Archaeologist wows Hisatsinom Chapter with latest findings about pottery

Jonathan Till listens as a member of the Colorado Archaeology Society questions him about his latest pottery analysis at Hovenweep National Monument. Enlargephoto

Tobie Baker/Cortez Journal

Jonathan Till listens as a member of the Colorado Archaeology Society questions him about his latest pottery analysis at Hovenweep National Monument.

After analyzing some 12,000 Great Pueblo-era pottery sherds from Hovenweep National Monument, Four Corners archaeologist Jonathon Till riveted the Colorado Archaeology Society's Hisatsinom Chapter with his latest findings earlier this week.

"No one has seen this," said Till. "The study hasn't been published yet."

Addressing some three-dozen at the Hisatsinom Chapter meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 4, Till explained that his latest analysis of pottery collections from Hovenweep National Monument centered on the Great Pueblo Period, circa 1225 to 1280. His study revealed further evidence that ancient cultures shifted from individual families living atop mesas to communities living together along canyon rims.

"Hovenweep is a great example of the Great Pueblo period," Till said. "People were moving around, mixing it up on the landscape and mixing it up with themselves."

Till explained the intensive settlement strategy of the Great Pueblo period was supported through villages, which included towers, D-shaped buildings and plazas. He said pottery mugs were also developed during the era.

"Mugs were only produced during the Great Pueblo Period," he said. "None were made before this time, and none were made after this time."

Made up of 120 archaeologists and ad vocational archaeologist, the Hisatsinom Chapter is the second largest, only behind Denver, of the Colorado Archaeological Society. Chapter president Larry Keller said he was thrilled to be on the cutting edge of Till's research.

"To get something before it's published is a big deal," Keller said. "The more we can find out from investigations like this of Hovenweep, then the better off humanity is today."

Hovenweep settlements represent the last people to abandon the area, Keller said. During the 13th century, the people constructed highly defensive communities, most likely because they were afraid of something, he added.

"This research helps us to understand the types of things that led to the depopulation of this area," Keller said. "Everybody picked up and left at about the same time."

"So the more archaeologist can find out about the ceramics, then the more we learn," he said.

In analyzing Great Pueblo era white ware bowls, used as serving vessels from Hovenweep, Till found bowl sizes nearly doubled, indicating that community feasts were held in bigger villages. He also examined gray ware jars used for cooking, and found they too were larger in size.

"The size of the bowls and jars were incredible during the Great Pueblo Period," he said.

Most of Till's study focused on pottery shards collected in the mid-1970s by San Jose State University officials. Data from that earlier study has disappeared, so Till wanted to re-examine the collection in order to compile an electronic database that could be shared with other researchers.

"The analysis was completed to help learn more about prehistoric exchange, regional affiliation, site function and time of use," Till said. "These were the basic goals of the two-year project."

A resident of Bluff, Utah, Till has worked as an archaeologist in the Four Corners region for more than 20 years with a variety of organizations, including Abajo Archaeology, Crow Canyon and Edge of Cedars Museum. He has a bachelor's degree in anthropology from Grinnell College and a master's degree in anthropology from the University of Colorado.

tbaker@cortezjournal.com