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July-October 2004Interactive Dig Elden Pueblo
Aerial view of Elden Pueblo with tarps covering excavation areas
Pueblo 1, Rooms 13-16
Pueblo 2

Photos courtesy Peter Pilles. Click on images for larger versions.
by Peter Pilles

Field Notes

Elden Pueblo Excavation Goals for 2004

We're focusing on six areas of Elden Pueblo this year. Our goals are to continue collecting information on the history and growth of the main pueblo, determine the function and date of three pit houses, complete the documentation and interpretation of Pueblo 2, and test Mound 1 to see if it is a prehistoric mound or simply back dirt from Fewkes' 1926 excavations.

Pueblo 1, Rooms 4 and 11

We began excavating Rooms 4 and 11 two years ago and quickly discovered that they have the most complex construction history of any rooms in the pueblo. Fewkes excavated both, and his site map gives the impression that they were simply part of a later construction, a linear block of rooms added onto the west side of the pueblo. However, the photos from 1926 show additional walls in this area not on Fewkes' map, and there is no mention of them in Harrington's notes. The walls form a corner adjacent to the walls of Rooms 4 and 11 and suggest remnants of either an earlier construction event or later remodeling.

Our excavations have so far found no evidence of these additional walls or even any evidence of the north wall of Room 4 or the north and south walls of Room 11. A few rocks that form rough alignments might be remnants of these walls, but they are not in the right locations according to Fewkes' map. In addition, we've discovered that the rooms were built on a thick trash deposit, and wall abutments indicate they were not a simple addition to the outside pueblo wall. We hope to better understand the pueblo's complex construction history after excavations this year.

Pueblo 1, Rooms 13-16

Rooms 13-16 form the southwest corner of the pueblo and were also excavated by Fewkes in 1926. Rooms 14 and 16 were partly re-excavated and stabilized during our first site excavations in 1978, and further testing in 1992 revealed that Rooms 13 and 14 were built over an earlier burned pit house (Pit House 17). Based on Fewkes' map, Rooms 14 and 16 appear to be part of a single construction that expanded the pueblo to the west before Rooms 4 and 11 were built. However, because of the additional walls spotted on the old photographs and the fact that Rooms 14-16 show no evidence of the fire that destroyed a room to the north, we are excavating here to find additional evidence about earlier rooms in this part of the pueblo. We also want to clarify some inconsistencies in the 1978 excavation notes and to confirm the wall abutments in this part of the site.

Pit House 21

We defined the edge of a very unusual pit house west of the main pueblo during last year's field school. It appears to have been constructed within a mound of stones, but it has no evidence of formal walls or wall plaster and has only faint remnants of a floor. What is most curious is that it is D-shaped with a peripheral posthole pattern and was destroyed by fire. We found few artifacts in the room other than a complete metate, a few flakes, and several pieces of ground stone. Nothing like this structure has ever been reported in the Flagstaff area, so we'll do additional tests this season to confirm its configuration and hopefully find sherds or a firepit that can be used to date its construction. Although several pieces of burned wood were recovered on the floor of the pit house last year, we're not optimistic about being able to date them.

Over the years, we have sent numerous tree-ring samples to the Laboratory of Tree-ring Dating at the University of Arizona in Tucson, but not a single one has dated. Our lack of tree-ring dates is frustrating considering that the ruins in the ponderosa pine forest around Flagstaff were one of the prime sources of prehistoric wood that allowed A.E. Douglass, Emil Haury, and Lyndon L. Hargrave to develop the tree-ring chronology for the southwest in 1929. Elden Pueblo lies in the rain shadow of Mt. Elden and the San Francisco Peaks, so the climate and moisture conditions in this area are relatively constant and mild. This results in a uniform and steady rate of tree growth, thus consistent, evenly-sized tree rings rather than the variable widths needed for tree-ring dating. We have had success in obtaining dates from archaeomagnetic testing of samples from prehistoric fire pits, hence our desire to find a firepit in Pit House 21.

Pit House 8

Pit House 8 lies under Room 33 in the north-central part of Pueblo 1 and represents the occupation before the pueblo's construction. The pit house was discovered and partly excavated in 1966-68 by Roger Kelly (at what was then Arizona State College, now Northern Arizona University). However, the stratigraphic controls used during that excavation didn't allow for a reliable date to be assigned to the structure. This pit house has one of the best fill profiles yet found at the site--alternating layers of trash, washed-in gravels, intentional filling, and episodes of ash dumping. The roof collapsed, providing a cap that seals and separates the early fill from the late fill of the structure. We'll reconstruct the depositional history of this part of the site by carefully peeling away these layers. We also hope to find sherds, artifacts, and ecofacts that will help us determine how ceramic assemblages, resource procurement, and patterns of animal hunting changed over time.

Pueblo 2

Pueblo 2 consists of four rooms dating to the later occupation at Elden Pueblo, A.D. 1250-1275. It was built as a separate structure complete with its own kiva 15 meters east of Pueblo 1 at the same time that other rooms were being added directly onto the main pueblo. Pueblo 2 was not excavated by Fewkes, which gives us an opportunity to investigate an undisturbed room. We excavated two trenches in 1994 to sample the deposits and confirm the plan of the pueblo. We found complete artifact assemblages on the floors--broken pottery vessels, flaked stone tool kits, manos, metates, and other items--hinting at what may remain in the few rooms of Pueblo 1 that Fewkes didn't excavate.

Our most intriguing find was the skeleton of a young woman lying in a bent-over position on the floor. The skeleton was left undisturbed and covered over with earth as per our burial treatment policy with the Hopi Tribe, and it was later reburied by tribal elders when the trench was back-filled.

Since 1994, we've excavated test squares in a few corners of the rooms and trenches outside the pueblo to determine the number of rooms and to accurately map the full extent of the pueblo. Our remaining task this year is to complete the analysis of the fill profiles of the rooms and compare them with the fill profiles in the trenches and with other locations across the site such as Pit House 8. This will help us correlate the major depositional events in the site's history and determine which structures and features may have been in use at any single time.

Mound 1

Adjacent to the northeast side of Pueblo 2 is an earth mound about 15 meters in diameter and almost two meters high. Two burials were found at the bottom of the mound in 1978, leading us to interpret it as a burial mound. Although not common, burial mounds are present in the Sinagua area, but they are usually found in sites dating to A.D. 900-1100. An A.D. 1150 or later burial mound would be a rare occurrence. More recent trenching on the far north edge of the mound revealed a profile that suggests a different interpretation--that the mound may be a backdirt pile from Fewkes' excavation! Further doubt as to its prehistoric origin developed when we discovered that dirt from the mound appears to be on top of the collapsed wall of Pueblo 2. Since Pueblo 2 was one of the last structures to be abandoned at the site, its collapsed walls couldn't be covered by soil from an earlier mound. We hope to determine with the extension of one of our earlier trenches whether the soil on top of the Pueblo 2 walls comes from the mound proper in prehistoric times or is just slope wash that has eroded more recently on top of the collapsed walls.

These are the problems we'll be addressing during the 2004 season at Elden Pueblo, stay tuned to find out what we learn! We'll also report on other activities this summer in the Coconino National Forest.

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