruin into the interpretive scheme it was necessary to find a suitable pithouse in a very limited area. The most desirable location would be near Pithouse B, or near the slabhouse village at the Twin Trees Site. If a suitable pithouse could not be found at either site, a location anywhere along the road between the two would serve almost as well.

The first testing was done in the Pithouse B area. Six shallow pithouses of the Pithouse B type were found but no deep pithouses were located. Testing in the Twin Trees area revealed nine shallow pithouses and finally, a deep pithouse. Preliminary testing indicated that the latter was of the desired type and charcoal from the burned roof beams gave dates in the latter part of the seventh century. Since this pithouse seemed to meet the requirements as to type, age, and location, it was selected for excavation.

Location and Physiographic Conditions

The ruin is located at the Twin Trees Site, 2-1/2 miles south of park headquarters (map, p. 1). The site is so named because two large pinon trees growing nearby have formed a natural graft. The slabhouse and unit pueblo ruins excavated by O'Bryan in 1947 are located at this site and the "deep pithouses" are 200 feet south of these ruins (O'Bryan, 1950). The Twin Trees Site is readily accessible to visitors and the 3 ruins are less than 100 yards from the Square Tower House-Sun Temple Road, at a point one-fourth mile east of Square Tower House.

The Twin Trees Site is on the highest part of Chapin Mesa in an east-west line, the elevation being 6,885 feet. At this point the mesa is 1 mile in width and the heavy concentration of ruins indicates that it was a favorable area for the ancient people. A dense pinon-juniper forest covers the mesa except for small areas that were cleared of trees by a forest fire about 100 years ago. These cleared areas now support a dense growth of sage, a positive indication of rich soil. The mesa top is covered with a deep layer of heavy, red soil and with the average rainfall of 18 inches and a long growing season there can be little doubt that it was a favorable area for agricultural people. In the nearby canyons are a number of springs and it may be assumed that there were as many, possibly more, in ancient times.

Excavation Methods

Preliminary testing had indicated the nature of the fill and it was evident that nothing was to be gained by removing this fill in a series of thin layers. The structure had burned and as a result the floor was covered with the burned roof materials. The rest of the fill was made up of ashes and trash with some red earth near the top. Since the structure had burned, it was obvious that all artifacts which were in it at the time of destruction would be on the floor and bench or immediately above them.

The upper fill was removed in one operation until the burned roof materials were encountered at an average of 1 foot above the floor. This material was removed to a point 3 inches above the floor. This last layer was then removed and all artifacts found in actual contact with the floor and bench, or slightly above them, were considered to have been in the structure when it burned. The three layers were designated as upper fill, lower fill and floor contact.

When excavation started, it was assumed that the ruin consisted of a single pithouse. It was further assumed that the pithouse would be similar to others of the same period which had been excavated previously and would consist of a large main room with a smaller southern antechamber. As the excavation progressed and the ruin was outlined, it became evident that it varied radically from this plan. Instead of a large pithouse with a small antechamber, the ruin seemed to consist of two rooms, a very large one on the north, and a second room, almost as large, adjoining it on the south (pl. 2, 3, and 4).

PLATE 2—The Two Pithouses of the Twin Trees Site

Upper photograph—Viewed from the north
The larger room was built first and is designated as the first pithouse. The smaller, which was built after the first house burned, is designated as the second pithouse.

The hole just to the right of the sipapu (pl. 3, f) is a rodent burrow.

Lower photograph—Viewed from the west
These pictures were taken before the ashes were removed from the firepits and before the sand had been removed from the large floor cist (pl. 3, e) in the first pithouse.

When the floor features were finally exposed, the picture immediately became clear—the ruin consisted of 2 pithouses instead of 1. The evidence for this will be presented after the architectural features have been discussed.


The north, or earlier, pithouse is the larger of the two. It is a D-shaped room, measuring 18 by 23-1/2 feet, with an average depth of 4 feet. Around the east, north, and west walls is a bench averaging 18 inches in width and 30 inches in height. The walls are of native red earth with the face of the bench and the floor heavily plastered with gray clay. The walls and floor show the effects of intense heat.

When the second pithouse was constructed, its north wall cut the south wall of the first for a distance of 8 feet, removing all evidence of the antechamber and connecting passageway. Remaining traces of the south wall indicate that it was straight and that the room was D-shaped. The floor features; wingwalls, bin, firepit, deflector, sipapu, pot rests, floor cist, and post holes are typical, for the most part, of those commonly found in structures of this age and type. For details of the features see plates 2 and 3.

