Paleoethnobotany at Stix and Leaves Pueblo (Site 5MT 11555), Colorado

Trisha Rude

As of 2002, Degree of Master of Science (MS) Quaternary and Climate Studies published under the auspices of the Climate Change Institute.


Stix and Leaves Pueblo is one of very few excavated sites in the Mesa Verde region of Southwest Colorado that date to Early Pueblo II times (ca. AD 900-1050). The pueblo was a multi-roomblock site continually occupied between about AD 850 and 1050. For three summers between 1998 and 2000, archaeologist Bruce Bradley led excavations of a single roomblock at the site. This thesis examines botanical remains from 20 sediment samples recovered from 18 thermal features during these excavations. It attempts to shed light on resource use and community dynamics at Stix and Leaves Pueblo, and addresses three research questions: 1) How heavily did people living at Stix and Leaves Pueblo depend on agriculture?, 2) Did local deforestation occur around the site during its early Pueblo II occupation?, and 3) Do macrobotanical data reflect different use of ritual and domestic space within the site? Prior to analysis, I conducted an experiment with five sediment samples to compare dry screening, simple bucket flotation, and IDOT flotation methods for recovering botanical remains. The IDOT bucket flotation system performed well in this experiment, and was used to process all remaining sediment samples. After conducting flotation, I sent the light fraction of each sample through a set of soil sieves and sorted each size fraction greater than 0.5 mm under a binocular microscope. To identify charred seeds and charcoal fragments, I used available type collections and identification manuals. To assess agricultural dependence, I compared amounts of seeds from pioneer, non-disturbance, and domestic plant remains. Pioneer taxa were mostly common garden weeds, and non-disturbance taxa represented wild plant resources. Seeds from pioneer taxa ranked highest in ubiquity, followed by corn (Zea mays), and seeds from non-disturbance plants. The number of pioneer seeds per liter of soil in features was significantly greater than the number of non-disturbance seeds per liter of soil (t-test, p<0.05). These data suggested that people living at Stix and Leaves Pueblo depended on agricultural crops and garden weeds while supplementing their diet with wild plants. Alternative taphonomic interpretations of the data, however, should not be discounted. Pinyon-juniper woodlands appear to have existed within walking distance of Stix and Leaves Pueblo during early Pueblo II times. In my analysis, I identified most charcoal as juniper (Juniperus sp.) or pinyon pine (Pinus edulis). Saltbrush (Atriplex sp.), rose-family (Rosaceae), oak (Quercus sp.), and cottonwood/willow (Saliceae) charcoal were also identified. To examine possible differences in use of space, I compared botanical remains from features in eight rooms and four kivas. While room features had a greater density of seeds per liter of soil, the difference was not significant. Seeds from the most common pioneer taxa were present in both rooms and kivas, possibly suggesting that kivas housed some domestic activities. Sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) achenes were concentrated primarily within kivas and were possibly related to ritual activity, use of sagebrush branches for fuelwood, or kiva roof construction. The results of my comparison were inconclusive, but may suggest that rooms were used for domestic activities, and kivas served both secular and religious functions.