Big Juniper House of Mesa Verde, Colorado
Wetherill Mesa Studies
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Chapter 5
bone artifacts and textile remains

Some 116 artifacts of bird and mammal bone were collected from Big Juniper House, but very little in the way of textile remains was discovered in our excavations.


Thirty artifacts, or 26 percent of the sample, were made from bird bones and 86 artifacts, or 74 percent, were made from mammal bones (table 10). The high proportion of mammal bone artifacts reflects a general pre-late Pueblo III picture at Mesa Verde. In late Pueblo III sites, the number of bird and mammal bone artifacts are more nearly equal. The increase in bird bones reflects a greater utilization of the turkey, which was used almost to the exclusion of other species of birds for bone artifacts and perishable artifacts employing feathers and down. The strong probability that the turkey was also used for food is evident from the number of turkey refuse bones found at the site. The reason for the predominance of turkey bones among the bird bone artifacts and refuse is that the turkey was domesticated (or at least held in captivity) by the prehistoric inhabitants.


Awls are the most common bone artifacts. These will be described on the basis of such features as bird or mammal, shape, size, and the bone or bone fragment from which they were made. Awls account for 72, or approximately 62 percent, of the bone artifacts.

Bird bone awls. Of the 17 bird bone awls in the collection, 16 were made of turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) and 1 of golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos). Three types have been recognized.

Type 1 consists of whole shafts that retain an unmodified or largely unmodified joint at one end; the other end is cut and pointed (fig. 143b-e and g). The five awls are made from turkey bone: distal end of left tibiotarsus (2) (fig. 143d and e); proximal end of right ulna (fig. 143g); distal end of right radius (fig. 143b); and proximal end of right tarsometatarsus (fig. 143c). Lengths ranged from 7.4 to 9.7 cm., and averaged 8.5 cm. The maximum diameter below the joint ranged from 0.4 to 1.8 cm., and averaged 0.9 cm.

Fig. 143. Bird bone awls. Type 1, b-e, g; Type 2, f, h; and Type 3, a. Length of a is 8.7 cm. (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

Grinding is most noticeable at the point. Four specimens are also polished on the shaft, the fine striations being readily observable around the circumference. One awl is too weathered to tell whether it had been polished.

Type 2 includes whole shaft segments with no joint remaining; one end is cut and pointed, the other it cut square and usually ground. The three specimens are made of three separate elements of turkey bone: left tibiotarsus, with the proximal head removed and the distal end pointed (fig. 143h); right ulna, with the proximal head removed and the distal end pointed (fig. 143f); and central section of a right tibiotarsus, with the proximal head removed and the distal end pointed (not illustrated). Lengths are: 8.8, 12.5+, and 16.6+ cm., and maximum diameters are 1.2, 1.3, and 1.4 cm., respectively. (The + signifies that a small segment, usually at the tip, is missing.) The three specimens were ground at the point and polished on the shaft.

Type 3 awls are shaft splinters, with no joint or part of a joint remaining. The two specimens of this type are an eyed awl or bodkin (fig. 143a), and a possible bi-pointed awl (not illustrated). The latter is not absolutely certain because part of one end is missing, but the shaft tapers from both sides and if projected it would come to a point. Both artifacts are turkey tibiotarsi with lengths of 8.7+ and 4.5+ cm. and maximum diameters of 0.8 and 0.9 cm., respectively.

The eyed awl was ground and polished over its entire surface, and the hole was biconically drilled. The other tool was similarly polished, and was ground at the point.

Six fragments of whole shaft awls, not assignable to types, and one fragmentary splinter awl were found. One of the six whole shaft fragments was the left radius of a golden eagle; the other five were turkey bones: tibio-tarsus (3), tarsometatarsus (1), and radius (1). The splinter awl fragment was made from a long bone, probably a tibiotarsus of turkey.