The second pithouse measures 13-1/2 by 18-1/2 feet, with an average depth of 45 inches. It was also D-shaped with a bench, averaging 23 inches in height and ranging from 15 to 30 inches in width, on the east and west walls. No bench was present on the north side. Seven sandstone slabs had been erected along the north wall where this room cut into the first pithouse. It is probable that these slabs were installed to hold back the loose ashes and fill of the burned structure. If the north wall originally had a bench it is possible that it disintegrated because of the loose, unconsolidated ash fill on which it rested. The walls are of native earth and no traces of plaster were found. Only the west wall shows evidence of burning and this is very slight.

The ventilator which enters the south room in the center of the south wall is a tunnel 18 inches wide, 2 feet high and 20 inches in length, which opens into a circular pit, 32 inches in diameter. The ventilator probably served also as an entrance, although the small deflector slab, which stood only 10 inches in front of the tunnel opening, constricts the space.

Floor features of the second pithouse are similar to those in the first but are, in general, less elaborate. For details of these features see plate 2 and 3.

One Pithouse or Two?

As has been indicated above, it was not until all floor features had been brought to view that it was realized the ruin consisted of 2 pithouses instead of 1. During the early stages of excavation it appeared that the pithouse varied radically from others of the same age which had been excavated in the park. The three previously excavated had consisted, in each case, of a large pitroom with a small southern antechamber, or entrance-way. This ruin, on the contrary, appeared to have a southern room almost as large as the main room. When the excavation was completed it was immediately evident that the ruin consisted of 2 pithouses, 1 built a short time after the destruction of the other.

As shown in the ground plan (pl. 3), the two rooms have a duplication of certain features that previously has not been found in any pithouse and its antechamber. These duplicate features; firepit, deflector and sipapu, together with other important characteristics, make it impossible to consider the structure as a single unit.

PLATE 3—Architectural Features

First pithouse (see also plate 2)
Shape.—D-shaped. Antechamber and most of straight south wall destroyed when second pithouse was built. Dimensions, 23-1/2 by 18 feet.
Orientation—West of north.
Walls—Native earth above bench; slightly burned.
Bench (j).—On east, north, and west sides. Native earth plastered with adobe. Average width, 18 inches. Average height, 30 inches. Heavily burned.
Floor (h).—Hard packed adobe. Average depth below ground level, 4 feet.
Partition (c).—Discontinuous. Two wingwalls, each incorporating a roof support post: stone slabs covered with adobe. Average height, 27 inches.
Bin (d).—Triangular. Stone slabs covered with adobe. Depth, 30 inches.
Firepit (a).—D-shaped. Depth, 12 inches. Filled with ashes.
Deflector (b).—Stone slab covered with adobe. Height, 17 inches.
Sipapu (f)—Diameter, 5 inches; depth 6 inches. Lined with plaster.
Pot rests—Five saucer-shaped, plastered depressions filled with fine sand. Diameters range from 5 to 7 inches; depths from 1-1/2 to 3 inches.
Cist (e).—Oval-shaped cist, 11 inches deep. Filled with sand.
Post holes.—Two sets of four each; each set arranged in a square. Holes in inner set had been filled with earth and plastered over, indicating the roof had been rebuilt. Holes in outer set contained charred posts. Diameters range from 7 to 9 inches.
Beam ends—Shallow depressions on bench contain ends of charred beams.

Second pithouse (see also plate 2)
Shape.—D-shaped. Dimensions, 18-1/2 by 13-1/2 feet.
Orientation—West of north.
Walls—Native earth above bench. Not burned.
Bench (j).—On east and west sides. On north side bench had rested on loose ashes and fill of burned pithouse and had disintegrated. No plaster remained on walls below bench. Bench and lower walls only slightly burned. Average height of bench, 23 inches; width, 15 to 30 inches.
Floor (h).—Sandy plaster. Depth below ground level, 45 inches.
Partition (c).—Discontinuous. Two wingwalls, each incorporating a roof support post. Remaining portions consist of one stone slab in each wing. Height of slabs, 1 foot. Small slab halfway between firepit and post hole nay have been part of eastern wingwall.
Firepit (a).—Circular. Diameter, 2 feet; depth, 8 inches.
Deflector (b).—Stone slab, 10 inches from south wall. Height, 13 inches.
Sipapu (f).—Diameter, 3 inches; depth, 7 inches.
Pot rest—Plastered depression filled with sand. Depth, 2 inches.
Cist (i).—Figure-8-shaped. Length, 42 inches; width, 16 inches; depth, 9 inches.
Beam end—Shallow depression on west bench containing end of charred beam.
Ventilator (k, m).—Tunnel 18 inches wide, 2 feet high, connecting with vertical shaft, 32 inches in diameter and 42 inches deep. May have served as entrance but deflector only 10 inches from wall constricted the space.
Slab wall—On north side, 7 sandstone slabs filled the space between the 2 fragments of the south wall of the first pithouse (g). Slabs ranged in height from 9 to 16 inches and from 11 to 28 inches in width. Probably erected to hold back loose ashes and fill of first pithouse.

