Trip Report- July, 2014- Excavation at Nancy Patterson Village

Nicolai and I spent another two weeks in some of our favorite places in southeast Utah in late June and early July. The weather was normal for this time of year- hot, dry, and windy. There was no rain to speak of, and likely none coming for a while. We made it to the San Juan River on a few afternoons for a swim, and also to the Blanding pool a couple of times. We spent the Fourth of July in Blanding, enjoyed the great selection of food at their celebration, and the fireworks later that night. I have to mention that we had the best Fourth of July food there- roast mutton and fry bread, Navajo tacos, and chil chin (in Navajo), or red berry soup. That was a treat! We hiked a couple of days, as we had time, along the San Juan and in Comb Ridge, and camped at a few of our favorite spots. Favorite spots are easy to find in southeast Utah (they are just about anywhere we go.)

Collared lizard. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Collared lizard that was very curious about our excavation. There were many of them out and about this summer.

Nancy Patterson Village
The highlight of our trip was the archaeology of Nancy Patterson Village. We spent 10 days focused on excavation at the site, examination of the artifacts, and formulating a draft report. We will post a separate blog on the excavation as the report comes together, but we give a brief account here. Nancy Patterson Village is a Pueblo III (AD 1100- 1250) with underlying P II (AD 900-1100) habitation. It is located in Montezuma Canyon and at its height had some 300 rooms with as many as 30 associated kivas. There are two distinct parts to the site- the upper, mesa-top ruins and the lower, flood plain ruins.  Culturally it is related to nearby Mesa Verde.

Nicolai in our excavation unit- Nancy Patteson Village. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Nicolai the archaeologist in our unit- living the dream of the 9-year-old.

The goal of the current excavation at Nancy Patterson Village is the definition of architecture on the outside edge of the lower, flood plain settlement area. This area is considered to be the latest construction at the site, and therefore is assumed to have the shortest occupation sequence. Excavation defines not only the physical, spatial boundaries, exposing the actual walls and floors, but tells us the temporal boundaries as well- how long the structure was in use. Charcoal samples taken from three separate levels, the earliest found in the fill below the first floor, will give us an idea of the construction date and the date of final use, now assumed to be about 1275 ACE. The occupation sequence of our unit is confirmed to be later based on the pottery we found as we excavated. All of the pottery was later, Mesa Verde style pottery.

Mesa Verde corrugated wares at Nancy Patterson Village. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Mesa Verde corrugated wares from our Level 2, found directly on our final floor. There appear to be 3 distinct jars, with some shards showing intense burning that likely did not occur during normal use.

We found a number of interesting features in our unit, including what appeared to be “post-abandonment” (happening at some point after the room fell into disuse) burning and pottery left on the final floor. We found numerous lenses of charcoal, some of which may have been hearths within the room. We also found the masonry outline of a metate, a grinding stone that had been imbedded in mortar in a corner of the floor. The outline of the metate was clear, and the small, flat pieces of sandstone embedded in mortar that were used to level and secure the metate were still in place. Finally, if the fill under the floors is an indication of the intensity of occupation, that is, if there is more trash in the floor fill we can assume the was more trash to use as fill, this tells us that there was likely more going on to create that trash. The fill under the floor about mid-way down was replete with artifacts- pottery, flakes, cores, hammer stones, part of an axe, and a mano were all found in a very small area.

Metate impression on top of floor. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Metate impression on our earliest floor. The small pieces of sandstone used to level the metate are still imbedded in the masonry on the floor. Most of our artifacts were found on top of this floor and were used as fill under the floor above.

Salmon Ruins
Besides the excavation, we made a side trip down to Salmon Ruins near Bloomfield, New Mexico. It had been years since I visited there; Nicolai had never been. Seeing the excavated and consolidated ruins made for a good contrast with Nancy Patterson Village. Salmon is a large pueblo located near the San Juan River. It has two distinct occupation sequences- its initial construction by Chacoan peoples around 1090 ACE, followed by a period of decline and depopulation by about 1125 ACE (referred to as abandonment in the literature at the site- but I am not a fan of that word.) The second distinct occupation begins about the same time and ends around 1280 ACE. The second group of inhabitants come from the San Juan area and some of the literature indicates there are distinct ties to Mesa Verde.  One argument for this relationship is the distinct change in architecture, including the shape, size, and location of kivas, resembling those of the Mesa Verde region more than the Chaco region.

Look for more about our excavation later this year. Once the weather turns cold, we will focus on writing. In the meantime, we are planning our San Juan trip in late August. For more about the archaeology of the southwest and our desert adventures, see our earlier blog posts or visit the Desert Explorer website.



6 Responses to Trip Report- July, 2014- Excavation at Nancy Patterson Village

  1. techlady01 says:

    Did you find anything to suggest a PI component, which Winston Hurst has said is a critical hole in our knowledge of north San Juan prehistoric culture?
    Also, how did you get permission to dig at Nancy Patterson?

    • Hi,
      As of yet there is nothing that goes back anywhere near P1 in our unit. We did get a few good charcoal samples, that I hope will be dated (if funding allows.) But it is highly unlikely that it dates back anywhere near that far- my guess is our samples will be somewhere around 1200-1250 AD, where other near-surface samples have been dated. I have just tracked down all the preliminary reports from the excavation there in the 1980’s and am reading through them now, which will help us better understand the site and develop our research ideas. Unfortunately a final report was never written.

      For perspective, we worked on the edge of the floodplain pueblo, in some of the latest room blocks. There was some interestingly colored soil below the initial construction, the foundation stones, in our room, just below the lowest floor. It appears that the area may have an extensive midden below it. There may be some indication there of older occupation; not sure how far back though. Next year part of our plan is to put a unit just outside the room we worked in this year, to the south in what was thought to be a kiva (it is a plaza open to the east) and go straight down into the midden to the paleo-surface. Otherwise we are working in and just below the final phases of occupation.

      As for being allowed to dig, the site is on privately held land and the person in charge of watching over it invited us to work there as part of the ongoing project. He is an archaeologist from California State University and is interested in the building sequences in the lower pueblo, in the paleo-geology and paleo-hydrology and how they affected and influenced the site over time, and in the site’s relationship to surrounding shrine sites up and down Montezuma canyon. We will submit our report to him to use in his presentation of the site. All very exciting!


      • techlady01 says:

        Exciting, indeed! I was in Montezuma Canyon for the Pecos Conference tour of Coalbed Pueblo on Aug. 10 (also fascinating for the astronomical components). I had hoped to go down to Nancy Patterson afterwards but didn’t have the time. Maybe next year.
        The Nancy Patterson project sounds very ambitious. I wish you the best, and I hope that, this time, I’ll be able to read the report.


        Charlotte Wolter

  2. […] Kayenta, we headed north again with time in Montezuma Canyon and the Nancy Patterson site, and a drive through Lisbon Valley. A few days in Moab, and two days in Grand Junction ended our […]

  3. erin says:

    doingmy term paper on corner doors in chaco great houses and outliers. anything like this here at NP? fig. 1 on site report has vague site map, but are there any architectural remains to suggest this?

    • HI Erin,

      So far as I know, there is nothing like a great house at the site. And definitely nothing as grand as Chaco. Most of what we are working in has low walls for the substructure, and then had perishable materials above. The whole area is fairly flat, and the architecture is pretty consistent throughout.
      Good luck with your paper,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: