The discoveries are seemingly endless at Indian Camp Ranch, considered the only subdivision in the nation designed to incorporate ancestral ruins on each parcel.
Again last month, archaeologists from Crow Canyon revealed a new finding, this time at Jane Dillard’s lot, who has a front-row seat for the excavation taking place in her sagebrush yard.
Archaeologist Shanna Diederichs and her team have figured out that a series of dwellings in the area called the Switchback site marks the beginning of a more permanent settlement for Ancestral Puebloan culture from 500-750 AD.
“The data shows this is when settlements began to focus on larger-scale agriculture. It is a transitioning period from mostly hunting and gathering to a farming society that supports a permanent community year-round,” she says.
Groups of pit dwellings appear to be used as workhouses where early farmers escaped the heat, stored tools and grain, and grabbed a bite before returning to the fields. Sound familiar?
Local farming roots go back millennia, attracted by nutrient-rich red soils and sunny climate that continue to produce crops today.
Pottery sherds at Switchback are more basic early designs, lacking the black-on-white style and creativity associated with vessels from later, more established settlements that had more free time.
Geophysical surveys by the PBS archaeology series Time Team America helped to pinpoint where to dig to reveal the dwellings and mysteries of the pre-Colombian societies at Indian Camp.
“Here we’re seeing a new era, the beginning of the agricultural economy, and the end of the Neolithic,” Diederichs says.
The site is from the Basketmaker III time period, approximately 1,500 years ago.
A square pit that was once a partially underground dwelling supported by still discernible logs has been excavated eight feet down. Archaeologists Steve Copeland and Caitlin Sommer carefully scrape away layers with trowels and brushes.
“It’s hollow,” Copeland suddenly exclaims, prodding at a corner of the ancient underground portion of the dwelling. A buzz of excitement ensues and the archaeologists speak in their peculiar code, trying to work out what it could be.
A capstone covers an enclosed wall chamber, hidden for more than a thousand years, and about to be revealed.
But it seems the pace to remove the dirt is grain by grain, and it is time to leave and wonder about its contents, probably nothing, but perhaps a vessel of seeds, or a fetish, or a family heirloom from the ancestors of the Puebloan people that live on today at Hopi, Santa Clara, and Acoma.
“Living here you feel a presence from the past; it is very comforting,” Dillard says. “Finding a secret chamber is what makes it so fun.”