(click on image for a PDF version)

As far as is known, all pithouses that have been excavated in this region have contained firepits. Equally as definite is the fact that a firepit has not been found in a southern antechamber. In some of the earlier pithouses the antechambers were very large, sometimes almost as large as the main room itself. Certainly these large antechambers provided an abundant amount of extra living, work and storage space, but no case is known where the antechamber was provided with a firepit.

The same is true for the deflectors (pl. 3, b). These were obstructions, at this stage usually stone slabs, set in front of the tunnel entrance to the antechamber or ventilator, which served to break the draft of air that came into the main room. During cold weather the deflector, no doubt, was a most important fixture. The fire burning in the central fire pit would have sent a large volume of smoke and warm air out through the smokehole in the roof. This would have, in turn, drawn a considerable draft of cold air in through the tunnel entrance to the antechamber. The deflector, standing directly in front of the tunnel, not only would have kept this draft from blowing directly on the fire, but would have kept the cold air from sweeping across the room to the discomfort of people sleeping on the floor. The deflector in the north room indicates that this room originally had an antechamber or ventilator of its own.

Each room also contains a sipapu (pl. 3, f), a small hole in the floor that in many modern Pueblo kivas serves as a ceremonial entrance to the underworld. No cases are known in this region where sipapus have been found in antechambers. The fact that each room contains these three features, firepit, deflector and sipapu, indicates that each was a complete unit.

Even more conclusive evidence that the two rooms did not exist at the same time is offered by the benches (pl. 3, j). The benches of the 2 rooms are radically different in height, that of the southern room being 7 inches lower than that of the northern room. The north room, or first pithouse, was destroyed by a fire that generated intense heat. As a result the surface of the bench and the walls below it were heavily burned. The south room, or second pithouse, burned only slightly and the bench and walls show only slight evidence of heat. Being lower, the bench of the south room cut through the bench of the north room and at this point the difference is radical. While the bench and walls of the north room show intense burning, the adjacent portions of the bench of the south room present clean, unburned surfaces. It is obvious that the south room was not in existence when the north room burned.

Further evidence of two separate pithouses is offered by the locations of the artifacts, other than potsherds, found in them. On the floor and bench of the north room were found 21 stone and bone artifacts. This large number of artifacts may indicate the structure burned while still occupied. In the south room only two artifacts, a broken stone knife and a small bone awl, were found in contact with the floor and bench. This probably indicates that the structure had been cleaned out and deserted. This pithouse showed evidence of only light burning. No large pieces of charcoal were found and there were no charred posts in the four postholes. Also, 7 sherds were found at the bottom of 1 post hole, indicating that the post had been removed before the structure burned. It is entirely possible that the four roof supports and the larger roof beams had been carried away for use elsewhere and that only the small sticks and brush of the roof cover remained when the burning occurred.

Final evidence for 2 separate pithouses is the row of stone slabs between the 2 rooms (pl. 4). At each end of this row of slabs are small portions of the original south wall of the first pithouse (pl. 3, g). The north face of these portions shows intense burning while the south face is only slightly burned. The seven slabs, ranging in height from 9 to 16 inches, were erected in a curving line across the north wall of the second pithouse. When the second pithouse was being constructed the builders no doubt encountered the loose ashes and fill of the burned pithouse to the north and in all probability the slabs were installed to hold back this loose material. The south face of several of the slabs shows evidence of burning while the north face does not. This indicates the slabs were not in place when the first pithouse burned. No evidence of a bench was found above the slabs. If one ever existed it had disintegrated, probably because of the loose, unconsolidated ashes on which it rested.

PLATE 4—Slab Wall of Second Pithouse
Across the north side of the room, seven sandstone slabs filled the space where the wall cut the first pithouse. These slabs probably served to hold back loose ashes and fill.

When the ground plan of the 2 pithouses is studied (pl. 3), one cannot but wonder what circumstance caused the north-south alinement of the 2 to be so nearly perfect. It is entirely possible that the first pithouse had a large antechamber and that the second was merely an enlargement of it. Earlier pithouses often had antechambers of considerable size. That of Pithouse B, which was built about A. D., 600, measured 9 by 12 feet, while that of Pithouse C, of the same date, was 10 feet in diameter (Lancaster and Watson, 1943). If the first pithouse had a large antechamber it is possible that the second pithouse was constructed merely by enlarging this room.

