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Hovenweep National Monument photo: Hovenweep House


Grass Mesa, a plateau with precipitous sides overlooking the Dolores River, is about 10 miles down the river from Dolores on the right bank of the stream. There remain few signs of former buildings at this place, but very many artifacts, pottery, stone implements, and fragments of well-worn metates occur at various places, some of which are among the best ever seen by the author. This bluff seems to have been the site of a settlement, possibly pre-Puebloan, like that on McElmo Bluff, with rough walls, resorted to for refuge, and later used as a cemetery. It is well adapted for these purposes, its top being almost inaccessible on the river side. There are many other similar sites of Indian settlements farther down the river, but this is one of the most typical. The scenery along the road that follows the banks of the river from Dolores is ever to be remembered on account of high cliffs on each side.


Many artificial reservoirs dating to prehistoric times were observed in the area covered by the author's reconnoissance. These fall into two well-marked types, one form being a circular depression, apparently excavated and sometimes walled up with earth or stones. The other form was not excavated by man, but the sloping surface of rock was surrounded on the lowest level by a bank of earth, forming a dam or retaining wall. Both types of reservoirs are commonly formed near some former center of population, but sometimes occur far from mounds, wherever the surface of the land has a convenient slope and the water can be compounded by a retaining wall. The height of the bank that holds back the water of these prehistoric reservoirs has been increased in some cases by stockmen; the walls of others still remain practically the same height they were when constructed by the aborigines. One of the best examples of the second type of reservoir, the retaining wall of which is shown in plate 32, a, is crossed by the road to Bluff City near the ruins in Holly Canyon, not far from Picket corral. A few miles north of this reservoir, at the edge of the cedars, the road crosses another of these ancient reservoirs, whose retaining bank has been considerably increased in height by stockmen. The ancient reservoir at Bug Mesa covers fully 4 acres, and the reservoir near Goodman Point Ruin is almost as large, and, although somewhat changed from its aboriginal condition, is still used by farmers dwelling in the neighborhood. The latter belongs to the first type; the former to the second. Reservoirs of one or the other type are generally found in the neighborhood of all large heaps of rocks, the so-called mounds that indicate the former existence of pueblos. The reservoir of the Mummy Lake village on the Mesa Verde belongs to the excavated type.


At many places covered by this reconnoissance there were found interesting collections of engraved figures of ancient date cut on bowlders or vertical cliffs. These are generally situated in the neighborhood of ruins, but sometimes exist far from human remains. They generally have geometrical forms, rectangular and spiral predominating. Associated with these occur also representations of human beings, birds, and animals, and figures of bird tracks, human hands, and bear claws. There is a remarkable similarity in all these figures which sometimes occur on the stones composing the masonry of the buildings which indicates they were contemporaneous. They were pecked on the stones with rude stone chisels, but as a rule show no indication of paint. None of these figures could be regarded, without the wildest flights of the imagination, as letters or hieroglyphics, and there is no indication that inscriptions were intended. Their general character, as shown in a cluster (pl. 33), indicates rather clan symbols; in some instances spiral forms were probably made to indicate the presence of water. The incised figures on the walls of buildings were probably decorative in character, the first efforts of primitive man to embellish the walls of his dwellings, an art which reached a very high development in Mexico and Central America. There are, however, indications that these figures were covered with plaster and were therefore invisible, so that we might suppose them to be masons' signs, indicating the clan kinship of those who constructed the walls. Perhaps the largest group of these pictographs occurs on an eroded bowlder near the mouth of the Yellow Jacket Canyon, just below the great promontory separating it from the McElmo, on the surface of which are the remarkable dwellings composed of slabs of stone set on edge. Another large cluster, the members of which are of the same general style as that already mentioned, was seen in Sandstone Canyon, a few miles south of the road from Dolores to Monticello. There are several groups of pictographs in the neighborhood of the large towers else where described. The most noteworthy of these is situated at the head of the south fork of Square Tower Canyon on a vertical cliff below the ruined Tower No. 4. The face of the cliff is very much eroded, and the figures are in places almost illegible. They consist of bird designs, accompanied with figures of snakes, rain clouds, and other designs, portions of which are obliterated and impossible of determination. As a rule, these pictographs resemble very closely those in the cliff-houses of the Mesa Verde and add their evidence of a uniformity of art design in these two regions.

In addition to pictographs cut on the surface of the cliff, we also find in sheltered caves others not incised but with indications of color, showing the former existence of painted figures. Some of these, however, are not ascribed to the Indians who built the towers, but to a later tribe who camped in this region after the house builders had disappeared. They were probably made by wandering bands of Ute Indians, and are not significant in a comparison of the different kinds of buildings described in this article.