Mammal bone awls. Fifty-five or 64 percent of the mammal bone artifacts were classified as awls. In contrast to the bird bone awls, only one awl of mammal bone is a whole shaft awl; the remainder are split shaft awls and one rib awl. These awls are much more varied in shape, form, and size than the bird bone specimens. Also, unlike the bird bone awls, they show, in many cases, transverse grooves near the point. These normally shallow grooves have been interpreted as the result of use in straightening cords or thongs by drawing them between the implement and the thumb or fingers (Morris, 1919, p. 39, fig. 23b), or in weaving or sewing (Hodge, 1920, pp. 102, 104, and pls. XVI, XVII).

Grooves occur in most of the mammal bone awl types I have set up and therefore are not considered as a separate type. Instead, their frequencies will be noted under the type descriptions below.

Type 1 includes whole shafts that retain an unmodified or largely unmodified joint at one end; the other end is cut and pointed (like Type 1 bird bone awls). The single awl of this type (fig. 144) was made from the left radius of a bobcat (Lynx rufus) with the distal head present. There are several faint, shallow grooves near the point, which was dulled by use. The shaft is well polished, and there is also some grinding on the joint. The awl measures 13.0 cm. in length and 1.2 cm. in maximum diameter below the joint.

Fig. 144 Mammal bone awl, Type 1.

Type 2 consists of split shafts retaining a split but unmodified or largely unmodified joint at one end; the other end is pointed. Three subtypes are recognized on the basis of form, size, and the various elements from which they were made.

Six specimens, classed as Subtype 2A, were made from metapodials of mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) (fig. 145). They are relatively long. In each case, the shaft tapers evenly from both sides to a rather flat, daggerlike point. The shaft retains some of the interior cavity in the split surface; the outer surface is polished, and the split surface is both ground and polished. The split joint shows "use-polish" but no grinding. Three awls have grooves (fig. 145a-c) and one has a biconical hole drilled diagonally through the joint (fig. 145c).

Fig. 145 Mammal bone awls, Subtype 2A. Length of f is 15.7 cm. (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

Lengths range from 10.6 to 15.7 cm., and average 12.4 cm. Widths below the joint range from 1.4 to 2.2 cm., and average 1.7 cm. Thicknesses below the joint range from 0.7 to 1.2 cm., and average 1.0 cm.

The six metapodials include right metacarpal 3-4 (2), left metacarpal 3-4 (1), metacarpal 3-4, side unknown (1), right metatarsal 3-4 (1), and metatarsal 3-4, side unknown (1).

The seven mule deer bone awls in the Subtype 2B group are stubby. Five are split metapodials (fig. 146 a, b, d and e), one is the distal end of a left tibia (fig. 146c), and one is a left femur fragment. The tibia awl is slightly ground on the joint; the rest are largely unmodified except for the original splitting. In every case, the shaft is polished. The joint in several instances shows high use polish. One awl is fairly round at the point (fig. 146a); the others are flat in cross section.

Fig. 146 Mammal bone awls, Subtype 2B. Length of a is 7.2 cm. (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

Lengths range from 6.0+ to 8.3 cm., with an average of 6.6 cm. Widths below the joint vary from 1.2 to 3.0 cm., and average 2.1 cm. Thicknesses below the joint range from 0.7 to 1.1 cm., with an average of 0.9 cm. The five metapodial awls are made from the following elements: right metacarpal 3-4 (1); left metacarpal 3-4 (1); and right metatarsal 3-4 (3).

The only awl classified under Subtype 2C (fig. 147) was made from the right radius of a bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis). It is a split-shaft awl with the split section of the proximal head retained and unmodified. It differs from the other Type 2 awls in being the only one not from a mule deer bone and the only awl made from a radius. It is more massive and more irregular in shape than the other awls in the group.

Fig. 147 Mammal bone awl, Subtype 2C.

This awl is 18.1 cm. long and 1.9 cm. in maximum width below the joint. The unsplit surface is highly polished and sections near the point are round and also highly polished. The interior cavity is present for a distance of about 5.8 cm. above the point. There are two grooves on the convex surface and both lie 2.3 and 3.7 cm. above the point.

Type 3 awls include split elements with the joint at one end reduced by grinding to a knobby butt (fig. 148).

Fig. 148 Mammal bone awls, Type 3. Length of e is 18.8 cm.

