Northern Chaco Outliers Project


View of the study area (Indian Camp Ranch)

A view of the Haynie site.

Archaeologists, students, and lifelong learners begin second year of excavation in 2018

In 2017, Crow Canyon archaeologists launched a new multiyear project, the Northern Chaco Outliers Project. The focus of the project is the Haynie site (5MT1905), a significant ancestral Pueblo village located just northeast of Cortez. Full-time excavation began during the 2017 field season, and the project will continue through 2020.

The Haynie site contains two Chaco–period (A.D. 1050–1140) great houses and numerous small houses. All are part of the larger Lakeview group, which includes the two great houses at the Haynie site and two others nearby on private land. This makes the Lakeview group one of the densest concentrations of great houses found north of Aztec Ruins.

Although the Haynie site contains some of the most important archaeological information in the Mesa Verde region, we know little about its occupation and how it functioned within the larger community and Chaco regional system. The data we gather will dramatically increase our understanding of Chaco influence in the Mesa Verde region, changing human/environment relationships during the A.D. 1130–1180 drought, and the emergence and functioning of community centers through time.

Unlike the individual small houses in which most ancestral Pueblo families of this era lived, multistory great houses were built to accommodate many households in one large structure. Great houses first developed in Chaco Canyon, in present-day northwestern New Mexico, beginning in approximately A.D. 850. Around A.D. 1080, the Chaco regional system expanded to the area north of the San Juan River—including the Aztec and Salmon Pueblos, the largest great houses outside of Chaco Canyon. Many archaeologists believe the great houses at Aztec Ruins became a center of power equal to Chaco Canyon and probably succeeded Chaco as the primary center during the mid–A.D. 1100s.

“There are few communities in the Mesa Verde area that have a tight clustering of public and residential architecture,” said Susan Ryan, Ph.D., director of archaeology at Crow Canyon. “We don’t see many examples of this dense concentration of great houses in the Mesa Verde region.” Others include Lowry Pueblo, 27 miles northwest of Cortez, and the community at Mitchell Springs, just south of Cortez.

Participant in Crow Canyon’s Archaeology Research Program excavating at the Dillard site.
A kiva at the Haynie site.


The goals of the Northern Chaco Outliers Project are fourfold. Researchers, assisted by student and adult participants in the Center’s archaeology programs, hope to explore differences in artifact production to look at social stratification and equality/inequality. Archaeologists also will explore the relationship of the inhabitants of the Haynie site to those at Chaco Canyon and the middle San Juan region, between Chaco Canyon to the south and Mesa Verde to the north. All four of the Lakeview community’s great houses have features that suggest their builders most likely migrated to the central Mesa Verde region directly from Chaco or the middle San Juan. In addition, Crow Canyon’s research will provide new data on the relationships between humans and the environment, the role of public architecture and community centers, and ancestral Pueblo identity formation.

“Because we believe the Haynie site was occupied from the Basketmaker III period into the thirteenth century, this is a chance to collect data from the initial occupation of the site to the time when depopulation took place throughout the region,” Ryan said. The A.D. 1130–1180 drought is particularly important, because those five decades of extreme moisture deficiency on the Colorado Plateau caused some communities to depopulate, while others held their population, and a few even grew.

The research at the Haynie site will, in turn, tie into data Crow Canyon has collected over the past 33 years.

During 2016, a History Colorado State Historical Fund grant supported site assessment, remote sensing, drone mapping, and planning of research at the Haynie site. The site is listed on the Montezuma County Historic Registry. Crow Canyon’s Native American Advisory Group has visited the site and participated in a collaborative research design process with Crow Canyon staff.

In addition to Crow Canyon’s professional archaeologists, participants in Crow Canyon’s Archaeology Research Programs, school group programs, teen camps, and College Field School will excavate at the Haynie site. The public may only visit the site through Crow Canyon programs.


The Northern Chaco Outliers Project is funded in part by the State Historical Fund (a program of History Colorado, the Colorado Historical Society).

History Colorado, State Historical Fund logo