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Chapter 1


by Kristin A. Kuckelman


Intensive excavations at Sand Canyon Pueblo (Site 5MT765) were conducted by the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, a not-for-profit research and education institution in southwestern Colorado. Crow Canyon archaeologists, with the assistance of thousands of lay participants enrolled in Crow Canyon education programs, excavated selected areas of the site from 1984 through 1989 and from 1991 through 1993. These investigations were part of a larger project—the Sand Canyon Archaeological Project—that included many and various field and analytic studies whose geographic focus was the Sand Canyon locality (Figure 1) (Lipe 1992*3:2), a 200-km2 study area in the McElmo drainage unit of the northern San Juan area (Eddy et al. 1984*1). The Sand Canyon Archaeological Project, which began in 1983 and ended in 1993, was a case study of Pueblo III (A.D. 1150–1300) settlement in what is now referred to as the central Mesa Verde region of southwestern Colorado (Figure 2). Goals of the Sand Canyon Archaeological Project included understanding Pueblo community organization in the locality, reconstructing the cultural and environmental conditions in the years leading up to the depopulation of the region in the late thirteenth century, and placing the Pueblo III occupation and depopulation of the locality in broader cultural and theoretical contexts (Lipe 1992*1; see also Chapter 2, this volume).


As part of the project, Crow Canyon archaeologists and research associates conducted a variety of extensive investigations designed to broaden understanding of the ancient Pueblo communities of the canyons and rolling uplands west of Mesa Verde National Park. Important components of the project included intensive excavations at Castle Rock Pueblo (Kuckelman 2000*1) and the Green Lizard site (Huber 1993*1), as well as limited test excavations at 13 smaller sites in the locality as part of the Site Testing Program (Varien 1999*7). Also associated with this project were large-scale archaeological surveys (Adler 1990*1, 1992*3), an oral history project (Connolly 1990*1, 1992*1), environmental studies (Adams 1992*1, 1999*3; Adams and Bowyer 2002*2), research on the climate and agricultural potential of the area (Dean and Van West 2002*1; Van West 1994*2; Van West and Dean 2000*1), and numerous special artifact studies. Refer to the Sand Canyon Pueblo Bibliography for a more complete listing of publications resulting from studies associated with the Sand Canyon Archaeological Project.


Intensive excavations at Sand Canyon Pueblo itself were the centerpiece of this larger project. Sand Canyon Pueblo, the largest settlement in the Sand Canyon locality, was a vast village that contained an estimated 420 rooms, 90 kivas, 14 towers, an enclosed plaza, a D-shaped bi-wall building, a great kiva, and other structures and features (Database Map 4001) (Bradley 1992*2:79). The village, at an elevation of 6800 ft (2073 m), enclosed a spring and was constructed around the head of a small, unnamed tributary canyon that drains southward into upper Sand Canyon. Most of the structures in the pueblo were built within the arc of a masonry wall that enclosed the village on the west, north, east, and southwest. Masonry structures were built both on the canyon rim and on the slopes below the rim. The pueblo was home to approximately 400 to 600 residents, and evidence indicates that it was constructed and occupied during a single occupation that began in the late A.D. 1240s or early A.D. 1250s and ended during the depopulation of the Mesa Verde region in the late 1200s. The site is on land managed by the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument.


Although contemporaneous with Sand Canyon Pueblo and probably part of that village, Lester's Site (Site 5MT10246) was recorded as a separate site. This site sits on a narrow bench beneath the canyon rim 30 m southwest of Sand Canyon Pueblo (Database Map 4000). It was given a separate site number in 1987 primarily because its structures and deposits had not been included with Sand Canyon Pueblo when the large site was recorded, and also because this cluster of structures is outside the enclosing wall of the village. Crow Canyon archaeologists conducted research at Lester's Site (Kuckelman 1999*3) as part of the Sand Canyon Project Site Testing Program (Varien 1999*7).


Two other clusters of structures and cultural deposits, located southeast along the canyon rim from Sand Canyon Pueblo (Database Map 4000), were originally recorded as part of the village, although Crow Canyon has not excavated at either of these locations. These two areas are spatially discrete from Sand Canyon Pueblo and from each other; therefore, in 2005, they were recorded as Sites 5MT16844 and 5MT16845.


