Tour America's Treasures

An invitation to tour America's historical sites...

Monday, April 23, 2012

Crow Canyon Archaeological Center

View Crow Canyon Archaeological Center in a larger map

Visit our Tour Destination: Colorado page to see the entire tour of the state’s Save America’s Treasures sites.

McElmo black-on-white bowl from Shields Pueblo.
Photo courtesy of Crow Canyon Archaeological Center.

Crow Canyon Archaeological Center
23390 Road K
Cortez, CO

The Treasure:  Artifacts from excavations led by Crow Canyon Archaeological Center at the Yellow Jacket and Shields pueblo sites shed light on the cultures of the ancestral Pueblo people who lived in this region of southwestern Colorado nearly a thousand years ago.

Accessibility:  The collections themselves are stored at the Anasazi Heritage Center, a curation center and museum operated by the Bureau of Land Management, and they are generally not accessible to the public unless on display in an exhibition. The actual Yellow Jacket and Shields archaeological sites are on private property and therefore inaccessible to the public. HOWEVER, the real treat here is the opportunity to participate in archaeological opportunities at Crow Canyon Archaeological Center that allow you to explore the current work of archaeologists in the Mesa Verde region, one of the densest concentrations of well-preserved archaeological sites in the world. Check their website for up-to-date information on their archaeology programs.

Three masonry structures at Shields Pueblo.
Photo courtesy of Crow Canyon Archaeological Center.

Background:  Both the Yellow Jacket and the Shields pueblo sites were home to large communities from approximately 1050 to 1300 A.D. The Shields site shows some evidence of settlement from as early as 775, and older artifacts have been uncovered at Yellow Jacket as well.

The oldest indications of human habitation in the Mesa Verde region are projectile points that date back to the Paleoindian period (circa 10,000 to 5,500 B.C.). There have been people—although often just small isolated communities—in this region ever since. Archaeologists classify the periods of settlement into a number of time periods:  Paleoindian, Archaic (5500-500 B.C.), Basketmaker (500B.C. – 750 A.D.), Pueblo (750-1300 A.D.), Post-Pueblo (extending to the time of European encounters), and Historic.

Mesa Verde black-on-white mug from Yellow Jacket Pueblo.
Photo courtesy of Crow Canyon Archaeological Center.
The Yellow Jacket and Shields sites were homes to settlements of the Pueblo (sometimes called Anasazi) people, who lived in these parts during a time of significant movement and community building throughout the area. In some communities, massive multi-room, multi-story structures called great houses were built. Other buildings called great kivas were roofed structures, usually round and sometimes built into the earth so they were partially underground. Buildings such as these could serve as community centers for large villages and their surrounding farmsteads. Today, the ruins of the villages, sometimes located in picturesque canyons, have come to define the popular image of ancestral Pueblo life.

Sometime near the end of the 1200s, the Pueblo people left these grand sites and migrated to new settlements in Arizona and New Mexico. Other Native American people had always lived in close proximity to the Pueblo Indians. The Utes, the Hopi, and the Navajo continued to live in the Mesa Verde region in Post-Pueblo and Historic times but not usually in the great Pueblo structures that remained largely abandoned.

Partial Mancos black-on-white olla from Shields Pueblo.
Photo courtesy of Crow Canyon Archaeological Center.

Mesa Verde black-on-white kiva jar lid from Yellow Jacket Pueblo.
Photo courtesy of Crow Canyon Archaeological Center.

Notes from the Editor:  I want to go on the “Archaeology Day Tour” offered by Crow Canyon Archaeological Center! It sounds like a superb way of learning about the famous Four Corners area. The Day Tour offers a hands-on introduction to Pueblo history, including visits to a current excavation site and the Center’s lab. There are other tempting programs offered, too, including multi-day opportunities for assisting with field work and artifact analysis.  Summer camps are available for introducing teens to the joys of archaeology.

As befits an institution focused on the study of ancestral Native American cultures, the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center actively engages with the Indians of the region. In 1995, they formed a Native American Advisory Group to advise on issues of research, education, outreach initiatives, and program development. Together they work to treat the land and its history with appropriate respect.

“Our ancestors built these dwellings here, and their spirits still live in these places. That's what makes them so significant. We want to encourage others to preserve these dwellings. We want future generations to come and observe, because our cultural and traditional ways bring the soul nourishment.”
                                                                     Ernest M. Vallo, Sr.
                                                                     Eagle Clan, Pueblo of Acoma

Other Recommended Sites:  The Mesa Verde region is a very popular tourist destination. You can explore the architectural ruins of the ancestral Pueblo people at Mesa Verde National Park, Hovenweep National Monument, and Lowry Pueblo. The Anasazi Heritage Center in nearby Dolores, Colorado is an archaeological museum that explores the prehistory and history of the area’s Native American cultures.

Above-ground kiva at Yellow Jacket Pueblo
showing hearth and floor features.
Photo courtesy of Crow Canyon Archaeological Center.

Tour America's History Itinerary
Monday’s destination:  Clyfford Still Museum

© 2012 Lee Price

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