Big Juniper House of Mesa Verde, Colorado
Wetherill Mesa Studies
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Chapter 3

Approximately 13,600 sherds and 56 complete or partially restorable vessels were recovered during the excavation of Big Juniper House. All the pottery was examined macroscopically to determine rim shape, neck form, surface treatment, slip, paint type, and decorative style. Representative sherds were then selected for microscopic examination of temper and, in some cases, the presence or absence of a slip.

Worked sherds, miniature vessels, pipes, and other ceramic objects are described in this chapter under separate headings. They are not included in the sherd counts of the types discussed immediately below.

Pottery manufactured in the Mesa Verde area in prehistoric times is assigned to two wares: Mesa Verde Gray Ware and Mesa Verde White Ware. They are separated on the basis of surface treatment—the plain and textured utility or culinary pottery is assigned to Mesa Verde Gray Ware, and the black-on-white painted pottery is designated as Mesa Verde White Ware.

Mesa Verde Gray Ware includes the types called Chapin Gray, Moccasin Gray, Mancos Gray, Mummy Lake Gray, Mancos Corrugated, and Mesa Verde Corrugated. Mesa Verde White Ware includes Chapin Black-on-white, Piedra Black-on-white, Cortez Black-on white, Mancos Black-on-white, McElmo Black-on-white, and Mesa Verde Black-on-white. All but Mesa Verde Black-on-white were found at Big Juniper House.

A third ware, San Juan Red Ware, is encountered in small quantities at sites in the park. In this report, the ware is divided into two types: Abajo Red-on-orange and Bluff-La Plata Black-on-red. Very few of these sherds were found in relation to the number of black-on-white or gray sherds, and their distinctive paste sets them apart from the usual pottery found at Big Juniper House. We do not know if red ware was locally produced or not. The period of occupation at Big Juniper House was late enough so that very little red ware of the Alkali Ridge series would be expected to survive in use. The contemporary Tusayan Black-on-red and Citadel Polychrome types, to the west, were evidently far enough removed in space so that very little of these would be found in the Mesa Verde region.


Plain Gray Body Sherds

No attempt was made, other than in a trial run, to type the 612 plain gray body sherds. Body and base sherds of the plain gray pottery made in the Mesa Verde region are indistinguishable from the body sherds from plain portions of textured vessels. Surface treatment of plain vessels and plain sections of textured vessels appear to have changed very little through time.

Probably many of these sherds are from Mancos Gray or Mummy Lake Gray vessels rather than earlier plain gray types such as Chapin Gray or Moccasin Gray. The major use of these latter types was prior to the occupation of Big Juniper House. Very few black-on-white types of this early period are represented at the site, adding more evidence that the plain gray body sherds came from types later than Chapin Gray or Moccasin Gray.

The sherds, primarily from jars, usually have scraped or smoothed surfaces, and some display a light polish on the exterior. They are unslipped and range from light to dark gray.

Approximately 90 percent of the sherds examined microscopically have crushed rock temper. Temper in several sherds is a combination of rock and sherd, and in a few others it is sand or crushed sandstone.

Ten body sherds can be considered as local gray pottery with decorations on the exterior due to experimentation or method of construction. Four are punctated and five are incised (fig. 33). There is a possibility that these nine sherds are from trade vessels. They are similar to O'Leary Tooled and Honani Tooled, both of which occur in northeastern Arizona (Colton, 1956, Ware 8A, Types 7 and 8). Except for the surface, these sherds do not differ from local pottery. Similar surface characteristics on presumably local utility pottery sherds have been found in Mancos Canyon by Reed (1958, p. 121) and at other Mesa Verde sites. One plain gray base sherd had a coiled basket-impressed exterior (fig. 34), which occurs occasionally on the local black-on-white vessels.

Fig. 33 Surface texturing on gray ware body sherds: punctating, a, b; incising, c—f. (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

Fig. 34 Gray ware base sherd with coiled basket-impressed exterior.

Chapin Gray

Thirteen jar rims were classified as Chapin Gray (Abel, 1955, Ware 10A, Type 1). Rims are tapered and straight, belonging to short-necked jars. They are light to dark gray, and the surfaces are unpolished and are either scraped or smoothed. Crushed rock temper was identified in all the sherds.

One bowl sherd with a tapered rim was found, but it was too small to reconstruct the shape. It is possible that the sherd came from an undecorated portion of a Chapin or Piedra Black-on-white bowl or from a later, unslipped black-on-white bowl.

Chapin Gray was made during Basketmaker III and Pueblo I. Abel (1955, ibid.) states that its time range extended from about A.D. 450 to 900, but Rohn (1959, p. 16) suggests dates from about 575 to 900. On the basis of tree-ring dates published for Mesa Verde Basketmaker III sites and from the dates obtained through the work of the Wetherill Mesa Project, the earlier date of 450 has not been substantiated and Rohn's beginning date is undoubtedly more nearly correct.

