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
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
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
or by mailing a request to:
PO Box 750145
Dallas, TX 75275-0145