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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

Although Crow Canyon's testing at Yellow Jacket Pueblo (Site 5MT5) resulted in the excavation of only about .04 percent of the entire site area, we succeeded in meeting the primary goals of the project as outlined in paragraph 2 of "Research Design." We created a detailed site map showing surface indications of architecture (Database Map 263), we documented damage to the site that has taken place in historic times (Database Map 267 ), and we generated both architectural and pottery data that allowed us to establish a basic chronological history of the occupation of the village. In this chapter, I briefly summarize and integrate major points presented in selected chapters.

Our pottery data indicate that Yellow Jacket Pueblo was first occupied during the late Pueblo II period, in the middle A.D. 1000s. With little architectural evidence upon which to base an estimate, I infer a small population of fewer than 50 people for the years before A.D. 1100. Between A.D. 1100 and 1140, perhaps half a dozen architectural blocks, housing 70 to 112 people, had been established, and there is evidence of habitation at smaller sites in the surrounding area. It was within this existing, dispersed community that the possible Chacoan great house and the great kiva were probably constructed, an inference based on typical construction dates of A.D. 1075–1135 for other great houses in the region (see "Chronology" and "Population Estimates").

In the Mesa Verde region, the formation of communities and community centers during the late A.D. 1000s and early 1100s was probably linked to the Chaco system. We are still far from understanding what this system was and how it operated, but Lipe and Varien (1999*2:259) state that "the late Pueblo II period [apparently] saw a level of overt representation of social difference and hierarchy not seen either earlier or later in the Pueblo tradition." The construction and juxtaposition of a great house and a great kiva are perhaps the best indicators of changes in social power in this community. Mortuary research at the smaller sites in the Yellow Jacket community has failed to produce additional evidence of institutionalized social hierarchy or clear social inequality (Anderson 1997*1). This was a critically important stage in the history of the Yellow Jacket community, and one we know little about.

Between A.D. 1140 and 1180, during a drought believed to have caused a near-cessation of building construction elsewhere in the region, the population of Yellow Jacket Pueblo appears to have diminished. There is evidence at other sites that this was generally a time of hardship and privation (see Billman et al. 2000*1; Kuckelman et al. 2002*2). I think the population of the village declined during this time to only a few households consisting of fewer than 50 people total.

Beginning around A.D. 1180, construction at Yellow Jacket increased dramatically, and a large village formed. By A.D. 1225, an estimated 850 to 1,360 people inhabited the village. Because this increase is clearly beyond what might be attributable to normal biological growth, many of these people must have migrated to the community. Yellow Jacket Pueblo probably became the largest village, and its associated community the most populous community, in the region (see Mahoney et al. [2000*1:Table 3] for estimated populations of other Pueblo III communities). The population of the village declined somewhat during the final few decades before the depopulation of the region in the late 1200s, but even then, perhaps only nearby Sand Canyon Pueblo was more populous.

Enormous quantities of rock and timber were used to construct the many buildings in the village; these activities, as well as the gathering of wild plant foods and fuelwood, the hunting of game, and the continual growing of crops, would have drastically altered the landscape over the course of the approximately 220-year occupation of the pueblo (see "Subsistence"). The proximity of multiple seep springs was undoubtedly a key factor in the longevity of the village. Indeed, the size of the village might have been limited by the productivity of these springs, as well as by the ability of the existing political system to function effectively with large numbers of people. Adler and Varien (1994*1) found that communities that are not politically stratified usually contain fewer than 1,500 people, although Lekson (1999*1:21) and Kosse (1990*1) place this limit at 2,500 people; the population of Yellow Jacket Pueblo appears to have remained under either threshold. The political, economic, and social implications of as many as 35 architectural blocks being occupied at the same time are immense nonetheless.

There is some indication of specialization within the village. We found evidence of pottery production in most tested areas of the site, but this production might have become centralized into a few architectural blocks during the A.D. 1200s (see "Artifacts"). It is also possible that residents in peripherally located blocks specialized in certain tasks. Several lines of evidence suggest special social, political, or ritual use of the great tower complex. There are thus some possible indications of different types of specialization within the pueblo that might have important implications for the social and political systems, as well as for the spatial organization, of the village. Possible evidence of social or political stratification during the late Pueblo III period has been found at Sand Canyon Pueblo (Lipe 2002*1; Ortman and Bradley 2002*1).

