Ancestral Pueblo: Southern Colorado Plateau (Anasazi)Central AnasaziNorthern San Juan

Tradition Name: Northern San Juan

First posted by C. Dean Wilson 2012

As usually defined, the Northern San Juan or Mesa Verde region includes large areas of southeastern Utah, southwestern Colorado, and northwestern New Mexico. It includes much of the area drained by the tributaries of the San Juan River, and the confluence of the Colorado and San Juan Rivers forms the southwest boundary. The Colorado River forms the western boundary and the Animas River appears to represent the eastern boundary. The northern boundary is generally defined by the northern tributaries of the San Juan River, but can be extended north to include the southernmost portions of the Dolores River.

Changes in exterior surface textures for gray ware and surface manipulation and decorative styles for white and red ware pottery forms produced in the Northern San Juan region conform to trends similar to those noted for pottery produced in other regions of the Central Anasazi, and form the basis of the recognition of different Northern San Juan types. The classification and recognition of the full range of utility and decorated pottery produced in the Northern San Juan region is largely based on the recognition of the use of crushed igneous porphyries (Shepard 1939). While distinct traits noted for decorated forms long produced in the Southwest formed the initial basis for the recognition of various white types defined for the San Juan region (Brew 1946; Kidder 1924; Martin 1936), Abel (1955) provided descriptions of both newly defined types based on the presence of crushed igneous temper.

Types assigned to the Mesa Verde tradition types appear to represent among the most commonly described and discussed pottery in the Southwest. Since the description by Abel (1955), several other syntheses of Mesa Verde pottery types have been published (Breternitz and others 1974; Lister and Lister 1978; Oppelt 1991; Rohn 1977; Wilson and Blinman 1995). Igneous rocks that commonly form the basis for the recognition of pottery assigned to this tradition include a range of porphyries including andesites or diorites. These rocks are present in situ as laccolithic mountains and dikes and igneous cobbles that are common in alluvial drainages derived from these primary sources. Although the definition of Northern San Juan types are often linked to the distribution of crushed igneous rock temper, there are several deviations in material selection within the boundaries normally defined for this region, some influenced by temporal and some by geographical factors. For example, neither laccolithic nor alluvial sources of igneous rock are present in the bean field and canyon country located between Yellowjacket Canyon and Montezuma Creek along the Colorado-Utah border. Instead of importing igneous rock from as far as 30 km, potters appear to have utilized local Dakota Sandstone for temper during the entire Anasazi occupation of areas in the western portion of the Mesa Verde region (Wilson 1987; 1989; 1991). Later, sherd temper was used in the production of white wares over much of the Mesa Verde region (Abel 1955). Another important issue concerns the assignment of a distinct Animas variety from pottery thought to have been produced in some sites of the Middle San Juan or Totah such as Salmon Ruin and Aztec Ruin (Reed 2006; 2008; Reed and Myers 2006). Such differences are assumed to reflect differences in local clay and temper resources available to potters in particular areas of the Middle San Juan region.

Related Wares