The eight mammal bone awls of this type were derived from the following species: two mule deer and one mule deer or bighorn (fig. 148d and e); one definite and two probable bighorn (fig. 148a-c); one unknown deer (Odocoileus sp.); and one unknown artiodactyl. The elements from which these awls were made are: metapodial 3-4, side unknown (3; right metatarsal 3-4 (1); metatarsal 3-4, side unknown (2); left metatarsal 3-4 (1); and metacarpal 3-4, side unknown (1).

Five of the awls are long and three are short. The long awls were parts of a probable tool kit in Kiva B (fig. 149). They range in length from 12.6+ to 18.8+ cm., and average 16.6 cm. The widths below the joint range from 0.9 to 1.6 cm., and average 1.3 cm. The fact that these awls were closely similar, were found together, and were unlike any others found at the site suggests that they were made by one person and probably served a special function.

Fig. 149 Kit of bone tools in Kiva B. (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

The three short awls have lengths of 5.5, 7.2, and 8.7 cm., and widths below the point of 0.9, 1.2, and 1.5 cm., respectively. One of these awls has four shallow grooves on the split face which continue onto the unsplit face; an other has two shallow grooves on both faces near the point; and the third has one groove on the unsplit face near the point. These awls, like the five long ones, were found in Kiva B (table 10).

Type 4 consists of shaft splinters that possess no recognizable joint, or a joint so reduced that it retains few distinctive features. These awls are the most numerous in the collection. The type has been divided into three subtypes on the basis of size and regularity of shape.

Awls of Subtype 4A are long and evenly shaped, with round and flat cross sections. The nine awls in this group represent the following mammals: one deer (fig. 150a); one bighorn (fig. 151d); two unknown (fig. 150e); four artiodactyls (fig. 150b-d and f); and one cervid (fig. 151e). The elements from which the awls were made are: metapodial 3-4, side unknown (4); long bone (3); and metatarsal 3-4, side unknown (2). Two of the awls have a biconically drilled hole or "eye" placed near the head (fig. 151d and e).

Fig. 150 Mammal bone awls, Subtype 4A. Length off is 17.4 cm.

Fig. 151 Mammal bone awls, Subtype 4B, a-c, and Subtype 4A, d, e. Length of e is 25 cm.

Generally, the entire surface of these awls was ground and polished to a high gloss. In the awl shown in figure 150e, the very nearly round shaft is polished to a high gloss and the butt is rounded and highly polished.

Two specimens possess grooves (fig. 150a and d). One of them has four shallow grooves on one face near the point and two V-shaped notches on one edge near the butt. The other awl has nine shallow grooves on the two faces near the point.

(click to view Table 10 in a separate window)

Lengths range from 11.9 to 25.0+ cm., and average 15.7 cm.; maximum widths range from 0.6 to 1.9 cm. and average 1.0 cm. The "eyed" specimen shown in figure 151e is the longest awl in the collection.

The nine short, flat awls in the Subtype 4B group are ground and polished all over, but they are somewhat less evenly shaped than those of Subtype 4A. Three are from unknown mammals and six are from artiodactyls. The elements from which the awls were made are: metapodial 3-4, side unknown (6) (figs. 151a and c, and 152b, c and e); long bone (2) (figs. 151b and 152a); and possible rib (1) (fig. 152d).

Fig. 152 Mammal bone awls, Subtype 4B. Length of e is 8.2 cm.

Two awls have a hole drilled near the butt end (fig. 152b and c), and one has a natural perforation through the cancellous tissue (fig. 151a). One specimen has nine shallow grooves on both faces and one edge near the point (fig. 151a), and another has a deep groove on one face and edge (fig. 152a). One awl, constricted and circularly worn near the point, may have been used for reaming (fig. 152c).

Lengths range from 4.9 to 9.6 cm., and average 7.2 cm.; and maximum widths range from 0.8 to 1.6 cm., and average 1.0 cm.

The three awls in the Subtype 4C group (fig. 153) are less regular in shape than the awls of Subtype 4A and Subtype 4B. They are generally flat in section, and the point area is round. The grinding and polishing on these specimens are most clearly visible at the point.

