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Ute tribe, CU develop archaeology field school

Students study Cowboy Wash Pueblo
The view from Cowboy Wash Pueblo looking toward Ute Mountain. In June, the site was studied by students from the University of Colorado as part of a new field school with the tribe.

The Ute Mountain Ute tribe is working with the University of Colorado anthropology department to develop a field school to document and preserve ruins on the reservation.

During the first two-week session in June, 12 students traveled to the reservation to study the ancient Cowboy Wash Pueblo, located southwest of Towaoc. The pueblo was occupied by Puebloans during the late Pueblo III period, 1100 A.D. to 1300 A.D.

The excavation project is under the supervision and guidance of PaleoWest Archaeology, the Ute Mountain Ute tribe and CU faculty, with assistance from Crow Canyon Archaeology Center.

Cowboy Wash Pueblo is near the Ute Mountain Farm and Ranch. It has not been extensively studied and was missed during the archeological survey for the Ute Mountain irrigated lands project.

During the recent dig, archeologists learned new facts about the pueblo and hypothesized about its history, PaleoWest archaeologist James Potter said during a Four Corners Lecture Series presentation Thursday in Cortez.

“The area was colonized and recolonized over and over again,” he said. “People would come in, a drought would hit, and they would leave, then move back in and reorganize.”

The pueblo is thought to be from the late Pueblo III period because it appears to have been built with wooden beams salvaged from earlier Pueblo III structures in the area. It has 13 kivas, courtyards, a tower and rooms with hearths.

Potter said in 1150 A.D. there was a big hiatus from the Cowboy Wash Pueblo, then in 1270 it appears that most of the population moved into the pueblo.

“This site probably contained most of the community toward the end of the occupation, potentially as a defensive refuge in the 1270s,” Potter said. “There is a history of violence in the Cowboy Wash community,” in particular a war in the mid 1100s.

He said they apparently left in a hurry and traveled far because they did not salvage or burn the wooden beams, as many Puebloans did when purposefully closing a dwelling or kiva.

Students and instructors mapped and surveyed the pueblo and did limited excavations. They documented pottery, discovered a pottery firing site and uncovered plastered floors. They speculated that hole on an outside wall was used to monitor solstice activity on the eastern horizon.

The tribe has also been studying Cowboy Wash’s sister city, the Moki Springs Pueblo, which has 42 kivas.

“These sites were the first communities you would come to traveling north into the Mesa Verde region,” Potter said.

Towers in both communities may have been used for signal fires to warn of approaching people.

The Cowboy Wash Pueblo is at risk of falling into a nearby arroyo, and archaeologists are working to relocate a culvert so runoff avoids the site. PaleoWest will be conducing 3D modeling, drone photography and photogrammetry of the ancients sites on the reservation to preserve a record. The images will be available for the public and for tribal elders.

Potter said the field school proposal was well received by the tribal council.

“The tribe is very interested in the field school to get tribal members interested in archaeology,” Potter said.


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