In the summer of 2010, members of the Hisatsinom Chapter of the Colorado Archaeological Society teamed up with the Verde Valley Archaeological Center and members from several Chapters of the Arizona Archaeological Society in an investigation of the North Hill at Champagne Spring Ruins. The 2013 excavations continued where they finished in 2012; in the plaza area in and around the village great kiva where 7 early kivas and proto-kivas were constructed during a period of about 100 years. The plaza space was a focal point of the village and the structures built in it appear to represent a complex of space and buildings that were primarily used for ritual performances, some of which involved large group eating events. By the time the site was abandoned, other than the great kiva, all of the plaza buildings appear to have been ceremonially 'closed'. The earliest buildings in the plaza group were abandoned by A.D. 900-920 and the latest by A.D. 1040.
Before the plaza had formed by the construction of surrounding room blocks, Structures 46 and 36 were built and abandoned. With the construction of most of the room blocks and the other plaza structures during the end of the first half or in the second half of the 10th century, the final plaza configuration was complete. Structure's 46, 36, and 38 were the only tested structures that contained materials or features indicating they had been used as a place where ordinary domestic functions such as grinding food occurred. Structure 46 contained features that have been associated with portable altars in some historic pueblos. Its small size, location adjacent to the great kiva, and multiple grinding stations suggest it may be a deep ritualized version of a pit room or mealing room. Serving food was an integral part of many ceremonies so the presence of grinding implements and a floor crowded by features associated with the performance of rituals is consistent with the interpretation that this building probably was not an ordinary household subterranean room. The ritual features were probably either filled with sand or capped with adobe plaster when they were not being used. The photograph to the upper left shows all Str 46 floor features and therefore, the minimum amount of usable space.
Evidence derived from ceramics taken from the floor and floor fill of Structure 46 as well as the upper fill appear to confirm the use, abandonment, and filling of this building prior to roughly A.D. 910-920 at about which time Structure 36 was constructed. Nine Structure 46 tree-ring samples were submitted to the Tree Ring Lab at the University of Arizona but none were datable. This building and Kiva 2 were the only plaza subterranean structures that burned at the time of abandonment while their roofs were fully intact. Others burned after the roofs were salvaged of the most usable beams or after an occupational hiatus of perhaps 5 to 10 years.
The earliest version of proto-kiva Str 36 was built with a wingwall that probably extended up to the roof judging by the diameter of the posts that formed the core of this feature. The SW and SE main roof supports were incorporated into the wingwall construction and served to create a small partitioned space of about 5 sq meters. The floor of this space was built almost 10 cm higher than the main chamber floor and was probably used for storage. Elevated floors in Pueblo I structures are common in the area to the south of the wing wall and this feature appears to be a remnant from that era. Extensive cists constructed into the walls added several extra square meters of storage.
After the original version of Structure 36 burned, much of the resulting debris was removed and plaster was added to the walls to form a slightly smaller structure. A new roof was installed and the plastered floor was raised 10 cm. Eventually the building burned again, and again plaster was added to the walls, creating an even smaller structure. Later, the floor was raised another 15 cm and a new roof was installed. Str 36 would go on to burn and be rebuilt a total of four times. The last version of the building was probably short-lived and may have only had an informal fire area to the north of where a hearth would ordinarily be located if it were present. Its floor was use compacted and due to the unsettled nature of the materials beneath it, floor features were difficult to discern.
The final use of Structure 36 was as a large roasting pit. The remains of several very large deer, many projectile points, and more than 50 flaked bone scrapers and bone awls were deposited into the ashy fill of the roasting pit. Burned corn cobs and beans were found throughout. The roasting pit was nearly the size of the abandoned structure beneath and around it. Stratigraphic layers and the thick depth of the ashy deposit inside the pit indicates it was used a number of times for this purpose, possibly during group eating events involving the consumption of food and the stitching and manufacture of animal hides. High relative quantities of ceramics in the roasting pit included nearly 30% redware. This percentage is greater than most contexts in contemporaneous sites in SE Utah where this pottery was believed to have been manufactured. The large number of complete projectile points suggests that arrows were either placed into the roasting pit or, animals that were roasted there still had arrows still lodged in the carcass when they were cooked. These points do not appear to have been in direct contact with fire so perhaps the process of roasting complete animals or large portions of them, protected the projectile point from direct contact with the flames. Alternatively, these artifacts may have been sacrificial offerings. Four tree ring samples were submitted and produced no dates.
The Champagne Spring great kiva was probably built between 940-960 A.D. at around the same time or slightly earlier than Structures 34, 35, 37 and possibly 38. Although the ceramics data have not yet been fully analyzed, it appears this structure may have been abandoned before the buildings mentioned above, at which time Structure 35 probably assumed the role of primary integrative structure on the North Hill. The great kiva measures 10.5 meters in diameter and was constructed in an oblong shape. It was built with a wide earthen bench and a 4 or 6-post roof support system. In a major remodeling event, 10-15 cm of trash-filled soil was placed on the original plastered floor and a new adobe floor was added. The roof was probably replaced at that time. After it was abandoned, usable roof beams were salvaged. Only a small portion of this building was excavated and little is known about its interior features. In the southern end, a tall wing wall was part of the original version of the great kiva. When the structure floor was raised and the roof was replaced, this feature was not rebuilt. The diameter of the wing wall posts suggests this feature extended from the floor to the roof. The only masonry exposed during our tests was found in the extreme south end of the great kiva. Two courses of large stones were installed here for the purpose of removing another feature that may have served as an entry. The great kiva was probably abandoned by A.D. 975-1000.
