Crow Canyon

Basketmaker Landscapes Project

As the Basketmaker III excavations at the Dillard site draw to a close, the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center is launching a broader study of community development through time on Indian Camp Ranch.

The new project, the Basketmaker Landscapes Project, will include sites that have a Basketmaker III component but also Pueblo I, Pueblo II and/or Pueblo III components. Besides community development, the project will focus on the relationship between humans and their environment through time and the Basketmaker III cultural legacy.


In the Mesa Verde region, the Basketmaker III period (A.D. 500-750) witnessed exponential population growth, the first villages, new systems of social and political organization, and new relationships between people and their resources that dramatically changed the human impact on the environment.

These same changes characterize the transition from hunter-gatherer to agricultural societies, a transition that occurred throughout the world, and the Basketmaker Landscapes Project will provide one of the best documented cases of this important transition in human cultural development.

The Basketmaker III period was also the era when the Pueblo Indian cultural tradition first developed, and when the foundation of Pueblo society was laid for the next seven centuries. Crow Canyon’s research will shed light on this pivotal era in Pueblo Indian history.

The Basketmaker community that was centered at the Indian Camp Ranch, where Crow Canyon archaeologists currently are excavating, was unique within the central Mesa Verde region. The Basketmaker Communities Project has identified a complex community of 100-plus pithouses within the boundaries of the ranch and verified that the Basketmaker community extends beyond the boundaries of the subdivision.

Previous analysis of a regional database of 9,000 sites identified all recorded Basketmaker III farmsteads/habitations in the region and showed that the Indian Camp Ranch cluster is the only one in the region that shows a community centered near a great kiva.

The Basketmaker Landscapes Project’s goals are to:

  • Identify the spatial extent of the Basketmaker III community focused on the Dillard site.
  • Develop a sampling plan and collect data from new sites and from collections curated at the Bureau of Land Management Anasazi Heritage Center to generate a statistically valid reconstruction of the community over time and space.
  • Create a refined chronology for the Basketmaker III period using tools developed by the Basketmaker Communities and the Basketmaker Landscapes projects, allowing characterization of the momentary population of the community during the 250-year span.

The Basketmaker Landscapes Project calls for two additional years of fieldwork. In addition to reconnaissance surveys of private lands adjacent to the Indian Camp Ranch subdivision, Crow Canyon archaeologists also will undertake remote sensing and auger testing to verify the locations of pithouses, and conduct surface mapping and artifact tallies. The new project proposes to apply information and methods developed during the Basketmaker Communities Project and to extend the project area to adjacent properties.

Crow Canyon will collaborate with private landowners at Indian Camp Ranch and adjacent properties. The project will form partnerships with the Colorado Archaeological Society (CAS) and the Anasazi Heritage Center by working with CAS-surveyed sites. The project also will involve American Indians and other members of the public through education programs at Crow Canyon and will provide undergraduate and graduate research opportunities, including an accredited college-level field school, at Crow Canyon.

The project will increase understanding of the first agricultural societies in the northern Southwest. The adoption of domesticated food production is widely acknowledged as a fundamental technological advance that dramatically increased the human carrying capacity and expanded the niches in which humans could thrive. The Basketmaker Landscapes Project will clarify whether Basketmaker III communities can be delineated in the study area, whether there is evidence for changes in community organization over time, and whether additional community structures, as yet unidentified, exist in the study area.

Data also will be collected to address the following research questions: Is there evidence for environmental change related to land-use patterns of the Basketmaker III–Pueblo III periods? How did the momentary population change through time, and is there evidence for this change being linked to environmental degradation?


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This project is supported in part by the State Historical Fund (a program of History Colorado, the Colorado Historical Society).

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