Breaking Ground at the Shepherd Site

By Shanna Diederichs, Supervisory Archaeologist

In June, adult participants in Crow Canyon excavation programs began testing at the Shepherd site as part of the Center’s continuing research into the early Pueblo occupation of the central Mesa Verde region (see the Basketmaker Communities Project).

The Shepherd site
Archaeology Research Program excavator Scott Evans looks on as Crow Canyon Supervisory Archaeologist Grant Coffey investigates a unit at the Shepherd site.

Located in the eastern part of Indian Camp Ranch, the site was first recorded by Jo Berger, one of the original directors of the Crow Canyon School. It was redocumented in 1991 by Woods Canyon Archaeological Consultants and is now owned by Hal Shepherd, president of the Indian Camp Ranch Homeowners Association Board of Directors.

Though earlier researchers used artifacts visible on the modern ground surface to date the Shepherd site to the Basketmaker III period (A.D. 500–750), recent preliminary investigations by Crow Canyon suggest that the site might also have a later component. Specifically, a rubble mound at the west end of the site was observed to contain numerous rocks, some of which had been deliberately shaped. These characteristics suggest that the mound might be the remnants of a masonry “field house.” Field houses were small, one- or two-room structures located away from habitation sites and close to agricultural fields. They allowed people to spend several days away from their residences to tend to their crops, and they make their first appearance in the archaeological record during the Pueblo I period (A.D. 750–900). More than 80 sites dating to the Pueblo I period or later have been recorded in the project area ([Honeycutt and Fetterman] 1991), in addition to the 107 known or suspected Basketmaker III sites. Thus, it is possible that this part of the Shepherd site was used by other Pueblo farmers after the initial Basketmaker occupation.

Electrical resistivity image
It takes a trained eye to discern what information can be obtained from this electrical resistivity image of the Shepherd site. The black areas indicate anomalies.

Also visible on the ground surface are 11 burned rock concentrations. The relatively low density of rocks and the small size of the individual stones suggest that the concentrations are the remains of storage structures and/or roasting pits, both of which are typical features at Basketmaker III habitation sites. However, an electrical-resistivity survey conducted this spring failed to reveal any large, buried, two-chambered pithouses, which we would expect at a long-term habitation site. Instead, the survey revealed three anomalies in the vicinity of the rock scatters that could indicate the locations of single-chambered pit structures. We tested one of these with soil augers, and the results suggest that the buried structures are small and shallow—and more suitable for storage or periodic habitation than for permanent or long-term residence.

So how does the Shepherd site fit into the larger Basketmaker community that is the focus of our research? If there really are no permanent habitation structures, the site might have been a place used by the whole community, but for less formal activities than those conducted in the great kiva at the Dillard site—for example, the gathering and roasting of pinyon nuts by multiple families year after year. We’re hoping that the upcoming test excavations will reveal clues—artifacts, plant remains, architecture, and dating evidence—that will help us better understand this intriguing site. Stay tuned!

Reference Cited
[Honeycutt, L., and J. Fetterman]
    1991   Indian Camp Ranch at Cortez: Archaeology at Work, Preserving the Anasazi Legacy for the Future. Indian Camp Ranch Report, no. 1. Archie and Mary Hanson, Templeton, California.

 History Colorado and NSF logosHistory Colorado and NSF logos

The Basketmaker Communities Project is supported in part by National Science Foundation Grant No. 1144918 and the StateHistorical Fund (a program of History Colorado, the Colorado Historical Society).

Minds Opened, Lives Changed!

Emilio Santiago

Intern Emilio Santiago weighs stones from the roof of the great kiva at the Dillard site.

Thanks to your support, so far this summer almost 600 participants have either toured our excavation sites as part of a day tour or have excavated with us during a program for school groups, teens, or adults.

Crow Canyon also provided internships to Toby Austin, Nikki Berkebile, Cherise Bunn, Anna Dempsey, Kelsey Reese, Emilio Santiago, Jonathan Schwartz, Megan Smith, and Michelle Turner to further their archaeology careers.

Have you donated lately? Donate online; call 800.422.8975, ext. 141, or 970.564.4341; or e-mail us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to support Crow Canyon’s life-changing work!

instagram_badge_resize f facebook twitter-bird-white-on-blue LinkedIn YouTube Logo Pinterest