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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


by Kristin A. Kuckelman

In this chapter, I address the means by which the villagers of Yellow Jacket Pueblo (Site 5MT5) obtained the necessities of life such as water, food, shelter, fuel, and raw materials for tools. Evidence of subsistence practices at Yellow Jacket includes the remains of plants, animals, structures, tools, and pottery. As is typical of prehistoric Pueblo peoples studied elsewhere in this region, the occupants of Yellow Jacket Pueblo exploited a wide variety of materials for survival. Here, I draw on information presented in several other chapters in this publication—specifically, "Artifacts," "Archaeobotanical Remains," and "Faunal Remains"—to further our understanding of the villagers' use of the resources in the surrounding environment. I also present inferences about the management of ancient water resources and the use of stone in construction at the village.

Basic physiographic and geographic descriptions of the site are contained in The Yellow Jacket Pueblo Database under the heading "Site-Wide Data." A great deal of additional information has previously been published on various aspects of the environment of the Yellow Jacket area, including soils (Brown 1975*1; Stevenson 1984*1), geography (Yunker 2001*1), geology (Brown 1975*1; Stevenson 1984*1; Yunker 2001*1), lithic resources (Arakawa 2000*1), climate (Adams and Petersen 1999*1:Tables 2-2, 2-3, 2-4; Brown 1975*1; Lange et al. 1986*1; Stevenson 1984*1), plants (Brown 1975*1; Cater 1989*1; Stevenson 1984*1), animals (Brown 1975*1; Cater 1989*1), and historic uses of the area (Connolly 1996*1; Lange et al. 1986*1).

Water Resources

Water is the most essential of all subsistence resources. A reliable and abundant water supply would have been necessary for the founding and survival of a village the size of Yellow Jacket, for the village housed an estimated 1,360 residents during its population peak (see "Population Estimates"). Water would have been necessary for drinking, cooking, pottery making, washing, and building construction and also could have been used for irrigating gardens and crops. Although the climate is semiarid—the Yellow Jacket area now receives an average of 41 cm (16 in) of precipitation annually—the ancient villagers had ready access to multiple seep springs in the two drainages that form the east, west, and south edges of the site. One additional spring on the canyon rim was enclosed by the great tower complex (Architectural Block 1200) late in the occupation of the village.

In historic times, these springs were some of the most dependable in the area and were relied upon by early settlers (Connolly 1996*1:10). The main Yellow Jacket spring at the east edge of the site was reputed to have the "best" water in the area and was a well-known watering hole for travelers on the Spanish Trail (Connolly 1996*1:10). In the late 1800s, this spring was also used as a watering stop by a stage line that ran between Dolores, Colorado, and Monticello, Utah (Lange et al. 1986*1:1). These springs would have been crucial for the survival of the ancient village at Yellow Jacket, and the productivity of these water sources could well have established an upper limit to the size of the village.

Water-control features were built to slow runoff and water from the seep spring enclosed by the great tower complex. A series of one definite and three possible dams spanned a shallow drainage bisecting this complex (see paragraph 36 in "Architecture") and served to slow the flow of water from the uplands into the canyon. In addition, a reservoir might have been formed by a north-south-trending berm of earth and stone located at the west edge of a large depression (Block 2000; see Database Map 263). The function of this possible dam and the associated depression could not be confirmed from our limited testing. The characteristics of the depression and dam are similar to other features in the region that have been interpreted as reservoirs (Wilshusen et al. 1997*1), but no water collected in this depression at any time during our three seasons at the site, which included some very wet, spring weather and summer thundershowers. Our testing revealed that the sediment within the depression contains artifacts down to bedrock; thus, bedrock was exposed within at least some portion of the depression during the occupation of the village and would have improved the ability of this feature to collect and hold water. Alternatively, the area of the depression and exposed bedrock might have been a plaza (see Ferguson and Rohn [1986*1:129] and paragraph 165 in "Artifacts," this publication), with the berm at the west edge serving to complete the enclosure of this public space.

