Katchina Daisy

The Cedar Mesa Project

A Brief History of the Archeology of Cedar Mesa

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"Cerulean skies and deep vinaceous bands of sandstone become places of power. Pit houses dug in the earth and cliff dwellings hanging on ledges still house the Anasazi spirit. Listen. You may hear music inside their ancient earth architecture. I have - I think."
Williams, Terry Tempest, Pieces of White Shell, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York. p. 123

The earliest known documented inhabitants of the Cedar Mesa area in Southeastern Utah were the "Archaic," a highly mobile, low-density hunting and gathering culture, which depended on wild animals and plants, probably exploiting resources through seasonal movement using open campsites and natural shelters. Recent research indicates that they were moving through the area from B.C. 6500 to B.C. 1500. Excavations at Old Man Cave on the northeast edge of Cedar Mesa substantiate these early dates (Geib and Davidson 1994:191-202). Members of this culture made stemmed projectile points for atlatl weapons and ground stone tools. More than 250 elements of abstract polychrome rock paintings found at the Green Mask site in Grand Gulch are attributed to the archaic period (Cole 1993:198-201).

Following the Archaic Period, there was a substantial increase in population during the Basketmaker II Period (B.C.1500-A.D. 400). Habitation sites, alcoves for camping, burials, and rock art, were located near arable land used for flood plain or dryland farming (maize and squash) and close to areas with a high diversity of wild foods (Lipe 1993:1-10). Caves were used for camping, storage, burials, and rock art imagery. The San Juan Anthropomorphic style pictographs and petroglyphs, large figures often with elaborate headdresses and/or necklaces and other body decoration can be attributed to Basketmaker II time (Cole 1993:201-218). Research suggests that during the late Basketmaker II period, (A.D. 50-400) small populations lived in egalitarian communities with an informal social organization. Pottery was not used during this period. The composite dart and the atlatl (throwing stick) were the principal weapons. The superior quality of workmanship and design attributed to the Basketmaker II people is remarkable and included coiled baskets, conical collecting baskets, twined sandals, and bags.

Cedar Mesa appears to have been abandoned from approximately A.D. 400 to 650, and was again reoccupied during the late Basketmaker III phase; A.D. 650-725 (Matson, Lipe and Haase 1988:250-251). Very simple decorated pottery and plain grayware ceramics are associated with Basketmaker III sites. Evidence of pit structures and slab-lined dwellings are found in closer roximity with some "villages" consisting of multiple dwellings.

After a 300 year hiatus, the Cedar Mesa was again reoccupied as what appears to be an expansion of settlement into the area (Matson, Lipe and Haase 1988:252) around A.D. 1060-1270 by Pueblo II and III populations. In the northern Cedar Mesa area, Pueblo settlements consisted of sets of surface living and storage rooms for several small households sharing a courtyard and/or a kiva (semi-subterranean ceremonial room). In the western part of the area, small non-kiva sites predominate (Matson, Lipe and Haase 1988:252). Differing from but simultaneous with the "unit pueblos" during the early phase of this period (A.D. 1060-1150), Chacoan style structures, interconnecting roads, great houses and great kivas were built (Lexson: 1988).

Pueblo II and III artifact assemblages appear to be similar in the smaller and the larger sites. Corrugated gray and elaborate black-on-white ceramic ware are found at most sites and decorated redware is found at some sites. Potters made bowls, jugs, dippers, mugs, and many other utensils for cooking, eating, and drinking. Other objects were made from bone, wood, and stone. A high degree of skill in architecture and stone masonry is evident in the cliff dwellings in the canyons. Rock art imagery close to or within the Pueblo dwellings, geometric designs, and large motifs with clear visibility from a distance are associated with the Pueblo II and III time periods.

The repeated occupation and abandonment of many areas in the Anasazi southwest, including Cedar Mesa, during the prehistoric time period may have been caused by:

  1. Fluctuating population pressure from adjacent areas;
  2. climatic variations affecting habitability;
  3. resource depletion associated with slash-and-burn farming; and combinations of these" (Matson, Lipe and Haase 1988:255).

Recent research also suggests that socio-political reorganization throughout the area during this period may have caused population fluctuations. (Lexson:1991.)

By 1300 the Four Corners area was abandoned for the final time, and the Anasazi moved South into Arizona and southeast into the Rio Grande Valley of New Mexico.


Cole, Sally J.
1993 "Basketmaker Rock Art at the Green Mask Site, Southeastern, Utah,"
Anasazi Basketmaker, Papers from the 1990 Wetherill-Grand Gulch Symposium; Cultural Resource Series No. 24, Bureau of Land Management, Salt Lake City, Utah; 193-222.
Lexson, Steve
1991; Crown, Patricia L. and W. James Judge, editors
Chaco and Hohokam: School of American Research Press, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Cole, Sally
1993 "The Basketmaker II Period in the Four Corners Area,"
Anasazi Basketmaker, Papers from the 1990 Wetherill Grand Gulch Symposium; Cultural Resource Series No. 24, Bureau of Land Management, Salt Lake City, Utah; 1-12.
Matson, R. G., William D. Lipe, and William R. Haase IV
1988 "Adaptational Continuities and Occupational Discontinuities: The Cedar Mesa Anasazi,"
Journal of Field Archaeology; Vol. 15: 245-263.

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