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Archaeology of the Stevenson Area

By Mark D. Mitchell

The Stevenson area of 5MT1 consists of a late Basketmaker III component located on a broad, low ridge on the north side of Yellow Jacket Canyon, about 600 meters southwest of Yellow Jacket Pueblo (5MT5). The occupation is represented by four pitstructures, 28 semi-subterranean pit rooms, a ramada, seven burials and two small extramural features. These features are arranged into two groups. On the west end of the site, a southwest-facing arc of pit rooms encloses a small plaza that contains a large pitstructure with an antechamber. On the east end of the site, a similar arc of pit rooms faces southeast, creating a plaza containing three pitstructures.

Like those known from other Basketmaker III hamlets in Mesa Verde region, the pitstructures of the Stevenson area vary significantly in form and size (Wilshusen 1999a:177-178Wilshusen, Richard H.
1999a Basketmaker III (A.D. 500-750). In Colorado Prehistory: A Context for Southern Colorado Drainage Basin, pp. 166-195, edited by William D. Lipe, Mark D. Varien, and Richard H. Wilshusen. Colorado Council of Professional Archaeologists, Denver.
). The largest of them (Pitstructure 3) is among the largest known in the region, while the smallest is barely one-quarter as large. Their depths and the layout of their interior features are equally variable. The associated pit rooms are also varied, ranging from shallow, rectangular rooms containing a suite of domestic features to deep, oval or circular rooms lacking floor features. Both adobe and post and adobe construction styles were used to construct the above-grade walls of the pit rooms.

Stratigraphic data indicate that the Stevenson area was occupied for one or perhaps two generations. The lack of extensive or deep midden deposits; the absence of feature superpositioning; and the lack of evidence for remodeling or reconstruction all indicate that the occupation of the site was relatively brief. The lack of domestic debris in the fill of the pitstructures and the uniformity of the associated ceramic assemblages indicate that the site's principal structures were occupied either simultaneously or in quick succession.

Tree-ring dates and ceramic cross-dates indicate that the Stevenson area was occupied between about A.D. 675 and 700. Although earlier, non-cutting dates also are available, there are no stratigraphic or ceramic data to suggest that they accurately reflect the construction dates of the associated structures. This chronological interpretation differs from that offered by Wheat (n.d.a.Wheat, Joe Ben
n.d.a. The Architecture of the Stevenson Site. Ms. on file, University of Colorado Museum, Boulder
), who argues that the Stevenson area was first occupied early in the sixth century and abandoned early in the eighth century.

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History of Research

Joe Ben Wheat's long association with the Yellow Jacket locality began with a serendipitous contact in the fall of 1953. Through an acquaintance and correspondence, Wheat was indirectly introduced to Montezuma County farmer H. B. "Hod" Stevenson, who that fall had uncovered a burned structure and a burial while preparing a new field for planting (Mobley-Tanaka 1997aMobley-Tanaka, Jeanette L.
1997a The History and Prehistory of Yellow Jacket. Southwestern Lore 63(1):1-5.
). Stevenson had sent some pottery to the Museum for inspection, and when Wheat discovered that it dated to the Basketmaker III period he made an arrangement with Stevenson to conduct excavations. At the time, little was known about the Basketmaker III occupation of the Mesa Verde area and Wheat had developed an interest in early farming communities while conducting dissertation research in the Mogollon region of southern New Mexico.

Wheat, along with his wife Pat and several University of Colorado students, spent four days on the site in May 1954. This initial effort focused on Pitstructure 1 and two nearby burials, one of which had originally been discovered by Stevenson in 1953. The results were encouraging, and he and Pat returned for a two-week campaign the following year. The 1955 work investigated two more burials and a series of small semi-subterranean structures making up Roomblock 1.

In 1956, Joe Ben and Pat brought one student, Jerry Bair, with them for a seven-week field season. Much of the season was devoted to the excavation of the very large Pitstructure 3 and to the continuation of work in Roomblock 1 that had begun in 1955. During the last half of the 1956 season, Pat excavated a second arc of semi-subterranean structures (Roomblock 2); two additional burials also were excavated. In 1957, the Wheat's expanded their operation to include four students and a cook. Over the course of five weeks the crew completed work in the Stevenson area and began work on the Porter area. It the Stevenson area, excavation was focused on a large pitstructure (Pitstructure 2) and on two nearby pit rooms.