Structure 35 is an over-size pit structure that apparently outlived the great kiva by a decade or two and the ritual functions performed inside the great kiva may then have shifted over to this building. People living in the large block of early to mid 11th century surface structures located directly south of the great kiva would have found the large depression created by the abandoned community structure a convenient repository for trash but the ceramics in the fill appear to confirm the great kiva was already filled by the time these structures were built. This material was probably generated by people living in the room blocks to the east and west of the great kiva or in earlier structures that may lie beneath the room block immediately to the south. Because the age of the trash inside the great kiva predates the later east-west room block, enough people were still living in this part of the site after the great kiva was abandoned to generate the debris that filled it. This supports the hypothesis that another large ritual structure would have been needed to assume the duties of the great kiva after it was abandoned.
Some evidence suggests the Champagne Spring population went through a period of reduction in this part of the site near the end of the 10th century before it grew again at around A.D. 1025-1050. Minimal testing of the South Hill site prevents a better understanding of the population dynamics at Champagne Spring. All of the subterranean plaza structures appear to have undergone a form of formal 'closing ritual' when they were abandoned. These closings may have been performed through several different treatments. Structure burning appears to be one of these treatments. Another dramatic form is the practice of sacrificing animals and burying them on structure floors or in features that were built to house them. Another method takes the form of depositing animal heads in the south end of these buildings, in fact, all of these structures except the great kiva where limited testing has occurred, contained an animal skull in the mid-fill in the southern ends.
Part of the FourCornersResearch.com research objectives includes the study of the Anasazi practice of sacrificing or making offerings. This can be seen in the form of burning structures, burning structures while leaving complete living assemblages in place, animal sacrifice, and the placement of animal skulls, antlers and elk horn in structure fills. Another form of sacrifice and offering can be found in the large numbers of perfectly useable artifacts placed into structure fillls. Animal burials placed into protokivas and early kivas represented an act of structure sacrifice and the elaborate animal burial displays created in Structure 34 and Structure 37 underscores the effort the Champagnians were willing to go through to satisfy that requirement.
Structure 34 is an early form of kiva that was abandoned near 1000 A.D. It was ritually closed with an elaborate display of animal burials on and near the floor. At around 18 square meters of floor space, it was an average size kiva that was probably built in the last quarter of the 10th century. A central floor vault, a feature that is ordinarily found in larger community buildings, was constructed 35 cm due north of the hearth. Str 34 was heavily remodeled on several occasions with the last event replacing the roof, raising the floor, and adding a bench. To protect the animal burials, stratigraphic evidence appears to indicate that the structure roof was dismantled and partially rebuilt over the top of the animal sized chambers of stone that were placed around the burials. This kiva, is one of the few in the North Plaza that did not burn at or within a few years of abandonment. About half of Structure 34 was excavated and all of the burials were found in a wedge shaped area spanning from the ventilator at the south end of the kiva to the north side of the central vault. These consisted of the articulated remains of six adult and one sub-adult turkeys, four canids (probably dogs), one cottontail rabbit, a headless rattlesnake, and a squirrel. In addition, 14 recently hatched juvenile turkeys were part of the interment complex.
Ritualized structure closings appear to be related to structure sacrifice or reverence to space and architecture. There is evidence to suggest that buildings where important functions or rituals occurred were more likely to receive this special treatment upon being retired. Structure 34 may have functioned as a society or clan building where managerial decisions were made. Its floor features and length of occupation indicate it played a different role than ordinary household kivas. In the west half of the building, no tools or evidence of domestic task activity such as food grinding or tool manufacture took place in this kiva.
Ritualized structure closings were primarily practiced in the 9th and 10th centuries and were most often performed in pit structures and early kivas where higher levels of ritual practices occurred. Some evidence suggests feature closings were also performed during this period and this phenomenon lasted until the Puebloan departure in the late 1200s. As previously stated, other forms of ritualized structure closing includes structure burning, use of abandoned subterranean buildings as communal roasting pits, animal skulls deposited in the fills of structures, offerings of completely useable artifacts of value deposited into structure fills, and animal craniums with attached horns or antlers deposited on structure floors and fill. Craniums with attached horns or antlers are thought to represent headdresses or kiva adornments that were placed on the roofs of subterranean buildings. The construction of shrines in kiva fills may also be related to structure offerings. It appears likely that each form of closing carried an overriding meaning as well as one that was unique to those who used it.
Structure 37 was in use at about the same time as Structure 34 or slightly later. It may have been constructed by those who abandoned Structure 34. The pottery profiles of the floor-fills in both are very similar but Structure 37 appears to be slightly more architecturally advanced toward full masonry lined walls and bench. A small part of the floor has been examined in the south end of the kiva and further work is planned. It had an unusual occupational and post occupational history that was also similar to Str 34.
When Str 37 was abandoned, multiple birds and at least a couple dogs were evidently sacrificed and then were placed on or near the floor or within a 1+ meter tall cone-shaped stone shrine that was centered over the top of the ash pit/subfloor vent. This type of ventilator is uncommon at sites that predate the great house era in the region and is similar to nearby Str 38 in that both contained subfloor ventilating systems as well as above floor ventilators. The potential symbolism of building the cone-shaped 'shrine' over the 'breathing' system of the structure cannot be overlooked. A small amount of cover soil was placed over the burials and the area was then abandoned for at least several years. Many laminated layers accumulated after which the structure was deliberately completely filled and then the roof was burned. Burning the roofs of abandoned structures several years after structure (and/or village) abandonment and partial filling with sediments and stone, was a common practice at Grass Mesa Village which is located approximately 20 miles to the east. Excavations there also revealed at least one pitstructure that contained both types of ventilation systems.
In total, at this stage of the excavation of Str 37, the burials of more than 50 turkeys (adults to poults) have been removed as well as 2 dogs and an American Crow.