Crow Canyon archaeology director Susan Ryan on Thursday spoke to a full house at the Sunflower Theatre about the Northern Chaco Canyon Outliers Project, an excavation that started in May on an ancestral Pueblo village northeast of Cortez.
New information about what the Montezuma County region looked like more than 1,000 years ago could change how scientists and archaeologists view the present, she said.
“When we talk about a place like Chaco Canyon, or any of the great houses that are located in the Mesa Verde region, we’re really talking about ... human behavior that we can learn about,” she said. “In particular, we are talking about human behavior that has to do with things we are completely concerned about as citizens across the world today.”
The project is mainly focused on the great houses in the Pueblo village, multistory buildings that archaeologists believe housed several families at once. They appear in almost every ancient Puebloan settlement, Ryan said, and the similarities between the ones in the densely populated Chaco Canyon and “outliers” like Montezuma County can teach historians about how trade and social networks happened between various groups.
The current excavation at what is called the Haynie Site has already unearthed four great houses and several smaller buildings. Ryan said the data from these sites has made her “geek out” often.
“I only know of three clusters of great house sites that exist in all of Southwest Colorado,” Ryan said.
The Haynie Site and other settlements uncovered nearby have very different architecture styles, she said, showing that different cultures migrated into the Montezuma County area from farther south and west. Archaeologists have also found rare artifacts that were traded from New Mexico and Utah.
One thing Crow Canyon archaeologists will continue to study in Montezuma County is the astronomical alignment of many great houses, which may have allowed the ancient Puebloans to perform religious rituals based on the stars.
Ryan showed a three-dimensional model of one of the great houses on the site, along with many photos of architecture and artifacts that were discovered there. Before answering questions at the end of the presentation, she encouraged the audience to do more research on Crow Canyon and the Chaco Canyon Outliers projects. She also emphasized the importance of preserving ancient ruins, since many valuable ones are destroyed by landowners.
“We’re losing great houses on a daily basis, unfortunately,” she said.
Ryan said the Northern Chaco Canyon Outliers project will likely continue for a few more years on the Haynie Site.
The free event was presented by the Hisatsinom Chapter of the Colorado Archaeological Society and was the latest entry in the Sunflower Theatre’s “Ideas and Lecture” series. The next public Hisatsinom-sponsored event will be a pottery sale and lecture on Mata Ortiz pottery at the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center on Aug. 1.