Big Juniper House of Mesa Verde, Colorado
Wetherill Mesa Studies
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Chapter 6
refuse material

Numerous unmodified stone flakes and cores, unworked bird and mammal bones, and burned corncobs were recovered from Big Juniper House. Remains of other food staples thought to have been common at the time the site was occupied, such as beans and squash, were not found. By far the greatest quantity of refuse was recovered from South Trash Mound, and lesser amounts were obtained from kiva and room fills. East Trash Mound, a shallow trash area, yielded very little. Sheet trash occurred near the rooms.

South Trash Mound was excavated by six parallel trenches and one trench intersecting the north edge of the mound (fig. 163). The maximum depth, in the center of the mound near Test Trench 1, was approximately 3 feet and the average depth was about 1.5 feet.

The inhabitants of West House Mound, the architectural unit associated with Kiva A, probably discarded their trash in South Trash Mound, and the people of East House Mound presumably deposited their refuse in East Trash Mound, in Kivas B and C (after they were abandoned), and in the sheet trash area designated Area 12, East, and Test Trench 15 (fig. 5).


A total of 731 unmodified flakes and 36 cores from stratified areas within the site were analyzed by Douglas Osborne (1965) in a comparative study of the chipping debris from excavated sites on Wetherill Mesa representing different time periods. (Approximately equal numbers of flakes and cores, obtained mostly from the unstratified South Trash Mound, were not analyzed.)

It was hoped that the Big Juniper House flake and core collections would show differences correlated with time. Little success was obtained in this regard, evidently because of the churning of the deposits within a short time span. Still, the flake sample as a whole differed significantly from samples from other sites studied by Osborne. The core sample was too small for a comparison with the other sites.

Attributes most clearly showing change with time are color, material, and striking platform—the last probably related to the nature of the material. Flakes and cores from mid-Pueblo II and earlier are generally brown or black, coarse-grained claystones or siltstones with artificial heels, while late Pueblo III flakes are predominantly gray-green, fine-grained cherts with natural heels.

It appears that Big Juniper House, a site occupied principally in late Pueblo II and early Pueblo III, illustrates transitional attributes in regard to the unmodified flakes. Claystones or siltstones and cherts were about equally preferred, and the darker colors are slightly favored over light ones. However, the presence of flakes of light, mottled color in considerable numbers may be a good time marker of late Pueblo II-early Pueblo III unmodified flakes. The artificial heel is slightly more common than the natural heel, but there is not the clear-cut difference usually seen in unmodified flakes from earlier sites.


Bird Bones

Of the 129 unmodified bird bones collected at the site, 119 were turkey, Meleagris gallopavo (table 11). Of the other 10 bones, 5 belonged to a single Scaled Quail, Callipepla squamata, and 5 were not identifiable to species.

Clearly, the turkey was the most important species of bird for the inhabitants of Big Juniper House. The turkey was used almost to the exclusion of other birds for bird bone artifacts (ch. 5) and probably also for food, although I did not find definite evidence of butchering on any of the refuse bones.

(click to view Table 11 in a separate window)

(click to view Table 12 in a separate window)

(click to view Table 13 in a separate window)

Most of the turkey refuse bones came from South Trash Mound and the kiva fills (table 12). A relatively high percentage of these bones came from the subfloor ventilator fill in Kiva A. This provenience also had a disproportionate number of refuse mammal bones (table 13). It is possible that when the subfloor ventilator was filled during the remodeling of Kiva A, the Indians inadvertently scraped up a particularly "rich" part of the trash for fill material. On the other hand, it may be that they had a "ceremonial" purpose in placing parts of animals in this remodeled architectural feature.

Mammal Bones

The 94 unmodified mammal bones, and 3 mammal skeletons found during the excavation represented a much greater variety of species than did the bird bones. Of the 17 groups of mammals identified, black-tailed jack-rabbit (Lepus californicus) was by far the most numerous (table 13).

Although bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) and bobcat (Lynx rufus) are represented in the mammal bone artifacts, these species are missing among the unworked mammal bones. Seemingly, these animals were considered only as sources of raw materials for tools.

We can assume that some of the mammals represented by unworked bones were not related to the Indians' activities. Rock squirrel (Citellus variegatus), wood rat (Neotoma sp.), and cottontail (Sylvilagus sp.) abound in the area today, and these animals could have moved into Big Juniper House shortly after the people left. On the other hand, black-tailed jackrabbit is rare on the mesa today (and probably in the past also), although it is common in the Mancos Canyon to the south of Mesa Verde. It seems likely that this species was hunted both for food and materials for tools (ch. 5).

Skeletons of a cottontail (Sylvilagus sp.) and of a kangaroo rat (Dipodomys ordii) were found on the floor of Kiva B (table 13). I tend to believe that these creatures were not associated with the kiva's use but died there shortly after the kiva was abandoned.

The unworked mammal bones, like the unworked bird bones, showed no definite evidence of butchering. Several of the mammal bones were burned, but whether this was unintentional or the result of roasting is not known.


Seventeen charred corncob fragments were found. The few identifiable specimens include 8-rowed (1), 10-rowed (2), and 12-rowed (2) cobs. These varieties were also discovered at other Wetherill Mesa sites (Cutler and Meyer, 1965).

Also found were several small, polished bits of chert or other stone. They are probably turkey gizzard stones. Similar objects were collected from other sites excavated on Wetherill Mesa.

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Last Updated: 16-Jan-2007