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Chapter V:


On July 2, 1968, Don Morris, an archeologist with the Southwestern Center for Archeology, began supervising another round of stabilization work at Gila Cliff Dwellings. [9] Aided by a crew of ten Navajo laborers, Morris excavated four rooms (36, 37, 38, 39) in Cave 1, where "only a jumble of collapsed masonry indicated architecture." There he uncovered a slab-lined firepit, and beneath the foundations of Rooms 38 and 39, he found sherds and stone artifacts, a distribution that suggested occupation of the site previous to the wall construction.

To better support the sagging north wall in Room 27, Morris dug a trench for a foundation and uncovered another slab-lined hearth as well as an infant burial. Wrapped in cloth embroidered with red and blue decorations and swaddled in two other cloths, the body had been laid on two stone slabs, covered with twill matting, and buried in the floor. Above the floor was 14 cm of cultural debris that contained, among other things, seeds, string, bone beads, and cloth. Beneath the floor, at least along the north wall, was another 50 cm of refuse. In Room 40, which was filled with refuse, Morris found turkey feather cordage and a plaited yucca sandal with lacings. All of the recovered material was sent to the Southwestern Archeological Center.

The stabilization report, which Morris wrote as the project progressed, is the first detailed room-by-room description of the architecture and its condition. After completing the stabilization work and at the request of the superintendent of the expanded Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, Morris conducted an "archeological survey of a circular area, one mile in radius from the Gila Visitor Center, located at the junction of the West Fork and Middle Fork of the Gila River." [10] Assisting this survey were staff from the monument and from the Gila National Forest, including Joe Janes.

Altogether 106 sites were located, 33 of which lay within the boundaries of the monument. Specifically, the survey located eight chipping areas, with one site containing artifacts that resemble Cochise material; 31 pithouse villages that ranged from Georgetown to Three Circle phases; 25 cliff shelters, including three sites (LA 10056, LA 10057, LA 10059) with Apache pottery and another (LA 10048) with what is presumed to be a disturbed Apache burial; 32 masonry units, none of which yielded any sherds of "Tularosa Fillet Rim and no appreciable amounts of Reserve and Tularosa Black-on-White...a startling contrast with the Gila Cliff Dwellings"; three checkdams; five pictograph areas, with no petroglyphs; two wall fragments; and three historic dwellings, including Grudgings' and Huffman's cabins, and another cabin foundation of unknown origin. [11]

Surface collections were made from each of the surveyed sites, and relevant information was recorded about their location, vegetation, architecture and other features, including the degree of vandalism. The LA numbered sites were tagged, and all the sites were plotted on stereo-paired aerial photographs or on sheets of preliminary USGS quadrangles (1:24,000). These records and all of the samplings were sent to the Southwestern Archeological Center.

In the summary of his report, Morris noted the great spread in dates for the monument and its vicinity. These dates ranged from possibly 1000 B.C. to the historic period and corroborated Richert's and Vivian's reconnaissances in the 1950s. Morris also noted the unique nature of ceramics at Gila Cliff Dwellings and of the late ceramics at the TJ Ruin. For the latter site, he suggested a "dominant Mimbres occupation, a hiatus during the Tularosa phase and a limited occupation during the Salado period." [12] In addition, he was interested in settlement patterns and noted two trends: (1) pithouse villages were more common on the north side of the West Fork while Mangus and Mimbres phase sites were more common on the south side, and (2) pithouse villages were located on ridge crests while the later habitations were usually located off the eastern side of crests, on ridges with "appreciable soil."

Before leaving the Gila forks area, Morris helped Superintendent Lukens draft an archeological management plan. Noting the monument's significance as the only unit in the national park system with Mogollon sites, they identified as a major interpretive theme the interaction of the Mogollon with their mountain environment and the evolution of "progressively more successful cultural adaptions." The archeological resources were outlined in the plan, as well, and the brief but dominant nature of the Tularosa occupation at the cliff dwellings was formally recognized. Based on Vivian's recovery of an atlatl fragment, the possibility that an earlier archaic component existed there was also reported—40 years after the Cosgroves' excavation in Cave 6. Regarding the TJ Ruin, an enclosed courtyard was recorded for the first time, as well as the presence of several pit structures that might be ceremonial. Other archeological resources documented the sequence of prehistory and history already in the report of Morris' survey.


On August 16, 1970, visitors to Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument discovered a human skull and skeleton while climbing the designated trail to the ruins. Apparently the skull had been partially exposed by recent rains, and seasonal rangers Ronald and Pamela Everhart performed a salvage excavation of this burial several days later. [13] The burial, a primary inhumation flexed at its hips and knees and laid on its right side, was exhumed, bagged, and sent to Arizona State University, where the remains were identified as those of a robust female, aged 20 to 25 years old and typical of Southwest plateau Pueblo Indians. No artifacts were recovered with the burial. In their report on the salvage operation, the Everharts postulated that the talus slope southwest of the caves may have served as a cemetery. They noted that six other burials had previously been discovered at the cliff dwellings: two adults and four infants. [14]

Anderson, et al.

In 1986, Keith Anderson, Gloria Fenner, Don Morris, George Teague, and Charmion McKusick published The Archeology of Gila Cliff Dwellings, the first systematic report of the ruin that had been in scientific literature for nearly 100 years and that had been a national monument for nearly 80 years. Based on the salvage work and the reconnaissances of Steen, Richert, Campbell, Vivian, and Morris, the purpose of this report was to provide information for interpreting the site to visitors.

In the introduction, Anderson identified two primary components of the cave site: one prior to A.D. 500, based on archaic-style artifacts—including the fragments of Vivian's atlatl—and on heavy smoke-blackening that apparently preceded architecture; and a second of the Tularosa phase, based largely on the ceramic assemblage and supported by tree-ring dates that cluster around the mid-1280s. In addition, Anderson cautiously hedged that a few Mimbres Bold Face and Mimbres Classic sherds might indicate an earlier Mimbres phase occupation of the cave.

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Last Updated: 23-Apr-2001