Fig. 153 Mammal bone awls, Subtype 4C. Length of c is 16.6 cm.

The bones were identified as a metapodial 3-4, side unknown, from an unknown artiodactyl (fig. 153a); metatarsal 3-4, side unknown, from a mule deer (fig. 153b); and a right tibia from a large mammal, possibly a cervid (fig. 153c).

Lengths are 7.9, 8.0, and 16.6 cm., and maximum widths are 1.0, 1.2, and 2.0 cm., respectively.

The single awl of Type 5 (fig. 154) is a split rib fragment and is similar in shape and size to the mammal-rib awls found at Pecos Pueblo (Kidder, 1932, p. 217, figs. 180-181). So far as I know, it is the only awl of its kind recovered from Wetherill Mesa. O'Bryan (1950, pl. XXXVC) has illustrated a rib awl from Site 102 on Chapin Mesa, but it is completely different in shape and size from the Big Juniper House specimen and the rib awls described by Kidder.

Fig. 154 Mammal bone awl, Type 5.

The rib fragment is from a large mammal, possibly bison. The exterior (convex) face was split or cut to cancellous tissue. Both faces are ground and the interior face and sides are highly polished. The rounded butt is ground and use-polished except at one broken corner. Nine shallow grooves occur on one side near the butt.

The point is unlike the point on other awls in the collection. The sides, instead of tapering more or less evenly toward the tip, incurve sharply to a narrow projection that tapers to the tip. The projection is rounded on the split face and flat on the intact face. Lengthwise striations on the point indicate that this tool was probably not used for reaming.

Thirteen fragmentary mammal bone awls could not be assigned definitely to any type. Five split shafts with an unmodified or largely unmodified joint at one end are possibly Subtype 2A awls. Four of these are mule deer bones and one is an unknown artiodactyl. The elements are: left metatarsals 3-4 (2); left metacarpal 3-4 (1); metapodial 3-4, side unknown (1); and right tibia (1). Another fragment without a joint may be a Subtype 4B awl. It was made from the long bone of an unknown large mammal.

One probable awl fragment was a midportion of a shaft. It was probably a splinter awl made from an unknown artiodactyl metapodial 3-4, side unknown. It has six grooves in the convex face.

Six tips belong to split-shaft or splinter awls. Five were from unknown species of Artiodactyla and one was from an unknown mammal. The elements from which they were made are: long bone (2) and metapodial 3-4, side unknown (4). Three of the tips have grooves.


Three mammal long-bone artifacts were classified as scrapers. Two are complete (fig. 155), and one is a working end fragment. Three mammal-rib fragments are considered to be possible scrapers (fig. 156).

Fig. 155 Mammal bone scrapers: tibia scraper, a; and femur scraper, b (two views of each). Length of b is 19cm.

Fig. 156 Possible scrapers of mammal bone. Length of a is 21 cm.

Femur scraper. A scraper made from the left femur of an immature mule deer was found in Kiva B, as part of the probable tool kit mentioned previously (fig. 149i). The cancellous bone of the femoral crest was ground smooth and the surfaces of the shaft were polished. The curved working end was worn and use-polished, and the diagonal cut on the anterior was ground and use-polished (fig. 155a, lower). Striations on the long axis indicate the use was forward and backward. The scraper is 19.0 cm. long and 3.3 cm. in diameter below the joint.

This is the only femur scraper found by the Wetherill Mesa Project. The usual scraper of this form is made from a bighorn or mule deer humerus and retains the joint as a grip.

Humerus scraper. This scraper, made from a section of the left humerus of an adult mule deer, is represented by part of the working or leading edge showing striations on the vertical axis. The shaft was polished, and it was worn by use on the cut anterior side. No measurements of it were taken.