Building Stone

Yellow Jacket Pueblo was built of local sandstone that appears to have been brought out of the adjacent canyons and draws. Many of the stones had been shaped to form more-regular blocks, and some faces had been pecked, presumably for aesthetic reasons. I estimate that 103,000 stones were used in the construction of the 195 standard-size kivas at this site (including stones used in pilasters but not in deflectors or ventilation systems). This estimate assumes an average bench-face-to-bench-face diameter of 3.6 m, a bench height of 1 m, an upper-lining-wall height of 50 cm, and a bench width of 30 cm. Using information from our test excavation of kivas in the great tower complex, I also derived an average number of stones per square meter for each of these types of walls. It was not possible to estimate the number of stones used to construct the 600 to 1,200 rooms at the site, because of the great variability in both the size of the rooms and the masonry techniques used (for example, double-stone vs. double-stone-with-core); however, a very rough guess of the total number of stones used for construction at Yellow Jacket Pueblo would be between 500,000 and 1 million. The labor required to collect and transport this many stones from nearby talus slopes and canyon bottoms would have been nothing less than monumental; the additional time required for rough shaping, dressing, and laying this many stones would have been substantial as well. Under circumstances roughly similar to those at Yellow Jacket, Varien (1984*1) estimated that 52 stones could be gathered and transported per hour per person; if this estimate is accurate, it would have taken one person working eight hours per day between 3.3 and 6.6 years to collect and transport the number of stones used in the structures at Yellow Jacket. The removal of this many stones from the canyon almost certainly would have been noticeable visually, although it is difficult to say whether any adverse effects on the environment would have resulted.

Plant Resources

Near the village, a wide variety of wild plants would have been available on the uplands and talus slopes and in the canyon bottoms. Numerous species grow in the area today, and most were also available in ancient times. The primary vegetation on the site today is sagebrush. Other vegetation in the vicinity of the site includes pinyon and juniper trees, ponderosa pine, Gambel oak, chokecherry, serviceberry, rabbitbrush, globemallow, sego lily, ricegrass, scarlet gilia, tansymustard, lupine, broad-leafed yucca, willow, cottonwood, gooseberry, mullein, fern, yarrow, and a variety of cacti.

Plant remains found during our testing indicate that many plants were used by the ancient residents of Yellow Jacket Pueblo (see "Archaeobotanical Remains"). Wild plants used for food include the seeds of cheno-ams and various parts of groundcherry, yucca, purslane, bulrush, ricegrass, and hedgehog cactus. Juniper, sagebrush, pine, oak, serviceberry, rabbitbrush, Mormon tea, cottonwood/willow, wolfberry, cliff-rose, saltbush, and chokecherry/rose were used for fuel. Specimens collected during our testing indicate that juniper was the wood most commonly used for constructing roofs. Other construction woods found include sagebrush, pinyon pine, ponderosa pine, and Douglas fir. Although ponderosa pine has been identified in the vicinity of Yellow Jacket Pueblo (Stevenson 1984*1:Table 1), this species is rare in the area today, and the timbers represented by the specimens collected during our testing might have been brought to the site from a substantial distance. Yellow Jacket is too low in elevation for Douglas fir to grow (Adams and Petersen 1999*1:Figure 2-5). The nearest stands of this species are in the Dolores River canyon, approximately 8 km northeast of the site, so this wood might also have been transported a significant distance for use in construction at the village.

Recent research on methods of kiva-roof construction (Hovezak 1992*1:68) indicate that between 96 and 192 timbers were needed to roof one standard-size, six-pilaster kiva. If this is correct, roof construction for the 195 standard-size kivas at Yellow Jacket Pueblo would have required between 18,720 and 37,440 beams. The amount of labor required to procure and transport this many beams is daunting by any measure, and the impact on the landscape would have been significant. Also, the above estimate does not include timbers used for the roofs of the estimated 600 to 1,200 rooms constructed in the village. Although it is likely that some beams were salvaged from abandoned structures in the dispersed community and within the village itself, most beams would have been newly harvested, especially during the building surge in the late A.D. 1100s and early 1200s.

The remains of domesticated plants were also found during our testing and indicate that the villagers at Yellow Jacket Pueblo grew and ate maize, beans, and squash, the domesticated crops typical for this culture and time. The presence of maize shank and stem parts in several locations at the site indicates that maize fields were near the village (see paragraph 55 in "Archaeobotanical Remains"). To the north, west, and east of the site today are cultivated fields in which alfalfa, wheat, and pinto beans are grown (some dryland, some irrigated). Historically, these areas were covered with sagebrush and scattered stands of pinyon and juniper trees before they were cleared for cultivation. The soils are deep, well-drained loess that would have been good for the practice of ancient horticulture. Crops would have prospered, given an adequate amount of moisture and a sufficiently long growing season, neither of which could be taken for granted on this high (2072 m), semiarid plateau. According to Adams and Petersen (1999*1:49), the Four Corners region in general is "near the northern and upper elevational limits of where rainfall farming of maize can take place"; it is believed that such was the case during the Pueblo occupation as well.

