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About This Publication
List of Tables
List of Illustrations
Introduction to the Site
Research Design
Castle Rock Pueblo in a Regional Context
Settlement Organization
Population Estimates
Faunal Remains
Plant Evidence
Rock Art
The Final Days of Castle Rock Pueblo
Oral History
A Native American Perspective

The Final Days of Castle Rock Pueblo

by Kristin A. Kuckelman

The occupation of the village at Castle Rock came to an abrupt and violent end. Sometime after A.D. 1274, probably in the early to mid-1280s, many of the men, women, and children in the village were killed. Human skeletal remains found during excavations at Castle Rock indicate that at least 41 of the estimated 75 to 150 inhabitants died in an attack on the village.1 The remains of some victims lay directly on floors, and others were found in collapsed roofing material inside structures. Some, apparently, had been left on top of the butte. None was formally buried, and several concentrations of human bone included the remains of different individuals mixed together.

Substantial direct physical evidence that the villagers died as a result of violence includes skull fractures and other unhealed bone fractures and injuries that occurred around the time of death. There is also evidence that this was not the first conflict involving residents of the village: numerous bones showed healed wounds.

A small portion of the roof of nearly every kiva in the village had been intentionally burned, either during, or shortly after, the attack. The remains of one person, a robust adult male, were slightly burned, presumably the result of a burning roof having collapsed on top of him. Roofs might have been burned by the attackers as part of a strategic plan, or they might have been burned by survivors as part of a funerary or structure abandonment ritual (Lightfoot 1993*2:298). If survivors burned the roofs, it suggests that they did not intend to stay, or return to, the village.

There is little evidence to indicate the season in which the attack occurred, although the presence of immature grains of Indian rice grass (Stipa hymenoides) in ash from the hearths of Structures 401 (a tower) and 302 (a kiva) suggests that it might have taken place in late spring or early summer. Indian rice grass has been used extensively in historic times and is common in ancient sites in the Southwest (Bohrer 1975*1). However, short- and long-term storage of foodstuffs was common, so the seeds could have ended up in the hearths long after they were collected for food. Refer to "Plant Use Through Time" in "Plant Evidence" for additional discussion.

Relatively few artifacts were found on the excavated portions of the floors of structures. This suggests that many items were removed from structures, either by surviving villagers or by the attackers. Roof beams from the unburned portions of the roofs also appear to have been removed sometime after the habitation of the village ended.

The evidence of conflict indicates that the choice of a defensible location for the village and the construction of defensive buildings were not prompted by imagined threats or groundless fears. As mentioned above, there is evidence to indicate that the Castle Rock villagers had been victims of violence on more than one occasion. I could not date the construction of the most defensive buildings at the site (those on the butte top, butte ledge, and boulder top), because of a lack of adequate tree-ring samples. However, if these structures were built at the same time as the kivas with which they appear to be associated, then butte-top or boulder-top structures might have been built as early as A.D. 1260 or 1261 (see "Chronology"). This could mean that defensive structures were being built almost from the founding of the village.

Castle Rock Pueblo was not the only village to have been built with defensibility as a concern. During the middle to late 1200s, many villages were situated and constructed with defense in mind in the Mesa Verde region (Kenzle 1997*1; Lightfoot and Kuckelman 1994*2, 1995*1; Varien et al. 1996*1; Wilcox and Haas 1994*1), in the neighboring Kayenta region to the southwest (Haas 1990*1; Haas and Creamer 1996*1), and in regions beyond (Wilcox and Haas 1994*1). There is also direct evidence that physical violence occurred during the late Pueblo III period at Sand Canyon Pueblo (Lightfoot and Kuckelman 1994*2, 1995*1) and at several other villages in the region (LeBlanc 1999*1; Martin 1997*1; Morley 1908*1:607; Morris 1939*1:42, 82; Turner and Turner 1999*1). Castle Rock Pueblo, however, provides one of the best-documented cases of violence during the time that Puebloan peoples were migrating from the Mesa Verde region in the late 1200s.

Who were the attackers of Castle Rock Pueblo, and what were their motives? These are difficult questions to answer. Although there is little archaeological evidence of non-Puebloans in the Mesa Verde region during the A.D. 1200s, the presence of a Bull Creek projectile point at Castle Rock suggests contact with people to the west, in southeastern Utah (see "Trade"). One possibility suggested by the presence of this point is that people came from that area to raid, possibly for food. Three rock art figures at Castle Rock also show possible influence from southeastern Utah (see "Rock Art"). Finally, the skulls of two of the victims at Castle Rock had not been flattened from cradleboarding, a nearly omnipresent trait of ancient Puebloans in the northern Southwest, which leaves open the possibility that these two people were not Puebloan.

Evidence of this type is sparse in the Mesa Verde region, however, and it seems unlikely that the scattered population of the territory outside the Mesa Verde region in the A.D. 1200s posed a sufficient threat to this large, established, sedentary farming population to have caused large numbers of Puebloans to move to defensible locations, build defensive structures, and ultimately migrate from the region. As Lipe and Varien (1999*1:341) point out, "nomadic groups large enough to have displaced several thousand Pueblo III occupants . . . would surely have left an archaeological record of their presence." In the absence of more substantial evidence of invaders from outside the region, I think it is likely that the attackers at Castle Rock were Puebloans from within the region. Possibly the violence was an outgrowth of competition for food, water, or both.

But the issue of violence and conflict in the Mesa Verde region in the late 1200s appears to be even more intriguing than this. In searching for the causes of conflict in the northern Southwest, it must be pointed out that conflict and warfare were not restricted to the Southwest during the late 1200s and 1300s. Indeed, there is evidence that conflict and violence increased across much of the North American continent during this time, from the Northwest Coast (e.g., Maschner 1997*1:275), across the northern plains (Gregg et al. 1981*1) and the Midwest (Milner et al. 1991*1), to at least as far south as northern Mexico (Ravesloot 1988*1). Thus, it appears to me that the ultimate causes of conflict and unrest during this period of prehistory cannot be found by examining the evidence at Castle Rock Pueblo alone; they must be found by studying conditions and catalysts across the entire continent.

1 Analysis results for the human skeletal remains at Castle Rock Pueblo are not included in this publication. The complexities of the analysis and subsequent interpretations require treatment that is beyond the scope of this publication. An article is currently being written for submission to a professional journal.

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