Tree-Ring Dates and Construction Sequence

In September 1950, Dr. Edmund Schulman, of the Tree Ring Laboratory, University of Arizona, visited the park and made a preliminary inspection of a large number of fragments of charcoal from the pithouses. The datable specimens seemed to represent only eight different trees and when they were studied at the laboratory, the following dates were obtained (Schulman, 1951, pp. 28-29; Smiley, 1951, No. 88x, p. 23):

SiteSpecies Inner

MV—486First pithousePiñon419 p574 vv
MV—487First pithousePiñon454570 vv
MV—488First pithouseDouglas-fir548636 vv
MV—489First pithousePiñon506 p625 vv
MV—490First pithousePiñon578 p674 c
MV—491First pithouseDouglas-fir601 p674 v
MV—493First pithousePiñon585 p667 vv

Note: p—pith ring present; c—outside ring constant along outer face of specimen, probably few or no lost rings; v—outside date variable, probably several rings lost; vv—outside date very variable, probably many rings lost.

Since the outer ring of specimen MV—490 was constant, a cutting date of A. D. 674 probably is indicated, unless it was a dead timber. Specimen MV—491 had lost a few rings and MV—493 had lost even more, so a construction date somewhat later than 674 is suggested.

During occupation the roof was remodeled, for two sets of post holes were found in the floor (pl. 3). In this operation the four main roof supports were taken from their holes and the holes were filled with earth and plastered over at floor level. A new hole was dug beside each original hole, the distance between the new and old holes ranging from 5 to 11 inches. In each case the new hole was closer to the outer wall of the room and it was in these holes that the burned posts were found during excavation. Whether the two sets of post holes indicate a mere remodeling of the roof, or whether the entire pithouse was enlarged, could not be determined.

After a period of occupation, probably rather short, the pithouse burned and the presence of the artifacts on the floor and bench may indicate that it was still in use at the time of its destruction. The surface and face of the bench, as well as the floor, show the effects of intense heat.

Sometime later the second pithouse was built, its north wall cutting the south wall of the first. A construction date for this structure can only be estimated. The two pithouses are similar in type and all artifacts found in them were of common types which were in use over such a long period of time that they do not aid in exact dating. It appears, however, that the second pithouse was built shortly after the first was destroyed by fire. The floor of the first was covered with charcoal, ashes, and fire-hardened adobe from the burned roof. Above this, the fill consisted of ashes and trash and there was no evidence of water-laid clay. It is not difficult to imagine that the occupants of the second pithouse dumped their trash in the shallow pit which remained after the first pithouse burned.

In all probability, the entire site was not occupied for any great length of time and the second pithouse presumably was built only a short time, not more than a few years at most, after the first one burned. The entire occupation of the site may have occurred within the last quarter of the seventh century.

Roof Construction

No pithouse of this type, or of any similar type, has been found with the roof intact. Reconstruction of the roof is, therefore, conjectural, but actually it is not too difficult. When the roof of the first pithouse burned, many of the roof timbers were turned to charcoal and were found where they had fallen. From their arrangement, the design of the roof can be reconstructed with fair accuracy.

The roof was supported by four upright posts set in holes in the floor (pl. 5). In all probability, the tops of these posts were forked, and four stringers, resting in these forks, formed a square framework. Additional stringers were placed across this framework to support the roof above this section. Support for the sloping side walls was provided by a number of slender poles, the lower ends of which rested on the bench, while the upper ends rested against the square framework. Eleven of these poles were found where they had fallen, and the space between poles ranged from 12 to 15 inches. The lower ends of these poles were not buried in the bench as has been found elsewhere (Martin, 1939, p. 380). They merely rested on the bench, several inches in front of the back wall.

PLATE 5—Postulated Method of Roof Construction of First Pithouse
A. Main support posts.
B. Main stringers.
C. Secondary stringers.
D. Slender poles or withes.
E. Sloping side poles.
F. Poles, brush, or reeds.
G. Bark and trash fill.
H. Earth covering.
I. Tunnel to antechamber.
J. Deflector.
K. Wingwall.
L. Firepit.
M. Sipapu.
N. Plastered walls.
O. Bench.
P. Smokehole and hatchway.

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After the framework of the roof was completed, it was covered with a layer of small sticks and brush, and to this was applied a covering of adobe, several inches thick. No evidence of the smokehole was found, but it was, no doubt, above the firepit. In all probability, a ladder was placed in the smokehole and it served as an entrance. The ventilator tunnel from the antechamber served as a second entrance. The height of the roof is uncertain, but it would seem safe to assume that the rectangular section between the four posts was high enough to clear the heads of the occupants. Reconstructions of the roof are shown in plates 5 and 6.

PLATE 6—Reconstruction of the Second Pithouse


Objects of Stone

Objects of stone recovered from the 2 pithouses numbered 26, all being of types common to the period. Of these, 23 were found in the first pithouse and 3 in the second. Their locations as summarized here, strengthen the belief that the first pithouse burned while still in use, and that the second pithouse may have been cleaned out and deserted before it burned.

