|Breaking ground at the Dillard site (from left to right): Field/Lab Archaeologist Steve Copeland, Vice President of Programs Shirley Powell, property owner and volunteer Jane Dillard, Field Archaeologist Caitlin Sommer, and Supervisory Archaeologist Shanna Diederichs.|
Children from the Steamboat Springs Middle School in Colorado (above with Shanna Diederichs) held the honor of being the first students to dig at the Dillard site as part of the new Basketmaker Communities Project. Their work was guided by Crow Canyon archaeologists Shanna Diederichs and Steve Copeland as their teachers looked on—along with a reporter and photographer from the Cortez Journal.
Ann Keating, a teacher from Steamboat Springs, said when the students came here and realized they would be the first school group to dig at the site, the excitement was contagious. "It's an incredible program," Ann said. "Our school groups have been coming here for 20 years. It just gets better and better."
On May 11, Crow Canyon staff and 12 students from Steamboat Springs Middle School joined forces to "break ground" at the Dillard site, the centerpiece of the Center's new Basketmaker Communities Project. Before students took trowels to the ground, however, Crow Canyon archaeologists had already made significant discoveries without even disturbing the soil—using remote-sensing technology.
Looking out over the sage-covered landscape of Indian Camp Ranch, the residential development where the Dillard site is located, one can't help but wonder—how do archaeologists know that just beneath the surface lies the remnants of an ancient community?
Until about 30 years ago, Southwestern archaeologists relied solely on surface surveys and excavation to map ancient sites, but today remote-sensing technology allows them to gain important information about site composition and layout without, or before, breaking ground. When used as an adjunct to traditional excavation, remote-sensing can help archaeologists target the contexts they are interested in investigating, resulting in minimal disturbance to other deposits.
"Before remote sensing was used, archaeologists had to dig so much more because they didn't know what they would find and where they would find it," said Shanna Diederichs, supervisory archaeologist for the Basketmaker Communities Project. "Our goal is to excavate only as much as we need for our research. Remote-sensing technology has been invaluable in that regard."
After Crow Canyon's research staff completed a four-day surface mapping of the Dillard site, they used a type of remote-sensing technology called electrical resistivity to help map cultural features. Electrical resistivity is a type of geophysical survey that measures how strongly a material resists the flow of electrical current. At an archaeological site, it is used to detect buried cultural features whose level of resistivity is higher or lower than that of surrounding deposits. First, electrical current is passed through buried deposits by means of metal probes inserted into the ground. Depending on the composition of those deposits, the current will pass more or less easily through them. For example, buried rock will resist the electrical current more than undisturbed sediment, and undisturbed natural sediment will resist current more than sediments that fill a collapsed pit structure. A device measures the variations in levels of resistivity and generates a map that allows archaeologists to "see" buried structures and other cultural features.
Using this technology, Crow Canyon archaeologists have been able to locate probable pithouses, small storage features, and larger, bell-shaped storage pits at the Dillard site. From previous surface surveys by Woods Canyon Archaeological Consultants at Indian Camp Ranch, archaeologists had estimated that 120 pithouses dotted the landscape around the Dillard site during the Basketmaker III period (A.D. 500–750). "Using electrical resistivity, we've already upped that number by eight," Shanna said.
After completing resistivity work, Crow Canyon researchers used a soil probe to obtain information about structural dimensions. The soil probe provided an intact column of sediment that showed the stratigraphy of each sampled deposit.
With the use of remote sensing and soil probing, Crow Canyon researchers have already made important discoveries and are formulating new questions. Several oversized pithouse structures (up to 10 to 11 meters across) have been noted in and around the Dillard site, one just 5 meters north of the Dillard great kiva itself. Are these oversized pithouses examples of community structures? How do they relate to one another and to the great kiva? As students and adults continue to arrive this summer, we’ll be gaining more information to help us in our understanding of the early Pueblo communities of the Basketmaker III period. Join us!