Ancient High-Rises

By Kristin Kuckelman, Research Publications Manager

If, walking across the southwestern Colorado landscape about A.D. 1270, you had approached the settlement of Goodman Point Pueblo, some buildings would have been clearly visible above the one-story-tall stone wall that enclosed the village.

Goodman Point Pueblo mapIt’s likely that your approach would have been noticed by one or more residents scanning the countryside from doorways or peepholes in the upper rooms of multistory structures. Shouted alerts would have quickly relayed the news of your presence to other residents of the village.

Some multistory buildings would have been located within blocks of residential structures; others would have stood out because of their association with special places in the village: the D-shaped bi-wall structure, the four-kiva bi-wall complex, or the great kiva. Had you explored further and ducked into a lower-story room in one of the residential buildings, what might you have seen? Someone grinding maize (corn), cooking, or perhaps fashioning a projectile point?

During Crow Canyon’s fieldwork at Goodman Point Pueblo (2005–2008), we dug excavation pits into 11 multistory structures. Our primary clues to the uses of these rooms consist of artifacts, features, and architecture. The information gathered reveals evidence of activities that took place in these rooms nearly 750 years ago and constitutes some of the best evidence to date of the uses of multistory structures in late Pueblo III villages in the Mesa Verde region. This information is significant because, although archaeologists have proposed a variety of theories for the purpose and uses of these multistory structures, few data exist to support any of those theories.

Goodman Point Pueblo, a large village founded about A.D. 1260 and vacated during the depopulation of the Mesa Verde region about A.D. 1280, was constructed around a canyon-head spring. The settlement was home to an estimated 600 to 800 residents and boasted 13 architectural blocks that contained 114 kivas, several hundred rooms, lengthy sections of village-enclosing walls, a great kiva, a D-shaped bi-wall structure, and a bi-wall complex containing four kivas. During our excavations at this site, we tested middens and structures, including numerous multistory structures, in every architectural block. Some multistory structures were incorporated into residential roomblocks, and others were located in special-use buildings such as the D-shaped bi-wall structure and the four-kiva bi-wall complex west of the great kiva.

At Goodman Point Pueblo, we inferred that a particular structure had been multistory on the basis of the height of the associated rubble mound, the height of the extant walls exposed during excavation, the volume of rubble removed from the structure during excavation, and the presence of multiple strata of collapsed roofing material in the structure fill. The absence of intentionally deposited refuse from the fills of any of the excavated multistory structures at this site suggests that these buildings were still in use when occupation of the village ended. As upper-story floors, roofs, and upper walls collapsed slowly through time, these coursed-masonry buildings formed largely impervious containers for the materials that were left on the floors and roofs during the use of these spaces. The considerable height of the walls, even while collapsing, would have minimized the introduction by natural forces of nonassociated materials. Thus, the materials and features we found in these containers provide crucial new evidence of how the structures were used.

Uses of Lower-Story Rooms in Residential Roomblocks

Our data indicate that lower-story rooms of multistory structures in residential roomblocks were used for a variety of purposes. Pottery fragments and other artifacts recovered from the floors of lower-story rooms suggest that these structures were used to store various types of vessels and tools. Corrugated gray ware jars—used for cooking and food storage—are particularly well-represented, but fragments of white ware bowls, jars, ladles, and one mug were found as well. Other materials associated with the floors of lower-story rooms include mauls, manos, metates, and bone awls, peckingstones, potting clay (some containing temper), unfired vessels, and a shell pendant. The pendant appears to have been fashioned from Conus, a venomous, predatory sea snail; this shell probably originated from the California coast or the Gulf of Mexico. Its presence reflects an extensive trade network that existed either before or during the occupation of Goodman Point Pueblo.

In one lower-story room, we found evidence of metate bins and a large pit that had not held a fire but might have been used for some type of food processing. Wild seeds as well as grains such as maize were probably processed in this room. A different lower-story room contained a corner bin in which several manos and a single-bitted axe had been placed. In yet another, we found ash containing charred maize cobs, a maize kernel, and goosefoot and amaranth seeds. We suspect that in the unexcavated portion of this room thereis a fire pit where long ago a Pueblo resident used the aforementioned ingredients to prepare meals.

Architectural evidence for the use of lower-story rooms includes roof height and the presence and placement of doorways. In one lower-story room, we found the rotted end of a roof beam still seated in its wall socket 61 inches above the bedrock floor. An adult Pueblo man of average height (64 inches) would not have been able to stand upright beneath this roof. The room might have been used mostly by women and children, or primarily for storage. Some lower-story rooms at Sand Canyon Pueblo (a neighboring village a few miles to the west, excavated by Crow Canyon in the late 1980s and early 1990s) were also less than one story tall. For example, the roof of a room in the D-shaped bi-wall structure at Sand Canyon was 51 inches above the floor, and the roofs of two other rooms were less than 39 inches above the floor. It’s clear that some lower-story rooms in both villages were designed to be used for purposes other than domestic activities; perhaps some with very low roofs were concealed storage or hiding areas, or foundations to provide a small amount of elevation for the upper rooms.