SiteUpper fill Lower
In contact
with floor
or bench

First pithouse
Second pithouse2 (fragments of metates).

Details of the objects are given in table 2, and all, except the 2 metate fragments, are pictured in plates 7 to 13.

Table 2.—Stone Artifacts—Pithouses
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Objects of Bone

Only two worked bone objects were found, a bone awl and a perforated toe bone of a deer.

Bone awl—This awl was made from the split metatarsal of a young deer: the head had separated from the shaft. The head end was unworked; the other end was sharpened. Length, 2.7 inches. See plate 13, bottom. row, right.

Perforated bone—The hole in this deer toe bone was made, not by drilling, but by grinding across the sides of the bone until the thin shell was perforated. The edges of the holes were bevelled by the grinding action. Plate 13, bottom row, left.

PLATE 7—Manos

Upper—River pebble of fine-grained sandstone. One edge chipped to produce the mano shape, but shows no evidence of use. Wedge-shaped, but not through use. Maximum thickness: 2 inches. Floor of first pithouse.

Lower—Fine-grained sandstone. One well-pecked, convex grinding surface. Finger grip on one edge. Upper surface flat; surfaces parallel. Maximum thickness: 1.25 inches. Floor of first pithouse, beside metate (pl. 8).

Unworked Bone

Fifty-one fragments of mammal bone, 2 bird bone and 4 pieces of deer antler were found on, and just above, the floor of the first pithouse. The two bird bones were turkey tarso metatarsi. The mammal bones were too badly burned and too fragmentary for identification, but they appear to be from a large mammal, probably deer. The bones were unworked and probably were food bones which were in the pithouse when it burned.

Perishable Objects

As this was an open site and, since in addition, the structures burned, no perishable objects could be expected. However, 1 small fragment of charred fabric, amounting to about 1 square inch, was found on the bench of the first pithouse.

PLATE 8—Metate and Mano

Metate—Irregular sandstone slab.
Length, 25.5 inches. Width, 18.0 inches.
Thickness, 3.5 inches.
Trough dimensions:
Length, 16.0 inches. Width, 9.5 inches.
Maximum depth, 3.0 inches.
The trough is not open at the end.

Mano—Fine-grained sandstone; one convex grinding surface which fits the trough of the metate.
Length, 8 inches. Width, 5.25 inches.
Thickness, 1.25 inches.

The metate was found upside-down on the floor of the first pithouse, 2 feet west of the deflector. The mano was beside it. A similar upside-down metate was found in exactly the same spot in Pithouse B (Lancaster and Watson, 1943).

The fragment appeared to be a portion of a finely woven sandal, and, since Mr. Earl H. Morris has studied basketmaker sandals extensively, it was submitted to him for analysis. His findings are so revealing they are quoted in full:

"The charred fragment of textile is from the forward end of a Basketmaker III cloth sandal. The remaining bit of selvage is part of the somewhat scalloped toe margin. Relatively heavy, stiff warps and much finer, softer weft threads, well exhibited in this specimen, are typical features of all better varieties of Basketmaker III footgear. These warp weft proportions, strengthened by the doubling of the warps, provide sufficient evidence to establish the identity of the object, because in no other known class of contemporaneous textiles do double warps occur.

"An excellent reconstruction of the steps of manufacture of the double-warp toe has been given by Kidder. 'The warps were first laid out side by side, or more probably were suspended in such a way that they hung parallel to each other, with the proper intervals between them. Then, at the place where the toe of the finished sandal was to be, there were run in ten rows of twilled over-two-under-two twined weaving. . . . Thus was produced a strip of web not quite one-half inch wide running across the warps near their upper ends, and holding them firmly together at the correct distance apart. The doubling now took place. A two-ply yucca cord of about the same weight and stiffness as the warp strings was laid across the middle of the strip of web on what was to be the under side of the sandal and the strip was closely creased over it, thus bringing the shorter end of each warp into parallel juxtaposition with its longer end. . . . The twilled over-two-under-two twined weaving was now continued, but instead of being over pairs of single warps, it took in the doubled warps and so bound the turned-down shorter end firmly to the longer ones. Where the doubling took place there was left running across the toe of the sandal, a narrow tunnel or tube in the fabric. In the tube there remained the yucca cord over which the crease was made. In the dissection of the sandal this cord was found still in place, closely clipped off at either end of the tube. I think there is little doubt that the cord was originally a long one whose free ends served to attach the growing sandal to a rigid support in order that there might be something to pull against while the weaving progressed. I also think it possible that the curving or scalloped form of the toe is due to the pull of this string during the first stages of the weaving' (Kidder, 1926, pp. 618-632).

