Dolores Archaeological Program: Anasazi communities at Dolores: Grass Mesa Village book1 of 2
Lipe, William D.
Morris, James N.
Kohler, Timothy A.
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Grass Mesa Village (5MT23) is located in the Dolores River canyon at the juncture of Beaver Creek and the Dolores River. Fieldwork consisted of an intensive surface collection, a magnetometer survey, a probability sample of test pits, extensive exploratory trenching, and intensive block excavations. Work was done in the 1979, 1980, 1982, and 1983 field seasons by Washington State University, under a subcontract from the University of Colorado, as part of the Dolores Archaeological Program. Fieldwork results are reported for the 8 areas into which the site was subdivided for administrative and sampling purposes. The area chapters present descriptions of stratigraphy and of structures and other cultural study units. The volume includes chapters on surface investigations, the probability sample, geoarchaeology, artifact analysis, faunal and floral remains, an economic intensification model, and a review of the chronology and distribution of structures and synthesis of the evidence of population and economy. Although Grass Mesa may have been occupied as early as A.D. 720, the principal early occupation was between about A.D. 750 and 825, and spanned the late Sagehill and early Dos Casas Subphases of the Sagehen Phase. The Sagehill occupation consisted of scattered, probably residential, pitstructures lacking associated room blocks. Settlement density was higher at Grass Mesa than elsewhere in the Dolores Project area during this subphase. Population at the site was probably 16 to 24 households at any one time. During the Dos Casas Subphase, small surface room blocks were built as residences for groups of households jointly using an associated pitstructure for domestic and ritual activities. Momentary population at the end of the A.D. 700's may have been as great as 35 to 53 households; population appears to have declined to a very low level by A.D. 825. A large great kiva was built in A.D. 800; it probably served other settlements in addition to Grass Mesa. After a period of low population or abandonment, several Periman Subphase roomblock units were built in the A.D. 850's or 860's. These were composed of interhousehold units each consisting of several residential surface room suites and an associated jointly used pitstructure. At least 4 of the Periman Subphase pitstructures had floor areas over 35 m2 and may have functioned as "great pitstructures" with integrative functions more extensive than the interhousehold. Estimates of momentary population during the period A.D. 850-880 range from 84 to over 100 households, with the lower estimate being the more likely. Some Periman structures continued to be occupied for a time after A.D. 880, and were contemporaneous with a new type of settlement used to define a new subdivision - the Grass Mesa Subphase. This subphase is represented by numerous, very small pitstructures, some of which were associated with surface roomsuites. The Grass Mesa Subphase occupation appears to have been brief, and the site was probably abandoned by A.D. 895 or 900, and certainly by A.D. 910. Momentary population between A.D. 880 and abandonment was probably over 100 households, with a best estimate of 154. Both economic intensification and social elaboration accompanied the increase in regional and Grass Mesa population during the middle A.D. 800's. The Grass Mesa Subphase represents a response to deteriorating climatic conditions in the late A.D. 800•s. Though regional population decreased, Grass Mesa population remained high for a time. Farming remained important, but distant as well as nearby fields were being used, and the Grass Mesa site may have been used primarily as a winter residence. In addition to cultigens, wild foods were more heavily exploited. Architectural patterns reflect both increased mobility and decreased hierarchy and rigidity in the social order.