From the Associated Press via The Denver Post:
Was it a reservoir, a ceremonial plaza, a ball court?
Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado is taking a new look at a ruin known as Mummy Lake in hopes of determining how ancient Puebloans used it, The Cortez Journal reported.
Archaeologists disagree about the large circular depression lined by sandstone walls. Since 1917, the prevailing view has been that it was a reservoir built as early as 900 A.D.
Sediment buildup behind what could have been an intake canal fit the reservoir profile. And a set of stairs into the structure suggested it was used by Ancestral Puebloans to collect stored water. Faint impressions of irrigation canals also pointed to agricultural use.
“It fits nicely into our present-day experience of dealing with drought by storing water,” said Scott Travis, Mesa Verde’s chief of research and resource management. “During heavy rains it does collect some water.”
But archaeologist Larry Benson refutes the reservoir theory in a paper recently published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.
Benson hypothesizes that the function of Mummy Lake was for community ceremonies.
He points to previous studies that ancient Southwest cultures periodically relocated ceremonial structures then linked them to newly constructed facilities with broad avenues.
A sturdy staircase, elaborate for its time, descends into Mummy Lake and could indicate it was a ceremonial plaza.
Benson doubts the topography would have allowed for the reservoir to fill because it is on an elevated ridge.
“Within a matter of seconds during a storm, sediment would have filled the hypothetical ditch then forced the water over the cliff edge,” Benson wrote.
Another possible explanation is that Mummy Lake could have been used as an ancient ball court. Such courts have never been documented at Mesa Verde.