"In the present specimen, the end of the suspending cord lying in the tunnel of the folded fabric may be discerned at one corner of the selvage. As far as can be determined without picking the wisp to pieces, the warp is not twined as in Kidder's specimen, but seems to be done in simple over-under stitch. This difference need be no cause for concern because examination of a large series of Basketmaker III sandals shows that the weavers of the time used the twining and under-over techniques rather indiscriminatingly, even in a single specimen. Thus is dispelled the generally accepted notion that all Basketmaker III sandals have twined wefts. The fact is that both twining and over-under treatment are found in the early sandals, whereas in Pueblo III cloth sandals from the Aztec Ruin and Pueblo Bonito, the wefts are, with out noted exception, twined" (Morris, personal communication, Mar. 21, 1953).


During the excavation of the 2 pithouses, 1,322 sherds, 1 unbroken jar (pl. 16, left, and table 3), and crushed fragments of an unfired mud platter were found. These divided into seven named types, plus a small number of unfired sherds which could not be typed. Of the named types, probably only 3 were made by the original occupants of the pithouses; the other 4 types are generally considered to be later and they no doubt came from nearby later sites. Sherd counts and percentages are in table 3.

Table 3.—Sherd Types and Percentages—Pithouses

Lino Gray49790.8
La Plata Black-on-white224.0
Kana-a Gray91.6
Kiatuthlanna Black-on-white3.5
La Plata Black-on-red1.1
Unfired, no temper132.3


Lino Gray31791.0
La Plata Black-on-white226.3
Fugitive Red92.5


Lino Gray1 jar and30398.3
La Plata Black-on-white51.6


Lino Gray9277.9
La Plata Black-on-white86.7
Fugitive Red1311.0
La Plata Black-on-red54.2


Lino Gray1 jar and1,20991.5
La Plata Black-on-white574.3
Fugitive Red221.6
Kana-a Gray9.6
Kiatuthlanna Black-on-white3.22
La Plata Black-on-red6.45
Unfired, no temper13.9


The predominant pottery was Lino Gray. This is a convenient catch-all for it includes not only Lino Gray sherds, but unpainted sherds of Lino Black-on-gray and La Plata Black-on-white, body sherds of Kana-a Gray, and sherds of Lino Fugitive Red from which the color has disappeared. These plain gray sherds comprised 91.5 percent of the pottery from the site, but because of the fact that the plain sherds of the various types cannot be separated, the figure has little meaning.

PLATE 9—Pot Covers

Upper—Sandstone disk; edges chipped and ground. Average thickness, 1-1/4 inches. From floor of first pithouse.

Lower—Sandstone; edges roughly chipped. Average thickness, 3/4 inch. From bench of first pithouse.

The sherds show the usual variations found in Lino Gray pottery. The thickness ranged from 1/8 to 1/2 inch; color from light to dark gray. Temper consisted of crushed rock with minor amounts of sand in some specimens. Mica flecking was present in all sherds and tempering materials probably were crushed diorites and andesites, common local rocks which were widely used as temper during this period (Shepard, in Morris, 1939, p. 251). In this respect, the pottery differed from the published description of Lino Gray which gives sand as the tempering material (Colton and Hargrave, 1937, p. 191).

Surface finish varied from very rough through all degrees of scraped, to some which were smoothed and, to a certain extent, polished. Sherds which indicated the greatest degree of smoothing were from bowls, and in each case, it was the inner surface which was smoothed. Some of this smoothness on the inside of bowls may well have resulted from long use. In the surface finish, some sherds approach Twin Trees Plain, a pottery type described by O'Bryan in 1950 (O'Bryan, 1950, p. 91), but in this group of sherds it is not possible to draw a line of demarcation. It is easy to select the roughest examples and equally easy to select those which show the highest degree of smoothing or polishing. Between these extremes, however, the variations are so imperceptible that no two people would divide them in the same manner, and it is extremely doubtful if one person could divide them twice in the same manner.

PLATE 10—Hammerstones and Maul

Upper left—Full-grooved maul. Made from fine-grained sandstone river pebble. From floor of first pithouse.

Upper right—Igneous river pebble. One end slightly pecked from use. From floor of first pithouse.

Lower left—Igneous river pebble. Ends heavily pecked, indicating use as a hammerstone. From lower fill of first pithouse.

Lower right—Igneous river pebble. Ends pecked and broken, indicating use as hammerstone. These tools were no doubt used in shaping metates, manna, slabs, and other stone artifacts. From lower fill of first pithouse.

PLATE 11—Rubbing, Pounding, and Polishing Stones

Upper left.—Igneous river pebble. Chipped edges and polished surface indicate use as a pounding and rubbing stone. Bench, first pithouse.

Upper right—Igneous river pebble. One face slightly ground by rubbing. Possibly a one-hand mano. Floor, first pithouse.

Lower left.—Igneous river pebble. Surfaces smooth, showing no abrasion or pecking. Bench, first pithouse.