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Available Documentation

A complete bibliography listing the published and unpublished documents describing the archaeology of 5MT1 can be found in the introduction to this report. The documents of primary interest relating specifically to the Stevenson area include Wheat (1955aWheat, Joe Ben
1955a MT 1, A Basketmaker III Site Near Yellow Jacket, Colorado (A Progress Report). Southwestern Lore 21(2):18 26.
, n.d.a.Wheat, Joe Ben
n.d.a. The Architecture of the Stevenson Site. Ms. on file, University of Colorado Museum, Boulder.
). Secondary sources include Anderson (1977Anderson, M.J
1997 Mortuary Practices of the Yellow Jacket Anasazi. Southwestern Lore 63(1): 1-5.
), Ellison (1997Ellison, John
1997 A Study of Projectile Points' Possible Function as Drilling Implements. Southwestern Lore (63)1:36-42.
), Ellwood (1978Ellwood, Priscilla B.
1978 Ceramics of Yellow Jacket, Colorado, 5MT1 and 5MT3, House 3. Unpublished MA thesis, Department of Anthropology, University of Colorado, Boulder.
), Karhu (2000Karhu, Sandy
2000 Mortuary Practices and Population Health at Two Yellow Jacket Hamlets, 5MT1 and 5MT3. On file at the University of Colorado Museum, Boulder, Colorado and the Colorado Historical Society, Denver, Colorado.
), Lange and others (1988Lange, Frederick , Nancy Mahaney, Joe Ben Wheat, and Mark L. Chenault
1988 Yellow Jacket: A Four Corners Anasazi Ceremonial Site. Second edition. Johnson Books, Boulder, Colorado.
), Wheat (1981Wheat, Joe Ben
1981 Yellow Jacket Canyon Archaeology. In Insights into the Ancient Ones, edited by J.H. Berger and E.F. Berger, pp. 60-66. Mesa Verde Press, Cortez, Colorado.
), and Yunker (2001Yunker, Brian
2001 The Yellow Jacket Burials: An Analysis of Burial Assemblages from Two Basketmaker III through Pueblo III Mesa Verde Area Sites. Unpublished MA thesis, Department of Anthropology, University of Colorado, Boulder.
). Table 1 lists the field notes that are available for Stevenson area excavations. In addition to the original handwritten field journals, typed transcriptions also are available.

Table 1. Stevenson area field journals, 1954-1957.
NamePeriod CoveredPeriod at StevensonExcavation Areas**
Wheat, Joe Ben5/1/1954–5/14/19545/5/1954–5/8/1954Early Village
Wheat, Joe Ben5/10/1955–7/6/19555/10/1955–5/25/1955Unit Village I
Wheat, Joe Ben6/8/1956–7/23/19566/19/1956–7/23/1956Unit Village I and Unit Village II
Wheat, Pat7/10/1956–8/9/19567/10/1956–8/9/1956Unit Village II
Wheat, Joe Ben*6/14/1957–7/19/19576/14/1957–?Early Village, Unit Village I, Unit Village II
Bair, Jerry6/13/1957–7/27/19576/13/1957–7/27/1957Pitstructure 2
Gruhn, Ruth6/13/1957–7/27/19576/13/1957–7/27/1957Pitstructure 2

* Transcribed copy continues until July 28, 1957.
** Wheat's original provenience designations.

Pithouse Excavation Records or Feature Forms are available for most of the site's structures and features. Plan maps and architectural profiles are available for each of the four pitstructures, although a measured stratigraphic profile is only available for Pitstructure 2. Two small-scale maps (1 inch equals 2.5 meters) are available for the Stevenson area. One illustrates the site's features, while the other depicts topographic data. Eighty-five black-and-white prints and 58 color slides are available.

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Stevenson Area Provenience Designations

Proveniences were not systematically designated during the excavation of the Stevenson area. Although a mapping baseline was used, a grid system was not extended across the site and no point proveniences were recorded. Individual structures were categorized and assigned numerical designations. Structure categories include "pithouse," "pitroom," "room," "storage room," "kiva," and "protokiva." Numerical designations were sometimes changed as the excavation proceeded.

To simplify this system all of the major architectural features of the Stevenson area have been assigned to one of three distinct architectural classes. Pitstructures are large, partially subterranean habitation structures. These may or may not include an antechamber, but all contain a full suite of domestic floor features. Pit rooms consist of partially subterranean work and storage structures. Ramadas consist of covered, ground-level work spaces. Additional criteria for architectural class membership are discussed in the descriptive sections on the architecture at the site as well as in the background section on concepts and terms.

Where the original excavators assigned a unique number to a particular feature, that number has been retained in the new provenience designation. For example, in this report Pitroom 2 of Unit Village I has been renamed Pit Room 1.02. Similarly, Room 5 of Unit Village II has been renamed Pit Room 2.05. In two cases (Pitstructures 3 and 4) no unique identifier was available and a new numerical designation was assigned. A Provenience synonymy provides a key to equivalent provenience designations for various field records and this report. It is available to researchers who are using the Yellow Jacket collections.

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