Mysterious ruin gets a new look

Wingfield Mesa Pueblo subject of new Forest Service survey

Cosmos Mindeleff was the first person to describe the Wingfield Pueblo Mesa in detail. This drawing of the ruin was included in the 1891-1892 report of the Bureau of Ethnology.

Cosmos Mindeleff was the first person to describe the Wingfield Pueblo Mesa in detail. This drawing of the ruin was included in the 1891-1892 report of the Bureau of Ethnology.

"Along the southern side of Clear Creek, which discharges into the Rio Verde from the east, about four miles below Verde, there is a flat terrace from 30 to 40 feet above the creek and 2 or 3 miles in length.

"Scattered over almost the whole of this terrace are the remains of houses and horticultural works. Near the western end of the terrace, on a low hill with rounded sides, occurs a ruin. This ruin commands an outlook over the whole extent of the terrace. The ground plan is peculiar."

So begins Cosmos Mindeleff's description of the Winfield Mesa Pueblo and the abundant agricultural lands surrounding it, which appeared in his seminal study of Sinaguan architecture, "Aboriginal Remains in the Verde Valley, Arizona," following a trip up the Verde River in 1891.

Named for Verde Valley pioneer W.G. Wingfield, whose farm and ranch once encompassed the entire mesa, the Wingfield Mesa Pueblo site has fascinated and puzzled archaeologists for decades.

With only two other exceptions, the major pueblos in the Verde Valley were built with individual rooms stacked atop and adjacent to one another, laid out in accordance with the terrain and virtually devoid of common courtyard enclosures.

The Wingfield Pueblo is unique in that it is a series of similar sized rooms, laid out in a near 200-foot square with a large courtyard in the center.

According to Coconino National Forest archeologist Peter Pilles, the 50-room pueblo is Hopi in design and more typical of the Salado culture that occupied the Tonto Basin, east of the Verde Valley.

"It's really an alien place," Pilles says.

In addition, as Mindeleff also noted, the pueblo appears to have been built all at once and occupied for a relatively short time. Most major Sinagua pueblos indicate they were constructed, expanded and occupied over an extended period of time.

The Wingfield Mesa pueblo was inhabited sometime between 1150 and 1400, but is unknown as to exactly when and for how long.

"The ground plan is just such as would be produced if a small band of pueblo builders, consisting of ten or twelve related families, should migrate en masse...and after occupying the site for a few years -- less than five -- should pass on to some other location."

Its short life span is further indicated by the relative lack of artifacts, noticed even in Mindeleff's time, the thinness of the walls, the fragility of the limestone used in construction and the fact that it is only one story high.

However, there are indications the pueblo's surrounding fields served as a breadbasket for other settlements in the vicinity, including the huge Clear Creek Ruin that overlooks Wingfield Mesa, for an extended period.

Never professionally excavated, but actively pot hunted (due to its close proximity to Camp Verde), the mysterious pueblo and its surrounding farm lands are now the subject of an extensive survey by volunteers from the Verde Valley Chapter of the Arizona Archeological Society.

The volunteers are working with Pilles and fellow forest service archaeologist Travis Bone to determine the extent of the sites and pattern of land use on the mesa, in an effort to better understand what took place there 700 to 600 years ago.

It is by no means the first time the mesa has been surveyed, which, to some extent, is the problem for Pilles and Bone.

"There have several surveys done over the years. The problem is they tend to overlap one another and have left us with a confusing picture of what is really here and what is not," Pilles says.

For the next two months, the volunteers will be walking the mesa, measuring, identifying, marking GPS coordinates and creating an all-encompassing inventory of the mesa.

"We know of several habitation sites other than the large pueblo. We have identified numerous field houses, with temporary shelters adjacent to the agricultural fields.

"We even have some Apache sites that may have been occupied as late the 1930s or later," Pilles says. "But we don't have an overall picture we are comfortable with."

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