Lower right.—Igneous river pebble. Surfaces smooth, showing no abrasion or pecking. Stones of this type are often called floor polishers. Floor, first pithouse.

Fugitive Red, which is simply Lino Gray pottery to which a red wash was applied after firing, accounted for 1.6 percent of the sherds. The 13 unfired sherds (0.9 percent) were roughly made of gray clay and contained no temper. They may well represent a child's first efforts at pottery making. Fragments of a crushed vessel of unfired, vegetable-tempered clay were also recovered but were not included in the sherd count as they had, for the most part, disintegrated into innumerable tiny particles. Crudely made, unfired platters and bowls, tempered with plant fibers, occasionally were made even after superior pottery was being produced.

PLATE 12—Miscellaneous Stone Objects

Mortar or paint grinder
The upper surface of the larger stone is concave, the depression being one-half inch deep. The lower face of the smaller stone is convex, its curve fitting the depression in the larger stone.
The two stones were found side by side on the floor of the first pithouse.

Left.—Pecking stone. Igneous pebble, heavily fractured and chipped, indicating use as pecking and pounding stone. Floor of first pithouse.
Right.—Cup-shaped concretion; edges smoothed. Probably used as a container. Floor of first pithouse.

Left—Hematite. Color, bright red. Probably used for paint. Floor of first pithouse.
Right—Polishing pebble. Small, igneous river pebble. Bench of first pithouse.

PLATE 13—Miscellaneous Artifacts

Top row, left—Highly polished stone pendant. Thickness, one-sixteenth inch. From lower fill of first pithouse.
Top row, right—Cannel coal. Drilled on opposite faces but not quite enough to perforate. From floor of first pithouse.
Second row, left—Roughly chipped point: chert. From bench of first pithouse.
Second row, center—Chert point; very roughly chipped. From bench of first pithouse.
Second row, right—Knife; basal portion missing; quartzite. From bench of second pithouse.
Bottom row, left—Perforated deer toe bone. From floor of first pithouse.
Bottom row, right—Awl; made from split distal end of a deer metatarsal. From bench of second pithouse.

From the Lino Gray rims that were found, it would appear that the common shapes were bowls, globular jars, commonly called "squash pots," and globular jars with short necks. Two vessels were partially restorable, a large, small-mouthed water jar (pl. 14) and a crude miniature bowl (pl. 16, right). Five handles and one possible handle were found and are pictured in plate 15.

PLATE 14—Lino Gray Jar
From floor of first pithouse.

PLATE 15—Jar Handles
Top row—Pierced lug handles.
Bottom center—Pinched lug handle.
Bottom left—Fragment of strap handle.
Bottom right—Possibly a handle.

Two small vessels with lateral spouts were found, one in each pithouse (pl. 16, left and center). These unusual vessels appear to have had a wide distribution during Basketmaker III times, Roberts having found them in the Chaco (Roberts, 1929, p. 117), and Morris in Canyon del Muerto, at Red Rock and along the La Plata (Morris, 1939, p. 147). The two found during the excavation are small, globular vessels, each one having a small mouth and a lateral spout (pl. 16, left and center). In each specimen the spout is broken so the original length is unknown.

PLATE 16—Miniature Vessels
Left: Lino Gray Vessel With Lateral Spout
Spout perforated; diameter of perforation, one-eighth inch. Spout broken. Surface finish very rough. This small vessel was two-thirds full of charred seeds which resemble those of Tansy Mustard (Sophia). From bench of the first pithouse.

Center: Lino Gray Vessel With Lateral Spout
Spout has two perforations. The larger is five-eighths of an inch in diameter; the smaller, three-sixteenths. The smaller perforation is above and parallel to the larger hole. From floor of the second pithouse.

Right: Lino Gray Miniature Bowl
Exceedingly crude. From bench of the first pithouse.

The spouts are perforated, but the perforations in the two specimens are radically different. In one specimen the spout diameter is one-half inch while the perforation is one-eighth of an inch in diameter. This spout appears to have been made by molding the clay around a smooth stick, or reed, which was then withdrawn, leaving a smooth hole. The bowl of this vessel was about two-thirds full of tiny charred seeds, which probably are of some local species of Sophia (Mustard). This charring could have occurred when the first pithouse burned as the vessel was sitting on the bench. The entire vessel, inside and out, was heavily smudged.

The spout of the second vessel is so short that it is difficult to reconstruct. Where it joins the vessel, the spout is seven-eighths of an inch in diameter and the perforation has a diameter of five-eighths of an inch. This perforation probably was formed by a simple molding of the clay. Above this perforation and parallel to it, is a second perforation, three-sixteenths of an inch in diameter. This small hole was formed by molding the clay around a slender stick, as described above. Whether the two perforations extended the full length of the spout cannot be determined. This vessel was not smudged, either inside or out.