Tibia scraper. A scraper was made from the right tibia, minus the epiphysis, of a large immature mule deer (fig. 155b). The split shaft retains part of the distal articular head. Except for the original splitting and some use-polish, the joint is unmodified. The split surface of the shaft is sharply beveled toward the leading edge, and shows extensive use-polish and wear. The unsplit surface has a low bevel, and the leading edge is highly use-polished and worn. The scraper is 8.8 cm. long and 2.8 cm. wide at the joint. The leading edge is 1.1 cm. wide and 0.4 cm. thick. The shaft is 1.3 cm. thick just below the joint.

Possible scrapers. Three mule deer rib artifacts—a left central rib (fig. 156a), a left fourth or fifth rib (fig. 156b), and a right fourth rib (fig. 156c)—were classified as possible scrapers. The ribs are whole; one end is cut and the other is ground.

Two specimens (fig. 156a and c) show cancellous tissue on both edges, probably from use-grinding. One of these is ground from the ground end about two-thirds of the way along the shaft on one edge and about one-fourth of the way on the opposite edge. The other is ground on the edges about a third of the way along both edges and use-polished elsewhere. The surfaces are not modified. They may be side scrapers.

The other specimen (fig. 156b) shows a bevel from both surfaces at one end and wear on one edge (left edge in the figure). The bevel is ground into the cancellous tissue and the edge is worn just into the cancellous tissue. The opposite end has been cut diagonally and ground. There are several striations with no apparent alinement on both surfaces near the beveled end. This is a possible end scraper.

The longest artifact measures 21.0 by 1.8 cm., and is 0.4 to 0.6 cm. thick. The others measure 16.7 by 2.1 cm. and 15.0 by 1.9 cm., and are 0.5 to 0.6 cm. thick.

Knifelike object. The split shaft of the left tibia of a large adult mule deer has been classified as a knifelike object (fig. 157a). One end, cut and worn obliquely, was beveled on both surfaces. The other end was broken or cut and use-polished. The beveled end shows a high degree of wear and use-polish. The split surface and edges and the unsplit surface show some use-polish.

Fig. 157 Knife-like object, a, and problematical objects, b-d, of mammal bone. Length of a is 15.7 cm.

The object is 15.7 cm. long, 2.4 cm. wide, and 0.2 to 0.5 cm. thick. It is somewhat similar to the "skinning tool (?)" from Pecos described and illustrated by Kidder (1932, p. 242 and fig. 202i).

Probable Ornaments

Perforated mammal tibias. Three left and three right tibias of black-tailed jackrabbit (Lepus californicus), found in the fill of Kiva B, belong to a class of artifacts encountered at many sites in the Mesa Verde area. The artifacts are referred to, noncommittally as "perforated mammal tibias." Three of the present specimens are nearly complete (fig. 158); however, the other three are fragmentary.

Fig. 158 Perforated mammal tibia. Length is 13.4 cm.

Perforated mammal tibias exhibit three features. The proximal joint is ground horizontally and cored vertically down to the marrow cavity; the shaft has a small hole drilled into the marrow cavity below the proximal end; the shaft, except for the perforation, and the distal joint are unmodified. In our group, the shaft hole is drilled in the dorsal surface in three cases, the ventral surface in two cases, and in the lateral ridge in one instance. The illustrated specimens range from 12.3 to 13.4 cm. in length and measure about 0.8 cm. in diameter between the joints.

A perforated tibia in the Mesa Verde Museum collections has a knotted piece of yucca cord passing through the shaft perforation and up through the reamed end. Possibly all such artifacts were similarly equipped with cords. There is no telling whether, as has been suggested, they functioned as ornaments or tinklers. But their frequent association with kivas implies some ceremonial purpose (table 10).

Tubular beads. Nine bone beads were found (fig. 159). Seven of them were made of turkey bones, one of a bone from an unidentified species of the order Galliformes (fig. 159c), and one from the left tibia of an unidentified species of rabbit. The bird bone specimens were made from the following elements: left ulna (3); right ulna (1); left radius (2); left tibiotarsus (1); right tibiotarsus (1). The nine beads range from 3.1 to 7.4 cm. and average about 4.9 cm. in length, and vary from 0.6 to 1.2 cm. and average 0.9 cm. in maximum diameter.

Fig. 159 Tubular beads of turkey bone. Length of a is 6.3 cm.