The history of the site as a community center generally follows a community-succession model proposed by other researchers (Adler and Varien 1994*1; Lipe and Ortman 2000*1; Ortman et al. 2000*1; Varien 1999*1; Varien et al. 1996*1), although it also differs from this model in several respects (see "Yellow Jacket Pueblo [Site 5MT5] as Community Center"). The Yellow Jacket community aggregated into the largest ancient village in the region decades earlier than other communities began to aggregate. Various hypotheses have been proposed to account for population aggregation during Pueblo III times in this region. Although we found no direct evidence of the cause of aggregation at Yellow Jacket, it is possible that the formation of this large village was a catalyst that induced the populations of other communities to aggregate. The village also persisted longer than other villages, enduring for multiple generations. Variation in the relative quantities of nonlocal objects between Yellow Jacket, Woods Canyon, and Castle Rock pueblos indicates that there was differing access to trade goods among communities and through time. In general, however, as has been noted for other Pueblo III sites, trade at Yellow Jacket Pueblo appears to have declined during the occupation of the village. The decline in trade could have been related to deteriorating interregional relations or to greater self-sufficiency within the community, or to some combination of the two.

Because the design of our testing resulted in very little excavation of undisturbed structural fills, we learned little about the events surrounding the abandonment of the village. Hurst and Lotrich (1932*1:196) state that during their excavations in the great tower complex in 1931 they found an axe approximately 2 ft inside the ventilator tunnel of every kiva they excavated; from this they inferred that "the axe may have been kept in readiness to meet a possible invader, and, if viewed in this light, may be a possible clue to the reason for the abandonment of the dwelling." The construction of this block around a spring and the compact architectural style of the block suggest defensive protection of a key water source. Thus, there are signs of competition for resources during the time the great tower complex was occupied and possible hints of conflict (see paragraphs 55–58 in "Human Skeletal Remains"), as has been documented at other sites occupied in the late 1200s (Kuckelman 2000*1; Kuckelman et al. 2000*1, 2002*2; Lightfoot and Kuckelman 2001*1).

As a result of Crow Canyon's excavations, we have made significant inroads into understanding this very large and important site, although our testing lasted a scant three field seasons and was strongly conservationist in approach. That is, we excavated the fewest test pits necessary to collect the data we needed to answer our research questions, and when possible, we sampled contexts that had already been disturbed. Our sampling, though restricted, was designed to enable probabilistic projections about the entire site and its occupational history. Our success would not have been possible had our research been restricted to studying surface remains. For example, only with excavation data could we (1) document the depth and nature of cultural deposits and the presence of occupation surfaces, structures, and features that predated the masonry roomblocks; (2) expose structure walls and floors and record construction techniques; (3) estimate the length of occupation of each architectural block by analysis of corrugated-sherd deposition; and (4) document spatial and temporal differences in trade, raw material use, pottery-vessel production, and meal preparation. Thus, we endeavored to collect as much data as possible while destroying a minimal amount of intact deposits.

It would be difficult to overstate the research potential of Yellow Jacket Pueblo; Crow Canyon researchers only scratched the surface of the wealth of information this site contains. Even though there has been a substantial amount of undocumented digging at the site in the past 150 years, few buildings have been disturbed, which makes them a relatively untapped resource for future study. In addition to refining the chronology that we have sketched out in this report, there is great potential in the following areas of research: the use of Chacoan great houses; the development and organization of communities from late Pueblo II through late Pueblo III times; the dating, longevity, and use of great kivas; the existence of Chacoan roads; the function of late Pueblo III canyon-rim complexes; the use of bi-wall structures; the use of towers; the timing and processes of regional depopulation; and the existence and use of plaza areas. Thus, much remains to be learned about this large and influential village and community and about its central role in the late prehistory of the Mesa Verde region.

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