The use of these vessels with the lateral spout is unknown, but it has been suggested that they were pipes or cloud blowers. The first vessel described above, because of its heavily smudged interior and the small bore of its spout perforation, suggests this use. However, the smudging of the interior may have been occasioned by the charring of the seeds it contained. It is difficult to see the second vessel as a pipe. The interior is not smudged and the spout with its two perforations does not suggest a pipe stem. It is entirely possible that this specimen represents one-half of a double vessel, a form occasionally found in this area at a later date. In these double mugs the 2 halves were joined together by 2 short rolls of clay, 1 or both of which was perforated to allow passage of liquids from 1 side to the other. The vessel under discussion may represent an early form of these double mugs.

The only decorated pottery which can be considered, without doubt, to have been made by the occupants of this site was La Plata Black-on-white, which accounted for 4.3 percent of the sherds (pl. 17). This type has the same basic makeup as the plain gray pottery described above. In having crushed rock temper it varies from the published description of La Plata Black-on-white which gives coarse sand as the tempering material (Hawley, 1936, p. 23). The paint is inorganic, probably iron, with the color ranging from black to rusty brown. It is surprising that no Lino Black-on-gray, a similar type but with organic paint, was found. In a nearby, similar pithouse of approximately the same age, O'Bryan reported Lino Black-on-gray pottery, but no La Plata Black-on-white (O'Bryan, 1950, p. 92).

PLATE 17—Sherds of La Plata Black-on-white
(click on image for a PDF version)

Some sherds show considerable smoothing, even polishing, on the inner surface, but none meet O'Bryan's specifications for Twin Trees Black-on-white, which is described as being "highly polished, inside and out" (O'Bryan, 1950, p. 91).

The remaining four types of pottery recovered from the pithouses probably do not date from the occupation, as they are considered to be later and probably came from nearby, later sites. La Plata Black-on-red is considered a Pueblo I type, although Morris considered it also as terminal Basketmaker III in the La Plata district (Morris, 1939, p. 156). Only 6 sherds were found, 5 of which were in the ventilator shaft of the second pithouse. This hole no doubt remained open for some time as no roof debris fell into it, and the sherds probably came into this position at a later date. Kana-a Gray is diagnostic of Pueblo I, although it no doubt had its beginnings late in Basketmaker III, as suggested by Morris (Morris, 1939, p. 145). The nine sherds of Kana-a were in the upper fill so probably were of later origin. Kiatuthlanna Black-on-white is a Pueblo I type and corrugated pottery is characteristic of Pueblo II. The presence of these later types is not surprising, for only 200 feet north of the pithouses are 2 ruins which were excavated by O'Bryan in 1947. One is a Pueblo I ruin; the other, Pueblo II (O'Bryan, 1950, pp. 28-43).


The two pithouses, which are the subject of this report, were excavated for the dual purpose of providing an interpretive exhibit showing the architectural style of about A. D. 700, and to gain additional knowledge of the period.

From the interpretive angle the ruins are good, although the story is somewhat complicated by the fact that the second pithouse cut into the first, destroying its antechamber. At first glance, the uninitiated visitor does not realize that the ruin consists of two individual pithouses. Both pithouses are excellent examples of late seventh century structures and serve to bridge the gap between the shallow pithouses of A. D. 600, and the slabhouse villages with deep pitrooms, of about A. D. 800. The deepening of the pithouses is an important step in their development into kivas, as has been set forth in detail by Brew (Brew, 1946, p. 203).

Except for potsherds, few artifacts were found and most of these were river pebbles which were used, without altering their natural shape, for pounding, rubbing, and polishing.

In considering the results of this excavation, and other excavations of ruins of the same period, the following points can be drawn:

1. At the end of the seventh century it appears that the prevailing structures being built in the Mesa Verde were pithouses, 4 to 5 feet in depth.

2. Isolated, slab-lined storage cists, such as have been found in some areas and which later developed into slab house villages, have not been found associated with any of the Mesa Verde pithouses of this period.

3. The pithouses were noticeably deeper than at A. D. 600, and certain features of the later kivas; bench, sipapu, deflector, and ventilator were well established.

4. The southern antechamber was much smaller than in earlier pithouses. In the second pithouse of this report, the antechamber was merely a slight enlargement of the end of of the ventilator-entrance tunnel.

5. The dominant pottery of the period was Lino Gray. Decorated types were Lino Black-on-gray and La Plata Black on-white, although the former was missing in the present excavation.

6. Lino Gray and La Plata Black-on-white pottery recovered in this excavation vary from published descriptions of these types, indicating the need for an intensive study of Mesa Verde pottery.

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Last Updated: 19-May-2008