With few exceptions, Basketmaker III and Pueblo I pottery was not found at Big Juniper House. The time of these Chapin Gray sherds would therefore have had to occur late in the Chapin Gray time span, probably representing a holdover of this type into early Pueblo II (early 900's). We found no earlier sites in the immediate area that could have been the source of these sherds.

Moccasin Gray

Only one definite Moccasin Gray sherd, a jar neck, was found during the excavation (fig. 35k). It was not associated with a floor or other occupation surface. Moccasin Gray is the Pueblo I banded-neck pottery produced from about A.D. 800 to 900 (Abel, 1955, Ware 10A, Type 3). As noted above, no pre-Pueblo II sites have been located in the vicinity of Big Juniper House from which this sherd could have come.

Mancos Gray

Mancos Gray pottery was made in early Pueblo II. The suggested time range is from A.D. 875 to 950, and it appears to be an evolutionary step toward the overall corrugated pottery that began to be made during Pueblo II. A description of this type has been published by Abel (1955, Ware 10A, Type 4).

Six rim sherds and 46 body sherds represent the Mancos Gray sherd collection from Big Juniper House (fig. 35a-j). No whole vessels were found. Most rims are straight or direct and some show slight flaring. Crushed rock temper was found in all of the sherds which were examined microscopically.

Fig. 35 Mancos Gray rim and body sherds, a-j; Moccasin Gray neck sherd, k. (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

Undoubtedly, many of the body sherds are from patterned-corrugated vessels with alternate zones of indented and unindented coils. Mancos Gray is frequently embellished with tooling between the coils, thus creating grooves. Another frequent practice was smoothing the coils, sometimes almost obliterating them.

The primary characteristic distinguishing Mancos Gray from Moccasin Gray is the use of relatively narrow, often overlapping coils applied in a spiral fashion in Mancos Gray, in contrast to relatively wide, concentric coils employed in Moccasin Gray.

Mummy Lake Gray

One restorable jar (fig. 36) and 39 rim sherds (figs. 37 and 38) of Mummy Lake Gray pottery were found at Big Juniper House. This site was one of several excavated by members of the Wetherill Mesa Project that provided information for the recently described pottery type (Rohn and Swannack, 1965).

Fig. 36 Mummy Lake Gray jar; height, 24 cm.

Fig. 37 Mummy Lake Gray rim sherds. The rims are straight to slightly flaring except g, which is sharply everted.

Fig. 38 Mummy Lake Gray rim sherds with exterior and interior views of sherd with mineral-painted "H" on interior.

Mummy Lake Gray jars are plain over the entire surface, except where an unindented coil or fillet forms the rim. Occasionally, parts of the surface show traces of the original coiling. Body shape and rim form generally parallel those of Mancos Corrugated, although Mummy Lake Gray vessels are comparatively small.

The characteristic rim fillet of Mummy Lake Gray was almost obliterated on the restorable jar that was found. Its dimensions are 24 cm. high, 20.8 cm. in maximum diameter, and about 17 cm. in orifice diameter. Its capacity, measured with vermiculite is 4.8 liters (a comparatively large Mummy Lake Gray vessel). All of the rim sherds are from jars, although pitchers are quite common vessel forms. Tempering material is primarily crushed rock. A few sherds are tempered with a combination of crushed rock and sherds and one or two sherds are tempered with sand or crushed sandstone.

One of the sherds has a mineral-painted "H" on the interior, just below the rim (fig. 38 ). This figure is similar to the simple designs painted on the interior of several Mancos Corrugated rim sherds.

Mummy Lake Gray was made from about A.D. 950 to 1200, but its period of abundance was from about 1000 to 1150 (Rohn and Swannack, 1965). The one restorable vessel at Big Juniper House was found on the floor of Kiva B along with Pueblo III vessels—a Mesa Verde Corrugated jar and a McElmo Black-on-white bowl. The jar probably dates from about 1100 to 1130 on the basis of dated charcoal from the kiva.

Corrugated Body Sherds

No attempt was made to separate the 4,771 indented corrugated body sherds into Mancos Corrugated and Mesa Verde Corrugated types. As a group, Mesa Verde Corrugated shows less variation in surface treatment than Mancos Corrugated, but there is no sharp division between them. Most of these body sherds may be identified as Mancos Corrugated because of the preponderance of rim sherds and restorable vessels of this type.

One hundred and fifty-two sherds are patterned-corrugated (fig. 39), a more common trait in Mancos Corrugated than in Mesa Verde Corrugated. The only form represented by the corrugated body sherds are jars. Pitchers have been found in other sites.