The presence and characteristics of doorways also provide evidence of how rooms were used. Even though some lower-story rooms were used for storage, those with exterior doorways were probably not used to store foods such as surplus crops, wild plant foods, or meat. Exterior doorways, unlike roof hatchways, would have been difficult to seal against the dust, rain, snow, and animals that could have spoiled precious food stores. Two lower-story rooms at Goodman Point Pueblo each had a sizable exterior doorway in the south wall. Compared to roof hatchways, exterior doorways did provide better lighting and ventilation for lower-story rooms as well as convenient access to the upper-story rooms and to the courtyard formed by the rooftop of the associated kiva downslope. One lower-story room at Goodman Point Pueblo also had a large doorway in its east wall that allowed mutual access between two rooms.

Uses of Upper-Story Rooms in Residential Roomblocks

Evidence of the uses of upper-story rooms and their rooftops in residential roomblocks consists of materials we recovered in the debris of upper floors and roofs that had collapsed into the lower-story rooms. Activities suggested by these materials include the storage and use of a variety of vessels and tools, meal preparation, pottery production, and defense.

The presence of cores and debitage suggest the production and maintenance of flaked-lithic tools such as bifaces and projectile points within second-story rooms, on upper-story roofs, or both. Other types of tools, such as single-bitted axes, axe/mauls, hammerstones, and peckingstones were either fashioned, used, or stored in these rooms. A large lapstone found in theroof-collapse debris of one room was probably used as a work surface in the associated upper-story room. The presence of manos and metates in collapsed roof debris reflects the processing of plant foods in upper-story rooms oron their roofs; heavy and cumbersome objectssuch as metates were probably not hauled into upper-story rooms or onto rooftops merely to bestored there. Meals were prepared at firepits in upper-story rooms, as revealed by pockets of ash in roof fall that contained the charred remains of numerous types of fuel woods and maize cobs, which were used for fuel as well. Charred food remains such as goosefoot seeds, bulrush achenes, a charred acorn, and small fragments of burned animal bones that were not identifiable to species were also recovered.

Animal bones that were identifiable in debris from upper-story rooms include elements of deer, pronghorn antelope, and bighorn sheep. This is notable because few bones of these animals were recovered from this site as a whole or from other late Pueblo sites across the region. Their presence may reflect the necessity of long-distance hunting parties to obtain animal protein from wild resources after the onset of the Great Drought about A.D. 1276. Some of the pronghorn and deer elements exhibit cut marks, demonstrating that these animals were butchered, and weathering suggests that they were left on rooftops when the village was vacated.

Cooking jars, water jars, kiva jars, bowls, ladles, and mugs were also represented in the debris from upper-story rooms, reflecting the use or storage of these vessels. The presence of potting clay, slip clay, temper material, and tools such as polishing stones and modified sherds indicates that pottery-making materials were stored in at least one upper-story room, and pottery mighthave been produced in upper-story rooms or on their roofs. Remnants of unfired vessels were recovered from three multistory structures and three kivas but from none of the five single-story structures we tested. The presence of these unfired vessels subtly but clearly proclaims that when potters created these vessels, they did not anticipate that the occupation of the village and the region would soon come to an end.

Rooftops and openings in the walls of upper-story rooms would have provided a protected view over the village-enclosing wall of outsiders approaching the village. The use of upper-story rooms in residential roomblocks for defensive purposes is suggested by several lines of evidence, including the presence of numerous axe heads in the fills of the rooms below. Early historic records document the popular use of hafted stone axes as warfare weapons by Pueblo peoples, and the size and shape of these objects are consistent with cranial wounds inflicted in the Mesa Verde region prehistorically. Four axes were found in the fill of a multistory structure strategically located along the north edge of Goodman Point Pueblo, and their locations suggest that they were on the floor or roof of a second-story room, perhaps stored there in readiness for an attack or carried there during a final attack on the settlement.

One multistory building with its associated structures was oddly located; it was positioned just outside the east village-enclosing wall, along the east canyon rim, and might have housed designated sentries. It’s possible that small amounts of burned materials found high in the fills of lower-story rooms resulted from fires ignited on rooftops of multistory structures as signals to allies nearby when the settlement was under attack. Additional evidence of the use of multi-story structures for defense was found in the form of scattered and weathered human remains in the collapsed roofing debris of four multi-story structures at this site; at least three adults and one child perished in upper-story rooms or on their roofs during the attack that ended the occupation of the settlement.

Uses of Multistory Rooms in Special-Use Buildings

Some multistory buildings at Goodman Point Pueblo were not contained within residential roomblocks and were outside the flow of day-to-day domestic life. Some of these structures were two stories tall, and the bi-wall rooms of the D-shaped building were probably three stories in height. The D-shaped building formed a massive, impressive edifice on the canyon rim and would have been the architectural centerpiece of the village.

