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The Significance of Joe Ben Wheat's Investigations at 5MT1

By Mark D. Mitchell

Joe Ben Wheat's excavations at 5MT1 documented two major periods of occupation. The earliest use of the area took place during the last third of the seventh century, and is represented by four semi-subterranean habitation structures and two arcs of work and storage rooms arranged around two small plazas. These structures may have been used concurrently, or they may have been built and used in quick succession. In the mid-1950s most of what was known about the late Basketmaker III occupation of the Mesa Verde region came from excavations conducted inside Mesa Verde National Park (Lancaster and Watson 1954Lancaster, James A. and Don C. Watson
1954 Excavation of Two Late Basketmaker III Pithouses. In Archaeological Excavations in Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado, 1950, by J.A. Lancaster, J.M. Pinkley, P. Van Cleave, and D. Watson, pp. 7-22. Archaeological Research Series No. 2. National Park Service, Washington, D.C.
; O'Bryan 1950O'Bryan, Deric
1950 Excavations in Mesa Verde National Park, 1947-1948. Medallion Papers, No. 34. Gila Pueblo, Globe, Arizona.
). Wheat's investigations in the Stevenson area clearly demonstrated that the Basketmaker III occupation of the Mesa Verde region was both more extensive and more complex than previously thought.

The second major period of occupation began during the last half of the eleventh century. This late Pueblo II use of the area is represented by a series of deep habitation structures and semi-subterranean work and storage rooms, loosely grouped around several amorphous, open plazas. Previous investigations at Mesa Verde had documented a rapid transition to stone masonry construction during the Pueblo II period, epitomized perhaps by the small late-1000s pueblo at Big Juniper House (Swannack 1969Swannack, J.D., Jr.
1969 Big Juniper House, Mesa Verde National Park - Colorado. Archaeological Research Series No. 7-C. Wetherill Mesa Excavations. National Park Service, Washington, D.C.
). A similar linear developmental sequence had been observed for kivas, which nearly attained during the Pueblo II period their "Classic" Pueblo III form (Lancaster and Pinkley 1954Lancaster, James A. and Jean M. Pinkley
1954 Excavation at Site 16 of Three Pueblo II Mesa-Top Ruins. In Archeological Excavations in Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado, 1950, by J.A. Lancaster, J.M. Pinkley, P. Van Cleave, and D. Watson, pp. 23-86. Archaeological Research Series No. 2. National Park Service, Washington, D.C.

Wheat's excavations in the Porter area revealed previously unknown variability in Mesa Verde region Pueblo II architectural forms. Absent were the masonry pueblo surface rooms and the standardized, masonry-lined kivas of Mesa Verde National Park. Instead, Wheat's investigations documented a variety of kiva forms, associated with a variety of semi-subterranean structures, some of which appeared to have domestic functions. These major features were accompanied by a variety of straight-sided and bell-shaped storage pits, ramadas and post-and-adobe buildings. The bewildering variety of these structures and features defied easy explanation and an important component of Wheat's subsequent research in the Yellow Jacket locality was directed toward understanding their relationship to later structures.

The final occupation of the Porter area is represented by a 12-room masonry structure and three masonry-lined kivas. Although the Pueblo III features of the Porter area of 5MT1 largely conformed to Wheat's expectations, details of their construction are remarkable. Of particular interest are a series of subfloor "grooves" or channels in Kivas B and C2. The channels extend from the central hearth outward to the foot of the bench and were lined with stones and large sherds. Later, at 5MT3, Wheat's excavations revealed a similar feature depicting a hump-backed flute player. The CU Museum's work at Porter also demonstrated that small hamlets continued to be occupied in the Yellow Jacket locality, even after the establishment of Yellow Jacket Pueblo (5MT5), the largest Pueblo III settlement in the region.

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Summary of Major Research Questions

Based on the data obtained during Wheat's investigations, and on the results of research conducted in the region over the last 20 years, a series of key research domains can be identified for the Basketmaker III and Pueblo II-Pueblo III occupations of 5MT1. These research topics are described briefly and links are provided to a more detailed discussion of their significance.

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Stevenson Area Research Questions

What is the source of architectural variability among the Stevenson area's Basketmaker III pitstructures? Stratigraphic and chronological data suggest that the morphological differences among them are not primarily due to temporal differences, but whether they are a product of cultural or economic differences among their occupants is not known.

The range of local architectural variation within the Stevenson area can be set against a backdrop of regional architectural variation. Over the last 20 years, research conducted in the central Mesa Verde region has documented a large number of roughly contemporaneous late Basketmaker III settlements. These settlements vary significantly in size and layout and the structures comprising them vary significantly in form. How typical are the structures of the Stevenson area? To which other settlements is the Stevenson area most similar? Can regional architectural trends be used to refine the dating and occupational history of the Stevenson area?

Most Basketmaker III settlements consist of single-habitation homesteads, but small hamlets containing two to six pitstructures also are known. What role did larger settlements such as the Stevenson area of 5MT1 play in dispersed Basketmaker III communities? How did their role differ from that of contemporaneous homesteads?

Recent research also has demonstrated that the central Mesa Verde region witnessed a major immigration of Basketmaker III peoples between A.D. 575 and A.D. 675. Were the inhabitants of the Stevenson area recent arrivals or had they lived in the Mesa Verde region for some time? Can specific regional technological traditions be identified in the ceramic or chipped stone artifacts of the Stevenson area? Does the presence of particular raw materials suggest economic or social links to distant regions?

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Porter Area Research Questions

Although it is now clear that the late Pueblo II architectural variability of the Porter area is not unique in the Mesa Verde region, the significance of that variability remains to be explained. This variability might be attributable to the effects of colonization, or to cultural differences among the residents of the region. However, regional similarities in ceramic technology and in some burial practices suggest that such architectural variability may have been the product of local processes.

Ceramic cross-dating indicates that the Porter area was first occupied about A.D. 1060 and abandoned about A.D. 1280, but it is not clear whether that occupation was continuous. Architectural and stratigraphic data hint at a short hiatus at the end of the late Pueblo II occupation, about A.D. 1140. Does the ceramic assemblage of the Porter area reflect occupational continuity or can gaps be identified? If an occupational hiatus is indicated, did the late Pueblo II use of the settlement differ from the early Pueblo III use?

Like the Basketmaker III settlement of the Stevenson area, the Pueblo II and Pueblo III settlement of the Porter area was one component of a larger community encompassing nearby sites. Throughout the occupation of the Porter area this community was dominated by Yellow Jacket Pueblo (5MT5) the largest village in the Mesa Verde region. What was the relationship between the Porter area of 5MT1 and Yellow Jacket Pueblo? Did that relationship change over time? Was the social and political influence of Yellow Jacket Pueblo everywhere the same or did the nature of the relationship vary among small settlements?

Ceramic cross-dates also indicate that during Pueblo III times the Porter Pueblo was one component of a local community that also included House 1 and House 2 at 5MT2 and a small unnamed roomblock. What was the nature of the relationships among these three settlements, and how did they change over time? What was the momentary size of this local community, and how were social units distributed within it?

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Research Conclusions and Opportunities

Site 5MT1 was the first of the Yellow Jacket sites investigated by Joe Ben Wheat, and as a consequence it has a relatively modest collection and a manageable set of site notes. Yet its artifact collection has not yet been subject to a total, systematic analysis. Many of the questions raised above could in part be addressed with a rigorous artifact analysis, so there is ample opportunity for reasonably compact research projects. In addition, there are also projects which might use the collections of both 5MT1 and 2 to address shared research questions. The present report hopefully has laid the groundwork for this research.

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