Basketmaker Culture in the Animas Valley

Projectile point

Replica of a projectile point found by Earl Morris when he was excavating the North Shelter at Falls Creek in 1938.

In the Southwest, the Basketmaker period follows the Archaic period and starts around 500 BCE. The earliest known date for Basketmaker habitation in the Animas Valley is 231 BCE. The Basketmaker period is seen as the beginning of the Pueblo culture. For the most part, Basketmaker people gave up their nomadic ways of life to focus on farming. Their most important crop was corn. This period is when people began cultivating the foods known as the Three Sisters: corn, beans, and squash. People also still ate wild fruits, nuts, and seeds. They also still hunted for meat from wild game like deer, elk, big horn sheep, and rabbit.

During the Basketmaker period, we see the introduction of the pithouse. Pithouses begin with a floor dug into the ground about 3 feet deep. Because they are partially below ground, these homes stayed cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. Wooden poles then supported a thatched roof that went above the ground level. People accessed their homes by ladders that leaned against a hole in the roof. This hole was usually also used to ventilate smoke from the hearth inside the structure. Many pithouse were also divided into the main chamber, where a family would live, and an antechamber, which was used for storage. During this time, communities also began building kivas. Kivas are also built partially underground, but most of these structures are round. It is believed that kivas were not homes, but were used for communities to socialize and perform ceremonies.

The Basketmaker culture is named for the plant fiber baskets that are commonly found in sites dating to this period. Other materials found at Basketmaker sites include sandals, aprons, and bags. Near the end of the Basketmaker period, people began to make vessels out of clay. This is often thought to be around the time beans became an important food, as beans need to boil for a substantial period of time. The pottery from this period is usually plain gray ware used for cooking and storing food. Some clay bowls are also found with simple designs. Archaeologists also find digging sticks, used by farmers to create holes for planting; large two-handed manos, used with trough metates; and bows used with smaller arrows were introduced near the end of the Basketmaker period. The general estimate for the end of the Basketmaker period and the start of the Pueblo I period is 700 CE. In the Durango area, the latest date for Basketmaker habitation is around 500 CE provided by corn kernels found at local sites.

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