Peoples of the Mesa Verde Region

Basketmaker III: A.D. 500 to 750



Basketmaker III plain gray pottery. Pen-and-ink drawing by Lee R. Schmidlap, Jr.

Basketmaker III plain gray ware pottery vessels.

Between about A.D. 575 and 600, the people of the Mesa Verde region began making true cooking pottery. This was a major technological advance, one that made it possible for people to cook food directly over a fire for long periods of time. Pottery vessels did not completely replace baskets, but baskets were probably used for fewer purposes during the Basketmaker III period than during earlier periods.

Most of this early pottery was gray and lacked painted designs—hence the name "gray ware." The majority of gray ware vessels were jars used for cooking and storing food, but large jars with slender necks and small mouths were used to store water. These large, specially designed water jars are called ollas (pronounced OY-yahs). All gray ware vessels made during this time were "plain," which means that the clay coils used to construct them had been scraped smooth, inside and out.

A small amount of the pottery made during the Basketmaker III period was characterized by simple black designs crudely painted on a lighter background. Archaeologists call this kind of pottery "white ware," and they describe the designs as "black-on-white." Most white ware pottery during this time consisted of bowls, which were used primarily for serving food.

Basketmaker III white ware pottery. Pen-and-ink drawing by Lee R. Schmidlap, Jr.

Basketmaker III white ware pottery vessels.

Two-hand manos and large, deep trough metates became more common during the Basketmaker III period, probably reflecting the increased importance of corn in the diet. The larger, deeper troughs allowed people to grind more corn at one time.

Another major technological advance during the early Basketmaker III period involved hunting equipment. The spears and atlatls that had been used throughout the Archaic and Basketmaker II periods were replaced during the Basketmaker III period by bows and arrows. These new weapons were more accurate and easier to carry than spears.

With the transition from spears to arrows, projectile point styles changed accordingly. Points made during the Basketmaker III period were shaped differently from, and were smaller than, those used during earlier periods (compare the styles of projectile points dating from different time periods in the Mesa Verde region).

Bow and arrow. Copyright Crow Canyon Archaeological Center.

The bow and arrow replaced the atlatl and spear during the Basketmaker III period.