The beads were made of whole shaft sections without retention of joints. The shaft surface is polished and both ends are cut and ground, and usually polished. Three beads show cut marks near one end. The rabbit bone bead is, as far as I know, unique to this area.

Tool Blank

The right metatarsal 3-4 of mule deer shows grooves cut or sawed on the dorsal and ventral surfaces, beginning near the distal foramen and running through the proximal joint. Cut marks just below the dorsal foramen of the distal joint indicate that the ligaments were served before the grooves were made (fig. 160). The specimen measures 23.7 cm. in length and 1.3 to 2.3 cm. in diameter between the joints. Presumably the shaft would have been split and tools would have been fashioned from the sections.

Fig. 160 Tool blank of mammal bone.

Problematical Objects

Several artifacts of bird and mammal bones cannot be placed in the preceding categories.

1. A cervical vertabra of turkey, measuring 3.6 by 2.4 by 1.4 cm., from the floor fill of Kiva A (fig. 161). Modified only by grinding at one end, this object may have been an unusual form of bead. Lyndon L. Hargrave, who has studied bird bone artifacts from many Southwestern sites, has never seen a comparable specimen.

Fig. 161 Problematical object of turkey bone.

2. The right tibiotarsus of a small adult turkey (fig. 162). It measures 16.5 cm. in length and 0.8 to 1.1 cm. in diameter between the joints. Both ends were ground, but there are no other modifications. The purpose of this object, which also came from the floor fill of Kiva A, is unknown.

Fig. 162 Problematical object of turkey bone.

3. A longitudinally split mammal rib with one intact end (fig. 157b). The face shown is polished and the reverse, with some cancellous tissue exposed, is slightly ground. The intact end is bifacially ground to a sharp edge, and the rounded sides are ground or worn smooth. The right side, as shown in the illustration, has three shallow but well-defined grooves along the edge. The sharply constricting sides may indicate that there was a point at this end.

4. A longitudinally split mammal long bone with one partially intact end and contracting sides (fig. 157c). The face shown is ground and partly polished, and the reverse, with considerable cancellous tissue exposed, is ground fairly smooth. This object, like (3), is broken where the sides sharply constrict, presumably to form a long, tapering point.

The two artifacts just described were found in Room 5. They may be fragmentary awl spatulas (Kidder, 1932, p. 222 and fig. 187)

5. A longitudinally split mammal rib with a partly intact pointed end, found in Test Trench 1 (fig. 157d). Both the face shown and the reverse (with cancellous tissue exposed) are partly ground. The rounded sides are ground or worn smooth, and the edge of the pointed end is rounded by grinding or wear except at the very tip, which is bifacially ground and sharp. Worn grooves or notches along both sides suggest that this object may have been a weaving tool.

Fragmentary Artifacts

A number of bone artifacts in the collection were too fragmentary to be classified.

Bird bone. Three incomplete bird bone artifacts include two splinter fragments of turkey tibiotarsi and one whole shaft fragment of the left radius from an unknown species of Galliformes.

Mammal bone. Ten fragmentary artifacts of mammal bone consist of: unknown artiodactyl (3), unknown mammal (2), mule deer (4), and unknown deer (1). Three are split-shaft fragments retaining joints—a right metatarsal 3-4, with the proximal head; a metatarsal 3-4, side unknown, with the distal head; and a metacarpal 3-4, side unknown, with part of the lateral condyle. Six specimens are split-shaft sections or splinters of the following elements: right tibia (1); right metacarpal 3-4 (1); metapodial 3-4, side unknown (1); long bone fragment (2); and right rib (1). The remaining artifact is a section of the right innominate of mule deer.


The only textile remains recovered from Big Juniper House consisted of some burned fragments of matting found with Burial 6 on the floor of Room 8 (ch. 7). The matting was an over 2, under 2 twilled fabric of rush (Scirpus sp.), with the elements measuring 0.4 cm. in width. No selvage sections were present. Burial 6 is probably early Pueblo III, and dates about A.D. 1100.

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Last Updated: 16-Jan-2007