Peoples of the Mesa Verde Region

Basketmaker III: A.D. 500 to 750



If you had lived during this time period, you would have been witness to great technological and social changes. Things that later Pueblo people would take for granted—like cooking pottery and the bow and arrow—were the latest innovations for people during the Basketmaker III period. And, as the population grew, people developed new ways to manage their increasingly complex society.

Basketmaker III farmstead. Courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management, Anasazi Heritage Center, based on original artwork by Theresa Breznau, Living Earth Studios.

A Basketmaker III farmstead. To see what a Basketmaker III house looked like on the inside, go to Housing.

The Basketmaker III period was a time of rapid population growth in the Mesa Verde region, which archaeologists believe was largely the result of immigration. Earlier Basketmaker peoples had lived mostly in the extreme eastern and western parts of the region and adjacent areas outside the region. But starting in the sixth century, descendants of these early Eastern and Western Basketmakers apparently began moving into the central Mesa Verde region in large numbers.

Migration of Basketmaker peoples into the central Mesa Verde region, Basketmaker III period. Map by Neal Morris and Joyce Heuman Kramer; copyright Crow Canyon Archaeological Center.

During the Basketmaker III period, Western and Eastern Basketmaker peoples moved into the central part of the Mesa Verde region.

The population boom ushered in an era of great change and progress. Hunters completed the transition from atlatl-and-spear weaponry to the bow and arrow. Domesticated beans, introduced into the Southwest centuries earlier, became a Pueblo staple during this time, and people began making different kinds of pottery, including cooking ware. Farming became increasingly important, with people relying more and more on domesticated crops, especially corn. For most of the period, the climate was very favorable for agriculture, with few droughts, which may have encouraged immigration from adjacent regions with less-favorable conditions.

But the population boom probably brought its own share of problems, too. As discussed before, it is likely that the people moving in from the east and the west spoke different languages, and archaeologists have found evidence of conflict between them during the preceding Basketmaker II period. So it would have been important for people to develop ways to live together.

How did they do it? Archaeologists look at where and how people settled on the landscape for the answer. Most people in the Mesa Verde region during this time lived in small, scattered farmsteads that were home to one, two, or three households, each with its own pithouse and outdoor storage facilities. As the population grew, clusters of these farmsteads began to appear, forming early communities.

Basketmaker III community. Illustration by Joyce Heuman Kramer; copyright Crow Canyon Archaeological Center.

Basketmaker III communities consisted of farmsteads loosely clustered around a great kiva.

And with the formation of early communities, something else happened, something enormously important to Basketmaker and all future Pueblo society. For the very first time, the people of the Mesa Verde region began building large, public structures called "great kivas." These structures appear to have served as the focal points of their communities, providing a place where residents could participate in community-wide ceremonies and other important events. Archaeologists think that having a special place where everyone in the community could gather might have eased tensions and promoted social unity. If so, it was a strategy that served the Pueblo people reasonably well for the next 700 years, until the hardship and strife of the mid-thirteenth century led to large-scale migrations from the region.