Pot Creek Pueblo

Pot Creek Pueblo is the largest prehistoric adobe pueblo north of Santa Fe. Located on the campus of Southern Methodist University's SMU-IN-TAOS campus, Pot Creek Pueblo has been the focus of excavations since 1957. Until 1997, the site was the primary focus of excavations by the SMU Archaeology Field School. Recently, the archaeological research program has been expanded to encompass the computerization and analysis of materials excavated over the past several decades.

Pot Creek Pueblo was formerly home to several hundred ancestral Puebloan peoples approximately seven hundred years ago. The site consists of at least nine earthen mounds surrounding at least one large plaza area with a great kiva. Each mound is an artificial landform, created by multiple episodes of adobe construction and reconstruction, creating a 'layer cake' of occupation levels within each mound. When the Pot Creek inhabitants began to build their adobe structures in the mid-13th century, the site was "zoned" so that each roomblock area surrounded a small plaza. In each of these small plazas, a small kiva--or circular subterranean structure--was built. These small kivas probably served as spaces for ritual, meetings and other gatherings of social or kin groups, while the great kiva presumably served as the primary ritual structure for the community as a whole.

At the height of its occupation (AD 1260-1320), Pot Creek Pueblo would have looked somewhat like Taos Pueblo does today, with multiple-storied roomblocks and an estimated 400 ground-floor rooms. The adobe walls of the Pot Creek buildings were constructed in massive courses rather than with adobe bricks. Roofs of the adobe surface rooms were held up by central support beams set into central basins. Lower story rooms were used for storage; upper story rooms were utilized for habitation. The prehistoric inhabitants of the settlement gathered wild plants and hunted local animals to supplement their agricultural livelihood, predominantly corn, beans and squash. Bison bones found at the site suggest that Pot Creek inhabitants traveled to the margins of the Great Plains--nearly 100 km to the east--to hunt, or that they were engaged in trade with groups living on the Plains. Crafts produced at Pot Creek Pueblo include gray cooking and black-on-white decorated pottery vessels, chipped stone and ground stone tools, and bone tools. A few ornaments of turquoise and shell have been found, indicating trade with groups to the south and southwest. Refuse was thrown into areas between the major occupation mounds, located to the north of current excavations.

The visible remains of Pot Creek Pueblo are only part of the story, however. Buried beneath the remains of the adobe rooms are subterranean structures called pit houses that were occupied by a few family groups between AD 1100 and AD 1200. These structures were roughly circular and dug quite deeply into the earth, an adaptation to the cold Taos winters. When the prehistoric puebloan populations began to build above-ground adobe structures in the 13th century, a smaller adobe pueblo was constructed (AD 1200-1250). These early adobe rooms underlie the later occupation during the late 13th and early 14th centuries.

Pot Creek Pueblo was abandoned around AD 1320 and it is believed that the inhabitants of the site moved to settlements contiguous to the modern settlements at Taos Pueblo and Picuris Pueblo.

Pot Creek Pueblo is not open to visitors; visit the Pot Creek Cultural Site adjacent to campus for a walking tour and reconstructions. Though the gates are typically closed, visitors can park at the gates on Highway 518 and walk in to the Pot Creek Cultural Site.  Visitation is encouraged. Questions about the Cultural Site should be directed to the Carson National Forest, 505-587-2255.

Information on the on-going excavation of Pot Creek Pueblo, artifact recovery and analysis, or information about the SMU Archaeological Field School can be obtained by sending an inquiry to: SMU-IN-TAOS
or by mailing a request to:
PO Box 750145
Dallas, TX 75275-0145