It didn't look like much, but according to Grant Coffey, an archaeologist at Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, a dinner table-sized patch of dirt clumps off to the side of a trail in Hovenweep National Monument was an ancient midden pile.
"We're actually on a midden right here," Coffey
said, gesturing toward the pile.
Wednesday, as Coffey
walked around the area to be excavated, his
fellow researchers were using a piece of hardware called a total station to log detailed geographical data.
The total station is a system that uses a laser to precisely place a location, thus exactly locating the places the group will excavate this summer. Coffey
fellow archaeologists at Crow Canyon are embarking on the second phase of a six-year research project this year.They recently finished the first three years of an excavation at Goodman Point Pueblo, and are now moving to examine peripheral sites in the areas that predate the village.
The goal of the second part of this research is to understand why a group of people who lived in smaller, scattered sites might have coalesced into a large village centered on a natural spring, Coffey
"How many people were here?What was the strain on the resource?"he
Those are just some of the questions the archaeologists hope to answer over the next three years.
In Coffey's terms, the researchers are trying to understand "how a dispersed community eventually formed into a large aggregated community."
From around 1000 to 1200, people in the area lived in the smaller, scattered dwellings, Coffey
said.The work Coffey and his
partners have already done at Goodman Point Pueblo points to the structures in that Pueblo being built in the late 1250s, he
"It seems like there was really a number of factors," Coffey
said, speaking of the reasons that earlier people changed their lifestyle and social structures.
As the Crow Canyon archaeologists turn their focus to the areas that were settled earlier, they hope that among the bones, sherds and pollen samples they find that they will be able to piece together a picture of why these people changed their lifestyles. Coffey
archaeological partners are excited to work in the Goodman Point area because it is a relatively pristine setting, he
said.The region was set aside from homesteading in 1889, so it has not had the agricultural and human impacts that many other areas have experienced.
Over the course of the summer, the Crow Canyon researchers could have as many as 1,400 participants help them excavate the new site, Coffey
said.These helpers will range from middle school students to paying adult vacationers who fly into this area just for the opportunity to do some archaeological work.
The center practices low-impact archaeology, which involves excavating small, randomly-selected sections of the site instead of performing a full scale excavation.
"We try and dig the smallest amount that we can to answer the questions that we have," Coffey