Montezuma Castle Archeology - Part 1: Excavations


The CWA research work here began on December 18, 1933, with 10 men (working a 30-hour week) and myself as supervisor. Sallie Pierce began work as laboratory technician on January 8. On January 22 the crew was cut to a 15-hour week, and the force reduced by half, although the same number of men worked in staggered shifts. The last laborers were laid off on April 4, Laboratory Technician Sallie Pierce and myself being carried one more week, to April 12, to finish up the work and report.

In the excavation, since it was known that most of the rooms to be cleaned occupied the upper level of the sloping fill, our method of attack was to begin digging at the top, throwing the refuse over the steep slope, instead of starting first at the terrace level and digging against the slope on grade. This method of starting above and working outward at first might seem wasteful of time and labor but was the only means of properly excavating the rooms. Our method enabled us to work a consistent level downward, completely outlining the dimensions of a room before actually cleaning the floor, without danger of undermining structures from below and causing them to cave.

Picks and shovels removed the fill above floors until the fallen ceilings were approached, usually a foot or so above the actual base floor; from this point care necessitated use of hoe, miner's pick, trowel, and whiskbroom, and this task of cleaning the debris immediately adjacent to the floor devolved upon the supervisor.

After the room outlines had been sufficiently indicated, the crew was switched from the upper level, and started in with wheelbarrows attacking the fill from its base on the terrace level. The dirt and rock was hauled by this means less than 100 feet to a deep arroyo which needed filling, while all suitable building rock obtained from fallen walls was stacked up in the event of possible future need. Observations were made during the progress of this removal for possible advantageous use of stratigraphic tests, but as all of the sloping fill seemed to be made up of fallen wall and ceiling material, it was impossible to secure a satisfactory chronology of stratum depositions. Test trenches in the terrace level, below the slope, provided the only stratigraphic work feasibly possible.

On excavation of graves, pick and shovel work removed fill from above until the capping slabs were reached, or until the interiors of chambers were just touched; from this point down the trowel, whisk broom, and pointer completed the work. All dirt from grave chambers which showed possibilities of beads and small objects was screened. Burials and artifacts appertaining thereto were outlined and left in position until photographs could be taken, and then removed to the laboratory for final cleaning and repair.

Materials used in the restoration of Room 5, (which was removed a few years later. Ed.) which consisted of walls and ceiling, were few. We used rocks from the fallen material which had seen previous use in walls; and our mud, which was made by mixing with water the unscreened lime dirt and small amount of river sand which was found with it in the fill, appeared, after restoration, to be the identical material the cliff dwellers used to build their houses, harmonizing perfectly, even in color.

Timbering and small growth for ceiling support was taken from local growth in the river bottoms, consisting of Sycamore and Willow—the same materials the builders used in Montezuma Castle. We were unable to obtain the Sacaton Grass which was then used for one ceiling layer, as it no longer grows in this section.

Skilled workmen were not used in the restoration work; they would have been unsatisfactory, for their work would have been too careful and exact. The construction work of the cliff dwellers was no better than the intelligently guided hands of an unskilled worker of today.

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Last Updated: 04-Mar-2008
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Western National Parks Association