Our excavations yielded abundant information on the uses of multistory structures within special buildings such as the D-shaped bi-wall building, the four-kiva bi-wall structure near the great kiva, and the multistory structures that encircled the great kiva. Uses of lower-story rooms in these special structures include the storage of tools, vessels, and pottery clay, and the evidence indicates numerous uses for upper-story rooms as well.

The only known doorway into the D-shaped bi-wall building at Goodman Point Pueblo, as well as into the D-shaped bi-wall building at nearby Sand Canyon Pueblo, was located in the west wall of a lower-story bi-wall room near the southwestern corner of the building. Doorways also allowed mutual access between adjacent lower-story bi-wall rooms tested at both sites. If all bi-wall rooms were constructed with inter-room doorways, these rooms would have served, in addition to other uses, as access routes through the building overall. We have no evidence as to whether upper-story rooms were connected by doorways.

Uses of lower-story bi-wall rooms include the storage of pottery clay; use or storage of grinding tools such as manos and metates; meal preparation that resulted in the deposition of eggshells and maize kernels; the production or maintenance of flaked-lithic tools, as indicated by a spent core, lithic shatter, and other flaked-lithic debris; the storage or use of corrugated jars and Mesa Verde Black-on white bowls; and an unknown activity involving turkey remains that resulted in the deposition of nearly 500 gizzard stones in a room peripheral to the great kiva. A layer of yellowish-brown organic residue on the floor of a great kiva peripheral room might be a decomposed layer of turkey droppings. If so, this room might have been used as a turkey roosting house, and at least one wall of that room would presumably have included an exterior doorway.

Our excavations in bi-wall rooms also yielded abundant evidence of the uses of upper-story rooms in these special buildings. The production, maintenance, and storage of flaked-lithic tools is indicated by the presence of projectile points, a drill, and other biface tools, as well as cores and flaked-lithic debris. The storage or use of other tools is reflected in the presence of manos, metates, abraders, peckingstones, mauls, modified sherds, shaped sherds, polishing stones, bone awls, and a heavily used animal bone flesher. The presence of many hundreds of sherds indicates the storage or use of a variety of vessels such as cooking and kiva jars, bowls, mugs, and ladles. Evidence of meal preparation and cooking includes the presence of gizzard stones, eggshell fragments, and ashy firepit debris containing charred seeds of cheno-am, prickly pear, winged pigweed, Portulaca, and groundcherry, as well as bulrush achenes, one bean, one maize kernel, numerous species of fuelwoods and maize cobs, many burned bones of cottontail rabbits, and many burned and spiral-fractured bones of unidentified animals. A few bones of animals represented only sparsely across the site―deer, bobcat, bighorn sheep, and dog or coyote―had also been left in these upper-story rooms.

Specific evidence of special or ritual use of upper-story rooms in special structures includes the presence of the following materials in roof fall debris: the only complete obsidian projectile point found at the site, three hematite cylinder paint stones, a hematite nodule, a pigment concretion, a pigment nodule, a fossil oyster shell, an unusual cobble concretion, a sandstone ball, an abraded sphere made of pottery clay (perhaps from a rattle), and bones from wild birds such as dove, quail, and crane.

That the D-shaped bi-wall building was involved in the attack that ended the occupation of Goodman Point Pueblo was evidenced by remains of a young adult in the lower roof-collapse debris of a bi-wall room. This individual had been struck in the mouth at or near the time of death and then perished in an upper-story room, where the remains later collapsed naturally into the room below.


Our excavations at Goodman Point Pueblo contributed a great deal to our knowledge of the uses of multistory structures in both residential and special buildings during the late Pueblo III period in the northern San Juan region. That some meals had been prepared and cooked in these structures had not been recognized previously, nor had the use of upper-story rooms or their rooftops been recognized as work areas for the grinding of maize or wild plant foods, the production of pottery, or the production and maintenance of flaked-lithic tools. The presence of unfired vessels in these structures indicates use as a storage area for those objects and also implies thatresidents had no plans to emigrate when the vessels were produced. The long-standing theory that upper-story rooms and rooftops were used for defensive purposes is supported by multiple typesof data. Numerousnondomestic artifacts and the remains of a variety of wild birds were associated with upper-level rooms in the D-shaped bi-wall building. The significance of the association of deer, bighorn sheep, and carnivore (bobcat, dog/coyote) elements with special multistory structures remains unclear, but might be related to the necessary shift to a heavier reliance on hunting after the onset of the great drought about A.D. 1276 and shortly before the settlement and the region was permanently depopulated by Pueblo peoples.


 History Colorado and NSF logos

The Goodman Point Archaeological Project was supported by the State Historical Fund (a program of History Colorado, the Colorado Historical Society).

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