Peoples of the Mesa Verde Region

Basketmaker III: A.D. 500 to 750



Corn, beans, and squash. Photographs by Joyce Heuman Kramer and (corn inset) Joyce Alexander; copyright Crow Canyon Archaeological Center.

The plant foundation of the Pueblo diet: corn, beans, and squash. The cultivation of beans in the Mesa Verde region dates from about A.D. 500.

With people now firmly settled into a farming way of life, it was probably fairly easy for them to incorporate a new food crop into their fields. The new crop was the domesticated bean, similar to today's pinto bean. Although domesticated beans had been introduced into the Southwest centuries earlier, evidence of bean cultivation in the Mesa Verde region specifically dates from about A.D. 500. By about A.D. 600, it had become a dietary staple, along with corn and squash. In an era when food-preservation options were limited, corn and beans had the special advantage of having a relatively long "shelf life." Once dried, both could be stored for long periods of time.

People during the Basketmaker III period continued to collect wild plants, but they were not as dependent on them as in times past. Amaranth, goosefoot, sunflower, lambsquarter, and ricegrass provided nutritious "greens" and/or seeds. Seasonal nuts and fruits also supplemented the diet. Some of the wild plants gathered by people during this time (for example, amaranth, goosefoot, and sunflower) were weeds that thrived in the disturbed soil of agricultural fields. These plants would have been especially easy for people to collect as they tended their crops.

Because corn and beans consumed at the same time or within a few hours of each other make a complete protein, people may have been less dependent on animal sources of protein during the Basketmaker III period than during earlier periods. Still, a variety of animals were hunted, including deer, elk, bighorn sheep, rabbits, and rodents.