The preceding pages deal wholly with the immovable antiqulties, as buildings, reservoirs, and the like. In addition to these evidences of a former population, there should be mentioned likewise the smaller antiquities, as pottery, stone objects, weapons, baskets, fabrics, bone and other implements. No excavation was attempted in the course of the reconnoissance, so that this chapter in the author's report is naturally a very brief one. The few statements which follow are mainly based on local collections, one of which, owned by Mr. Williamson, of the First National Bank of Dolores, is comprehensive. The most suggestive of these minor antiquities are objects of burnt clay or pottery. Which occur generally in piles of debris or accompany human burials. It was the custom of these people, like the cliff-dwellers, to deposit, near the dead, food in bowls and other household utensils, varying in shape, technique, decoration, and color. The most important fact regarding these ceramics is that they belong to the same archaic type as those from the ruins of the Mesa Verde. The predominating colors are white or gray with black figures, within and without, almost universally geometrical in form. There occurs also a relatively large number of corrugated vessels, and those made by using coils of clay, the figures on their exterior being indented with some implement, as a bone, stone, or even with the finger nail. While the majority belong to the black-and-white group, the red ware decorated with black figures is found but comparatively rarely, which is also true of the pottery of the cliff-dwellers. In the large variety of forms of burnt clay objects, the most remarkable in shape is a double water jar, connected by a transverse tube, the ends of which project beyond the opening into the jar, much in the form of an animal with a head at one end, body elongated, terminating in a short tail, the legs not being represented. While the number of unbroken mortuary bowls obtained from this region thus far known is comparatively small, we find in many places large quantities of broken fragments, all of which belong to the varieties of ware above enumerated.

None of the bowls, vases, dippers, or other ceramic objects from the region of the ruins described have that significant feature commonly called the "life line;" the encircling lines are continuous around the vessel, and not broken at one point. The broken line never occurs on archaic pottery like black-and-white ware, and we may accept the hypothesis that the conception which gave rise to it was foreign to the people of the Mesa Verde and adjacent areas. It would be instructive to map out the distribution of this custom which was so prevalent in pottery from the Gila and Little Colorado and its tributaries, and absent in that from ruins on the San Juan and Mimbres. It occurs in ware from certain Rio Grande prehistoric rums, as if it were a connecting link with the ancient culture of the Little Colorado.

Of the stone implements found in this region the most characteristic is the celt called tcamahia which is not found in regions not affected by the San Juan culture. These objects are found from Mesa Verde to the Hopi pueblos. [1] A peculiar form of prehistoric chipped chert implement occurs at Mesa Verde and elsewhere in the area. A flint knife in the Williamson collection at Dolores was purchased from a Ute woman who said it was found on a ruin. She wore it attached to her belt by a buckskin thong fastened to a bead-worked cover.

1The use of these objects as heirlooms in the Antelope altar of the Hopi supports the tradition of the Snake people that their ancestors brought them from the San Juan.

Bone objects were mainly needles, dirks, and bodkins, presenting in the main no essential differences from those repeatedly described, especially by Nordenskiöld in his important memoir on the cliff-dwellers of the Mesa Verde. Objects made of marine shell are rare. The presence of flattened slabs of stone or metates showing on the surface evidences of grinding occur with human bones in many localities, indicating either that a custom still extant among the Pueblos of burying the metates with the dead was observed, or that the burials were made under floors of these long-abandoned houses. It would seem, on the former hypothesis, that these objects were buried with the women, but as the condition of the skeletal remains is poor the sex could not be determined by direct observation.

The unprotected nature of the sites and the condition of the ruins prevented the preservation of fragile articles like baskets and fabrics, which frequently occur in caves, in one or two instances buried under the floors. There is little doubt that excavations in cemeteries of the open-sky ruins would reveal considerable material of this nature, which would probably duplicate that which has been produced from the adjacent cliff-houses. Many parts of wooden beams, mainly the remains of flooring and roofs, were seen still in the walls, but these as a rule were fragmentary. The ends of the timbers still adhering to the walls show that they were cut into shape by stone implements, aided by live embers. They appear to have been split by means of wedges made of stone and often rubbed down smooth with polishing instruments of the same material. The majority of these wooden beams plainly show the action of fire, but no roof was intact. From the size of the logs shown in fragments of beams, it is evident that the roof supports had been brought there from some distance; trees of the magnitude they imply do not now grow in the neighborhood of some of the ruins where these beams occur.


The various objects found in the ruins or on the surface of the ground as a rule are characteristic of a people in the stone-age culture, ignorant of metals, and therefore prehistoric, but here and there on the surface have been picked up iron weapons which belonged to the historic period. The old "Spanish Trail" mentioned in preceding pages was the early highway from Santa Fe, New Mexico, to the Great Salt Lake, and followed approximately an old Indian trail that was probably used by the prehistoric inhabitants or the builders of the towers. Not far from the head of Yellow Jacket Canyon a ranchman discovered on his farm a few years ago the blades of two Spanish iron lance heads or knives, still well preserved, the hilts, however, being destroyed. These objects, now in Mr. Williamson's collection at Dolores, may have belonged to a party of Spanish soldiers who explored this region, but their form, in addition to the material, is so characteristic that no one would assign them to aboriginal manufacture. Fragments of a stirrup of metal, parts of the harness or saddle, also belonging to the Spanish epoch, have also been found. The indications are that these objects are historic, but their owners may have been Indians who obtained them from Europeans. They probably do not antedate the middle of the eighteenth century, when two Catholic fathers, with an escort of soldiers, made their trip of discovery from Santa Fe into what is now Utah. They shed no light on the epoch of the aborigines who constructed the castles and towers considered in this paper.

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