Animal Resources

Animals provided the villagers at Yellow Jacket Pueblo with many subsistence necessities, including meat, hides, sinew, bones, antlers, feathers, and eggs. These materials would have been used for food, tools, weapons, blankets, clothing, and ritual objects. Animals observed today in the Yellow Jacket area include lizards, mice, squirrels, chipmunks, ground squirrels, prairie dogs, cottontail rabbits, jackrabbits, foxes, coyotes, mule deer, mountain lions, and a wide variety of birds.

A large number of animals are represented in the assemblage of animal bones collected from the site (see Table 2 in "Faunal Remains"). As is usual for Pueblo II and Pueblo III faunal assemblages in the Mesa Verde region, domestic dogs and turkeys were the only two domesticated animals represented. The bones of turkeys and rabbits are the most numerous in the entire assemblage, as is also typical. The quantity and distribution of bones from these two types of animals at the site suggest that the flesh of these animals was frequently consumed, as were probably turkey eggs. Also typically, artiodactyl (primarily deer, but also pronghorn antelope, elk, and mountain sheep) remains are much less numerous and become progressively more scarce in later deposits, with one exception. More artiodactyl bones were recovered at the great tower complex, which was probably one of the last constructions at the village, than from other architectural blocks, suggesting that this block was either used differently or abandoned differently from other blocks. Increased frequencies of artiodactyl remains at structures that might have served specialized functions or might have been the locations of unusual abandonment activities were also noted at Sand Canyon Pueblo (see "Faunal Remains").

Pottery and Tools

The use of pottery to date the occupational history of the site is discussed in both the "Artifacts" and "Chronology" chapters. Other inferences drawn from pottery data relate to production and trade of pottery vessels. Evidence of pottery production was found in most tested areas of the site (see paragraph 95 in "Artifacts"), indicating that pottery was probably produced in most or all architectural blocks in the village. There are also indications, however, that pottery production might have become more centralized during the A.D. 1200s. Additional possible evidence of specialization was noted in the proportions of artifact types in different architectural blocks at the site; it is possible that residents in peripherally located blocks tended to specialize in certain tasks more than did residents of centrally located blocks (see paragraph 168 in "Artifacts"). These indications of possible economic specialization within the village might have important implications for our understanding of the social and political systems, as well as of the spatial organization, of the village.

The frequency of imported pottery is low in the Yellow Jacket assemblage. It is particularly low in the great tower complex, which might reflect a decrease in pottery importation during the final decades of regional occupation or could indicate that this architectural block was used for some special activity or activities. In addition, sources of imported pottery appear to have shifted through time. Before A.D. 1180, most of the nonlocal vessels came from the western Mesa Verde region, in what is now southeastern Utah. After A.D. 1180, most of the imported pottery came from the Kayenta region, now northeastern Arizona. Ortman (paragraph 119 in "Artifacts") infers that the changes in these frequencies through time might have been dictated less by changing preferences of the villagers than by the level of production of the vessels, reflecting changes in population size through time in the regions where the vessels were produced. Most stone tools found at the site were of materials that are available locally. Tools of semilocal and nonlocal raw materials were also found; however, the frequency of these tools appears to have decreased through time in the village. These indications of generally lower levels of trade during the final century of occupation of the region have been documented in assemblages from other sites as well (see paragraph 158 in "Artifacts").

Several types of tools were also fashioned of animal bone and antler, including awls, needles, scrapers, and pressure flakers. There is some evidence that fewer bone tools might have been produced through time in the village; however, it is equally likely that this apparent decline resulted from the removal of numerous bone tools from the great tower complex during excavations by the Museum of Western State College in 1931 (see "Architecture").

Many objects of personal adornment—pendants, beads, and tubes—were found at Yellow Jacket Pueblo. Most of these objects were made from raw materials available locally. These objects were found in virtually every architectural block tested, and most were in secondary refuse. Like the frequency of imported items, the frequency of ornaments appears to have decreased through time.


The Yellow Jacket villagers made extensive use of resources available in their natural environment for food, building materials, fuel, and tools. In addition to using many wild plants and animals, they raised crops and kept domesticated turkeys. Yellow Jacket Pueblo is located in the Monument/McElmo drainage unit, which has high agricultural and foraging potential (Adams and Petersen 1999*1:Figure 2-1, Table 2-7). The proximity of water was undoubtedly a key factor in the impressive size and longevity of this village. The collection of enormous numbers of stones and timbers for use in construction must have noticeably altered the surrounding landscape. The artifact assemblage from the site indicates that, through time, trade decreased, the production of pottery might have become more centralized, and occupants of peripheral blocks might have performed more specialized tasks than did occupants of central blocks. The subsistence data for Yellow Jacket Pueblo thus lend insights into many aspects of the lives and cultural systems of the villagers and also raise many additional questions, especially regarding changes in resource use through time, that offer intriguing avenues for future research at the site.

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