Montezuma Castle Archeology - Part 1: Excavations


The Verde Valley has received less consideration in view of its archeological possibilities than perhaps any other well-defined region in the Southwest. From the late 1880's until the summer of 1932 no archeological work which was careful enough to be designated as such had been done, with the exception of four survey reports, which were on surface studies and did not cover any excavation activities. Prior to that time, in the days of Indian troubles, no scientific work was done, although pot-hunting was indulged in extensively by the soldiers and few settlers.

The first survey, that reported by Cosmos Mindeleff,1 was an exhaustive review of the architectural characteristics of ruins from Camp Verde south to the Salt River, covering only those sites along and near the river terrace. He gave detailed surface description of construction, location, and size of the ruins, with much careful mapping and plotting. He divided prehistoric remains in the Valley into five groups, which follow:

a. Stone villages in bottom lands.
b. Stone villages in defensive sites.
c. Cavate lodges.
d. Boulder-marked sites.
e. Irrigation ditches and works.

1. Mindeleff, 1896.

J. W. Fewkes,2 in 1895, conducted his first expedition to the Verde region in search of museum material for the Smithsonian Institution, although very little actual excavation was done, this little being in the nature of cleaning trash on the floors of two large cliff-dwelling ruins. His work was confined chiefly to the Red Rock country, 25 miles north west of Montezuma Castle. He describes in great detail the two cliff ruins of Palatki and Honanki, with attendant artifact material, but confines his work more to cataloging and sketching than to drawing conclusions.

2. Fewkes, 1898, pp. 536-76.

Fewkes' second visit to the Verde, in 1906, resulted in a superficial investigation of ruins in the upper section of the Verde, in which he described and mapped a great number of ruined dwellings and fortresses on Walnut Creek, a tributary to the Verde River which heads in the mountains west of Chino Valley.3

3. Fewkes, 1952, pp. 191-213.

Mention should here be made of Dr. Edgar A. Mearns, who, while not an archeologist by profession, was possessed of a keen and intelligent interest in the subject. Stationed at the army post of Camp Verde in 1884, he visited the nearby Montezuma Castle, and in 1886 caused the debris to be carefully cleaned from the floors of this structure. In an article which he wrote he described the artifacts taken from the dwelling, and presented a careful ground plan of the building.4 This plan has been of interest in checking the condition of the building of today as compared with that of years ago.

4. Mearns, 1890.

H. S. Gladwin, in 1930, conducted a survey in the Verde, attacking it from the angle of surface sherd investigation, in the endeavor to determine the relationship, if any, of the Verde aborigines to the people who made Red-on-buff ware in the Gila Valley.5 To Mindeleff's division of prehistoric remains he added the following:

a. Cliff dwellings.
b. Small-house groups.
e. Fortresses.
d. Rubbish mounds.
e. Sherd areas. (Probable camp cites, without structures.)
f. Rock shelters.

5. Gladwin, 1930(a).

This division was not followed up as an architectural study, but as somewhat of a guide to the sherd charts he constructed.

Gladwin's conclusions were quite tentative, and held that a considerable culture complex existed in the Verde Valley. The ceramic evidences of at least four different groups of peoples were recovered. The chronology of these occupations could not be positively decided from surface work. The diffusion of pottery types from other regions which affected this area indicated the Verde Valley to have been a strong trade center for Little Colorado and Gila wares, or a center of great imitation of the styles of contiguous peoples. Difficulties in determining pastes of locally-made and traded pieces prevented positive conclusions on this score.

In the summer of 1932, under the direction of Dr. Byron Cummings, director of the State Museum, Tucson, Arizona, the King's Ranch ruin in Chino Valley, 60 miles west of Montezuma Castle, was excavated, Edward H. Spicer, in charge. A 12-room pueblo structure was found overlying the ruins of much earlier pit house habitations. This ruin was considered to be a site of manufacture of Prescott Black-on-gray pottery. A very crude decorated type, it was made, without change in style, throughout the period of occupation at this site (from pit house times until Pueblo III). Spicer considered the people to have developed a normal pueblo culture, but, paradoxically, to have been very backward in pottery development, and to have depended for quality wares almost entirely on trade pieces from the north and south. (Six tree-ring dates from Room 6 at this site indicate that the pueblo was built in 1028 and extensively repaired about 1055 or 1060 A. D.6

6. Baldwin, 1939.

In the winter of 1933 and the spring of 1934, a large ruin 20 miles northwest of Montezuma Castle, known as Tuzigoot, was excavated by Spicer and L. R. Caywood.7 The pueblo had quite a long period of developmental occupation, extending through the Classic Period of the community-type pueblos. In common with the Chino Valley people 40 miles west the inhabitants developed a fairly advanced culture, but appear to have traded in most of their quality decorated wares from the Little Colorado and San Juan regions. Two timbers from a roof in this ruin gave the date of 1200 A. D.

7. Caywood and Spicer, 1935.

Six miles northeast of Montezuma Castle, on the I. M. Jackson ranch, a large hilltop pueblo was excavated in the 1920's by the owner. As no data are available on this work, the excavation is of slight value as a reference. The pueblo belongs to the late period of latest occupancy in the Verde Valley, and shows great abundance of northern types of decorated pottery.

In 1932-33, the writer made a surface investigation of ruins in the Verde drainage,8 in which he visited and charted, in addition to those covered in previous survey reports, a great many sites, chiefly in the region east of the river terrace margins between Clear Creek and Cottonwood Canyons, southeast of Camp Verde. Sherd collections were made from all these sites, and percentages of type occurrences estimated. A pit house site on the land of the Calkins Ranch, 5 miles east of Camp Verde, was partially excavated, and was found to contain specimens of trade ware of pure Colonial Red-on-buff.

8. Jackson, n. d.

Such tentative conclusions as were drawn pointed to a strong Hohokam or Lower Gila influence in the older sites of the Verde Valley, with the influence growing progressively stronger farther south, weaker to the north. At about the time of the advent of Colonial Hohokam Red-on-buff from the Lower Gila, it is believed, northern influences commenced definitely to come in also, and that as time passed, Little Colorado pottery types almost completely dominated Verde Valley decorated ware in design and form. Eventually, the Verde peoples must have drifted north during the Pueblo IV period, and finally population units fused again to help found the villages Which are occupied today as modern Indian pueblos.

<<< Previous <<< Contents>>> Next >>>

Last Updated: 04-Mar-2008
Copyrighted by Southwestern Monuments Association
Western National Parks Association