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About This Publication
List of Tables
List of Illustrations
Research Design
Population Estimates
Faunal Remains
Archaeobotanical Remains
Human Skeletal Remains
Rock Art
Yellow Jacket Pueblo as Community Center

Population Estimates

by Kristin A. Kuckelman

Estimating population size at archaeological sites provides important insight into the development and organization of economic, sociopolitical, and ritual systems among prehistoric peoples. Determining the timing of increases and decreases in village populations allows archaeologists to infer changes in regional population demographics through time. Researchers have developed numerous methods of estimating population from archaeological remains (Cook 1972*1; Hassan 1981*1), including estimates based on floor area (LeBlanc 1971*1; Naroll 1962*1), number of households (Kuckelman 2000*4; Lightfoot 1994*1), number of rooms (Adler 1990*5; Hill 1970*1), number of kivas (Kuckelman 2000*4; Rohn 1989*1), number of artifacts (Cook 1972*1:11–12; Hassan 1981*1:78–79), amount of food refuse (Cook 1972*1), area of roomblock rubble on the modern ground surface (Adler 1990*5; Schlanger 1987*1), hearth size (Ciolek-Torrello and Reid 1974*1), site size (Hack 1942*1), and number of human burials or bones (Cook 1972*1). For any specific site, the success of these various estimation methods depends on the quality and types of data available. Past estimates of the population of Yellow Jacket Pueblo (Site 5MT5) range from a low of 1,200 to 1,500 people (Rohn 1983*1:Table 1) up to a high of 2,700 people (Ferguson and Rohn 1986*1:126).

Crow Canyon's testing at this site, which occupies nearly 100 acres, was limited to mapping the entire site and excavating 112 test pits with a total area of only 167 m2. Thus, many of the above-mentioned methods could not be used to estimate the population size of Yellow Jacket Pueblo with any reasonable degree of accuracy. In this chapter I estimate how many people lived at the pueblo throughout its occupational history, using the number of ordinary-size kivas (195) as a proxy for the number of households in the village. Lightfoot (1994*1:148) has estimated the size of households in ancient pueblos to have averaged between five and eight people, and I use these numbers in the estimates that follow.

Our investigations indicate that the occupation of Yellow Jacket Pueblo spanned approximately 220 years. The lengthy occupation complicates the process of estimating the momentary resident population. It is difficult to determine with any precision how many people resided in the village at particular points in time, because we have few tree-ring dates, we have artifact data only for the architectural blocks that we tested (21 of the 40 known residential blocks), and we are unable to accurately determine how many structures stood abandoned at any specific point in time. In this chapter, I use the best information available to estimate the population of Yellow Jacket for each of the six time intervals for which Ortman, on the basis of his probabilistic pottery-design study, could establish site occupancy: A.D. 1060–1100, 1100–1140, 1140–1180, 1180–1225, 1225–1260, and 1260–1280 (see "Chronology" and "Artifacts").

As detailed in the "Chronology" chapter, our data indicate that occupation of the site probably began during the late Pueblo II period, in the mid–A.D. 1000s. There is little stratigraphic or architectural evidence of habitation before A.D. 1100; however, Ortman's pottery-design data show some, albeit a low, probability that people were residing in the areas of Architectural Blocks 500 and 2600 sometime between A.D. 1060 and 1100. We have little architectural evidence by which to estimate the number of people who might have inhabited the site during this early period. Stratigraphic evidence indicates that the roomblocks visible on the modern ground surface in Blocks 500 and 2600 were probably not built before 1100, and during excavation we found evidence of only one structure (Structure 704) that might have been constructed during the A.D. 1060–1100 period. Thus, before A.D. 1100, a few households, probably totaling fewer than 50 people, might have established residency at the site, but this estimate is based mostly on guesswork. The probable great kiva (Architectural Block 1800) and the possible Chacoan great house (Architectural Block 1900) might have been constructed in the late A.D. 1000s; this inference is based on typical construction dates of A.D. 1075–1135 for Chacoan great houses in the region. (See "Architecture," paragraph 15, for why I believe Block 1900 could be a great house; refer to paragraph 9 in "Chronology" for dating arguments.) Habitation is also known to have been established before A.D. 1100 at smaller sites in the vicinity of Yellow Jacket Pueblo (see "Yellow Jacket Pueblo (Site 5MT5) as Community Center").