The preparation and entry of data and other information into The Sand Canyon Pueblo Database and the production of the interpretive chapters contained in this online volume occurred between 1994 and 2007 (also see Chapter 2). Much of the descriptive and interpretive material presented in the chapters in this volume was derived from information presented in that database, which is a companion publication to this report. The reader is encouraged to consult this user-friendly resource for additional information, for it contains detailed descriptions and interpretations of study units, including information on features, point-located artifacts, and the dating, use, and abandonment of individual structures. The database also contains more than 300 AutoCAD maps and 2,000 photographs, only a few of which are cited (and thus accessible through links) in these chapters.


This volume comprises nine chapters. The information in this, the introductory chapter, is supplemented by material in the "Background Information" section of The Sand Canyon Pueblo Database. Much of the information that traditionally is presented in the introductory chapter of a printed site report can be found in that section of the database, including an overview of the site, a summary of the history of investigations (also see Chapter 2), a brief description of the physiography of the pueblo and its immediate environs, and field methods specific to the excavations at Sand Canyon Pueblo. Additional descriptive information about the immediate environment of Sand Canyon Pueblo can be found in Chapter 6. A discussion of the climate, topography, geology, soils, flora, and fauna of the greater Sand Canyon locality is available in the introduction to The Sand Canyon Archaeological Project: Site Testing. The current version of The Crow Canyon Archaeological Center Field Manual is also available online.


The second chapter of this volume, "History of Investigations," presents important background information: (1) the larger Sand Canyon Archaeological Project is placed in its historical and regional context; (2) the research design for Sand Canyon Pueblo itself, which was developed and refined over the course of the project, is discussed; (3) a year-by-year summary of research is provided; and (4) the personnel who were involved in the project are identified (see also Acknowledgments). The third chapter, "Settlement Patterns in the McElmo Dome Study Area," places the Sand Canyon project in its cultural context. The fourth chapter—"A Descriptive and Interpretive Summary of Excavations, by Architectural Block"—contains discussions of the sampling strategy used to guide excavations at the site, the construction sequence of each cluster of buildings excavated, the dating of specific building episodes, possible associations between individual structures, the abandonment of structures and kiva suites, and a variety of site-wide topics. Chapter 5, "Faunal Remains," presents descriptive and interpretive information about the entire assemblage of animal bone found at the site. In the sixth chapter—"Archaeobotanical Remains"—numerous topics related to vegetal remains are discussed: (1) the modern environmental setting; (2) the paleoenvironment; (3) analytic results of flotation sampling; (4) construction wood and fuelwood; (5) cordage, basketry, wooden tools, and other worked vegetal artifacts (see also Appendix A); and (6) evidence of changes in subsistence during the occupation of the site. Data and interpretations regarding the human skeletal remains found at the site are reported in Chapter 7. In Chapter 8, "Artifacts," the results of pottery, stone, and bone-tool analysis are presented and interpreted. In the final chapter, "Summary and Conclusions," inferences based on all lines of evidence are presented as a coherent whole, including evidence of the depopulation of the village, although the latter is discussed in more detail in a journal article (Kuckelman 2007*1).


During the course of this 23-year project, numerous publications by various researchers have reported interim results of Crow Canyon's excavations at Sand Canyon Pueblo. These works—too numerous to list here—include book chapters, journal articles, doctoral dissertations, master's theses, interim annual reports, and papers presented at professional meetings; the reader is referred to the Sand Canyon Pueblo Bibliography for a more comprehensive list. As might be expected of any long-term research project for which results are examined and summarized at intervals, some of these earlier publications contain data and interpretations that differ from some of the data and interpretations presented in the chapters of this volume. A data review necessitated by Crow Canyon's decision to convert traditional handwritten field documentation to a digital, computerized format resulted in the discovery and correction of errors and a subsequent rethinking of some aspects of the field record for this site. The most up-to-date, complete, and accurate data were used to write the chapters in this volume, making it the most comprehensive report to date on Sand Canyon Pueblo.


NOTE: Users who wish to cite specific material in this report are encouraged to use paragraph numbers in lieu of page numbers for in-text reference citations.

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