Peoples of the Mesa Verde Region

The Pueblo II Period: A.D. 900 to 1150



This was an exciting time to live in the Mesa Verde region. A vast network centered on Chaco Canyon, 100 miles to the south, connected the Pueblo people of the Mesa Verde region with new people, new ideas, and new goods from far beyond their traditional homeland.

Pueblo II Chacoan great house. Courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management, Anasazi Heritage Center, based on original artwork by Theresa Breznau, Living Earth Studios.

During the Pueblo II period, large structures called "great houses" reflected influence from Chaco Canyon. However, most people in the Mesa Verde region lived in small farmsteads during this time (see Housing).

After the departure of so many people at the end of the Pueblo I period, only a small population remained in the Mesa Verde region in the early part of the Pueblo II period. But as climatic conditions improved in the early A.D. 1000s, people began returning to the Mesa Verde region, settling in upland areas with good soils for farming.

Migration of Pueblo people from the Chaco region to the Mesa Verde region, middle Pueblo II period. Map by Neal Morris and Joyce Heuman Kramer; copyright Crow Canyon Archaeological Center.

During the Pueblo II period, people who had been living in and near Chaco Canyon apparently began moving east, west, south, and north, including back to the Mesa Verde region.

Unlike the communities of the preceding period, those of the late Pueblo II period consisted primarily of small farmsteads loosely clustered around a larger site called a "community center." Community centers had large public buildings that could be used for community-wide ceremonies and meetings; some may have also served as storage facilities and distribution points for food and other goods to be shared by residents. One type of public building—the great kiva—was already well known to the people of the Mesa Verde region. In addition, a new form of public architecture called a "great house" made its first appearance during the Pueblo II period. The construction of great houses in the Mesa Verde region was part of a wider cultural development associated with Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, described below.

Late Pueblo II community. Illustration by Joyce Heuman Kramer; copyright Crow Canyon Archaeological Center.

Late Pueblo II communities consisted of farmsteads loosely clustered around a community center (a great kiva, a great house, or both).

The Chaco World
Beginning in about A.D. 1080, something remarkable happened in the Mesa Verde region—something not yet completely understood by archaeologists, though it has been the focus of research for many years. We begin to see evidence of connections to a much larger and more complex social system centered on Chaco Canyon, located approximately 100 miles south in what today is northern New Mexico.

Chaco Canyon was the center of what archaeologists call the "Chaco world." It is noted for its distinctive architecture, especially the construction of a new type of building called a "great house." Great houses are massive, multiroom, multistory masonry structures with unusually large rooms and one or more kivas built inside the structure, rather than in the outdoor plaza area. Associated with great houses are exotic trade goods from as far away as Mexico, including seashells, copper bells, and macaw remains.

But great houses were not confined to Chaco Canyon. Archaeologists have discovered more than 225 great houses scattered over tens of thousands of square miles throughout the northern Southwest, including the Mesa Verde region. In addition to having Chaco-style architecture, these sites also have pottery made in the Chaco style and artifacts made of imported materials. Great houses found outside Chaco Canyon are called "Chacoan outliers," and in the Mesa Verde region they served as community centers for surrounding farmsteads. An extensive network of ancient roads connects various outliers to one another and to great houses in Chaco Canyon.

Chaco influence in the Mesa Verde region was short-lived. By about A.D. 1140, Chaco-style great houses were no longer being built in the region, and the people had entered a period of drought. This drought, which lasted from about A.D. 1130 until A.D. 1180, was the longest and most severe ever experienced by the Pueblo people of the Mesa Verde region.

Learn more . . .

View photographs of a Chaco Canyon great house, a Chacoan outlier in the Mesa Verde region, and Chaco roads visible today via satellite imagery.

For more information about the Chaco world, visit the Chaco Culture National Historical Park Web site.