Artifact Gallery - Olla

Large pottery jar with lid. Jar is white with painted black geometric designs.

Ollas are pottery jars used to carry and store water. At Mesa Verde, the closest water source for many people were the springs that seeped through the sandstone cliff faces. For some communities, these seep springs were nearby, but for others, it required a daily walk. Consider the weight of a plastic gallon jug of water or milk today. Now imagine having to carry two of those jugs for say, 30 minutes or an hour each day as you walk back from the store. Luckily for you, a plastic jug is much, much lighter than a pottery jar. A two-gallon olla filled with water weighed about 20 pounds.

Some experts estimate that an Ancestral Pueblo person needed at least three quarts of water each day, more if active in hot weather. So a family of eight (parents, kids, grandparents, perhaps aunts and uncles) would need at least six gallons of water to be carried from the nearest seep spring each day. That’s 60 pounds a day!

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Last updated: May 9, 2020

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