If not constructed in the late A.D. 1000s, the great house and the great kiva at Yellow Jacket Pueblo were almost certainly constructed by 1140. Of the portions of buildings exposed during Crow Canyon's excavations, only Structures 704 and 2607 appear to have been constructed before A.D. 1140. However, the pottery-design data indicate a reasonable probability that residence had been established in the vicinities of Blocks 100, 500, 700, 2400, 2600, 3200, and 3300 by that time. People might have lived in post-and-adobe structures (the remains of which are now buried), or in early masonry structures that were later dismantled, or in untested portions of the visible masonry roomblocks. If two households, averaging five to eight people apiece, had been established in each of these residential architectural areas, the population of the site would have been approximately 70 to 112 people by A.D. 1140, not including any residents of the possible Chacoan great house.

There is evidence to indicate that the A.D. 1130–1180 period was a time of severe drought in the Mesa Verde region (Lipe and Varien 1999*2; Petersen 1988*1; Van West 1994*2; Van West and Dean 2000*1), and construction and pottery data for this period are sparse for the region as a whole. Although we could find no clear stratigraphic evidence of an occupational hiatus at Yellow Jacket Pueblo, Ortman's pottery-design data suggest that some areas of the village might have been abandoned during the A.D. 1140–1180 period. According to Ortman, there is a reasonable probability that people were residing in the areas of Blocks 500 and 700 during this time, but a much lower probability that anyone was living in the previously occupied areas of Blocks 100, 2400, and 3300 (see paragraph 71 in "Chronology"). Thus, the population might have declined to a few households in a few areas of the site, resulting in a total population of perhaps fewer than 50 people. The Chaco system also declined during this time; it is not known whether the possible Chacoan great house at Yellow Jacket Pueblo continued to be used during this period.

Architectural and stratigraphic data indicate that a great deal of masonry roomblock construction occurred after A.D. 1180 at Yellow Jacket Pueblo. In addition, the pottery-design data indicate that substantial amounts of pottery were deposited in most tested architectural blocks between A.D. 1180 and 1225, suggesting that most of the roomblocks visible on the modern ground surface were constructed during that time. Perhaps only the construction of Architectural Block 1200 had not begun by A.D. 1225. The pottery-design data suggest that Blocks 500 and 3200 might have been abandoned by this time, and the latter appears never to have been reinhabited.

In the tested portion of the site, the evidence suggests that as many as 115 kivas could have been inhabited in the 45-year span from A.D. 1180 to 1225. At five to eight people per kiva, the population of the tested portion of the site could have been as high as 575 to 920 people. If most of the kiva suites represented by the estimated 55 ordinary-size kivas in the untested portions of the site were also occupied at this time, an additional 275 to 440 people would have resided in those areas of the village, producing a village total of perhaps 850 to 1,360 people.

Between A.D. 1225 and 1260 most blocks continued to be inhabited, according to the pottery-design data. Blocks 500 and 3200 were probably still uninhabited, and Block 700 might also have been abandoned by this time. Construction of Block 1200 (the great tower complex) might have begun by the end of this span. Thus, the population of the village appears to have remained about the same or to have declined slightly, compared with the preceding period.

The pottery-design data suggest that between A.D. 1260 and 1280 the population of the village remained fairly high, until regional depopulation by the end of that span. Block 500 might have been reoccupied for a time during this period. The data also indicate that Block 1200 could well have been the latest architectural block in the village to have been abandoned. In any case, it is likely that by about A.D. 1280 no one was living at Yellow Jacket Pueblo.

I have, admittedly, pushed the limits of our small database in my attempt to reconstruct the growth and decline of the population of Yellow Jacket Pueblo through its approximately 220-year history of occupation. In summary, residence appears to have begun with a few households in the middle A.D. 1000s and increased to perhaps 100 people, coinciding with the construction of what is believed to be a Chacoan great house and a great kiva, by 1140. The population probably declined to about one-half of its former level during the middle 1100s. A building boom commenced in the late 1100s that could have pushed the village population to between 850 and 1,360 people by A.D. 1225. The population appears to have remained fairly stable, or to have declined slightly, during the 1200s, until regional depopulation left the village uninhabited in the late A.D. 1200s.

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