Fig. 39 Mancos Corrugated sherds showing typical forms of patterning; rims sherds, a, b, e, and body sherds, c, d. (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

Mancos Corrugated

This is the major utility type represented at Big Juniper House (figs. 39-43; table 3), and, with one exception, only jar forms were found. We recovered 13 whole or partially restorable jars and 595 rim sherds.

Mancos Corrugated was separated from Mesa Verde Corrugated primarily by the degree of rim eversion. In general, Mancos Corrugated is characterized by a hemispherical base and nearly vertical sidewalls leading to a wide mouth. The diameter of the mouth is nearly equal to the maximum diameter of the vessel.

Mancos Corrugated rims at Big Juniper House were both slightly to medium flaring (314) and direct or straight (281). The greater number of flaring rims may be another indication of the transitional nature of this site from Pueblo II to Pueblo III.

Nine of the rim sherds and one complete jar are patterned-corrugated. The usual form of patterning is a zone or zones of unindented coils alternating with indented coil areas (fig. 39a-c). Less common forms are scored or wiped zones through indented coiling (figs. 39d and e, and 40b), alternating directions of ridges created by alinements of the coil indentations, or areas of definite ridges alternating with areas of indented coiling with no definite ridge arrangement (fig. 40i).

Fig. 40 Mancos Corrugated jars. Height of a is 38 cm. (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

(click to view Table 3 in a separate window)

Other than patterning, jar exteriors are sometimes embellished with appliques, usually in the form of conical nodes applied just below the rim (fig. 41a-c). A rare applique used on Mancos Corrugated is the spiral (fig. 41d); this motif is almost always associated with Mesa Verde Corrugated. Several sherds have a painted line or lines on the interior surface just below the rim (fig. 42).

Fig. 41 Applique forms of Mancos Corrugated jar sherds; rim sherds, a-c, and unusual neck sherd, d.

Fig. 42 Mancos Corrugated jar sherds: exteriors, above; interiors of same sherds showing simple mineral-painted designs, below. (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

Most Mancos Corrugated vessels have corrugations over the exterior surface from the base to just below the rim, which is formed by an unindented coil or fillet. However, some have plain bases or are plain up to the shoulder (figs. 40f and h, and 43a). These characteristics may represent a developmental step from the neck banding of Pueblo I (Moccasin Gray) and unindented coil-neck vessels of early Pueblo II (Mancos Gray) to the overall corrugated pottery of Pueblo II and Pueblo III. Evidence from other sites on Wetherill Mesa supports this hypothesis (Hayes, 1964, pp. 48-49). Previously, Reed (1958, p. 117) and Morris (1939, p. 186) believed this feature to be an evolutionary step in the development toward the entire surface being corrugated. Big Juniper House lacked the necessary stratigraphy in both the trash and the house to corroborate this hypothesis. Published dates for Mancos Corrugated are from about A.D. 900 to 1200 (Abel, 1955, Ware 10A, Type 5).

Fig. 43 Mancos Corrugated sherds (not to scale). (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

One bowl rim was found having a corrugated exterior and a roughly scraped but unslipped and unpolished interior (fig. 43c). It does not appear to have been intended for a painted design on the interior surface. The small size and rather poor execution may indicate an individual's first effort in pottery making. Its exterior surface and interior characteristics are, however, within the range of Mancos Corrugated.

Tempering material in the majority of sherds examined was crushed rock. A few specimens were tempered with sand, crushed sandstone, or a combination of crushed rock and sherds.

Capacities of the restored Mancos Corrugated jars range from 2.8 to 21.8 liters, and average about 9.6 liters.

Mesa Verde Corrugated

Three restorable jars and 17 rim sherds were classified as Mesa Verde Corrugated (table 3). The typical Mesa Verde Corrugated jar is egg-shaped with an inward sloping neck and a sharply everted rim. Mouth diameter is usually much smaller in proportion to the largest diameter of the jar than in Mancos Corrugated. The three jars found at Big Juniper House are more spherical than egg-shaped and may indicate that a spherical shape was more commonly made during the early part of the Mesa Verde Corrugated time range.

One of the three vessels, a large jar, is unusual in having indented coiling on the neck area only, with the rest of the body scraped to a plain surface (fig. 44, left). Another jar is unusually small (fig. 44, right).

Fig. 44 Mesa Verde Corrugated jars. Heights of jars are 18.4 cm. (top) and 29.5 cm. (bottom).

The relatively few Mesa Verde Corrugated sherds and vessels suggest that this culinary type was just beginning to be made at Big Juniper House near the end of its occupation. Abel's dates (1955, Ware 10A, Type 6) for its manufacture are from about A.D. 1200 to 1300. Rohn (1959, p. 21) dates it from about 1100 to 1300. The evidence from Big Juniper House would tend to support Rohn's earlier beginning date.

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Last Updated: 16-Jan-2007