ACL Project List
Beginning in 1916 Smithsonian archaeologist Jesse Walter Fewkes shifted his excavation and stabilization efforts from the "cliffdwelling" sites of Spruce Tree House and Cliff Palace to the mesa top.  Here, unlike the protected environment afforded by the alcoves, he found many sites buried and mounded by debris and dense vegetation.  At Chapin Mesa, Fewkes identified a large community of villages, ceremonial structures and water management features.  


In order to prevent the wall tops from collapsing, Fewkes applied a thick mortar cap of Portland cement mortars on top of the original walls. The hard capping collected and shed water from the wall top and provided a walking surface for visitors, allowing them to see the structure in plan from above.   He added a few courses of masonry on the exposed wall tops but set them back from the original wall plane, in order to demarcate the extent of his repair work, a novel idea at the time. 


In addition to capping, he buttressed the west and south walls of the side that had leaned severely with stud walls of ancient appearance and also incorporated steps to gain access to the wall tops.  Using mud mortars, he also temporarily tied the west ends of the partition walls on the west tier of rooms to the inner side of the west wall, in order to prevent them from falling.  Where water collected from the capping conduits, stone scuppers where installed to carry water to the ground.

With support from Jesse L. Nusbaum, the former superintendent at Mesa Verde National Park, the site was recorded through an extensive field survey.   Led by architect, Stanley E. Morse, site plan drawings, photographs and detailed notes on each wall were prepared.  The survey identified several causes of wall deterioration, including rising and falling damp, ‘rat tunnelling’, destabilization from tourists’ walking on wall tops, and mechanical damage from root growth. 

The identified walls were then stabilized by Al Lancaster and his Navajo workmen using cement mortar.  The joints were raked approximately one centimeter for pointing with local mud and rock spalls.  For walls two stones or more in thickness the stones on the outside courses were set in cement mortar, while the stones on the inside courses were set in mud.  The inside courses were bonded every three feet with a header tied in cement mortar. 


In addition to structural surface problems, the team employed a custom-made flat paint on a textured cement plaster to address the aesthetics of the repair method.

The continued deterioration at Far View House raised an alarm amongst the concerned park officials.  While singling out hard capping as detrimental to the site preservation, they initiated a materials research program into soil-cement for use as a repair mortar for archaeological sites in the Southwest Region, which eventually became an integral part of the NPS Southwest Region stabilization program until the 1970’s when acrylic emulsion additives were employed.


As walls continued to get saturated with water and collapsed, the fallen stones were re-laid in cement mortar and repointed with soil mortar.  A cement trough was constructed on top of the fill to provide more rapid drainage and reduce saturation.  The entire west wall and other select areas on the north and south walls were repointed with soil mortar.  In addition, all loose cap-stones were reset in cement mortar.

Al Lancaster continued the repairs at the site through the use of cement.   He ascribed the damage to the ready availability of moisture entering at the wall top that washed the earthen core away.  He secured adjoining wall separations by pulling them back using rods and turnbuckles.  Resetting loose stones and repointing open joints with mud or cement continued.   All Portland cement was colored to match local soils. 



Al Decker repeated the use of Portland cement for wall repointing, mixed with white and red mineral soils, sand and cement coloring.  In 1964, a metal drainage system was installed in the walls of the interior rooms.  A plastic membrane was installed below the floors in sixteen rooms and three kivas to improve drainage.


After a long period of minor repairs, park archeologist Kathy Fiero conducted major repair work.  Photographs of every room were taken before and after the intervention.  Eroded repointing, unstable walls, and capstones were repointed with few walls partially rebuilt and eroded/missing stones replaced, and clogged drains were cleaned.  Loose stones were reset in soil cement or acrylic modified soil mortar.  Drains were cleaned and repaired while a subfloor black plastic membrane was replaced with Mirafi® geosynthetic layer.  In addition selected concretes were replaced with flagstones.


After the collapse of several wall veneers, a major wall repair campaign using soil cement mortar was implemented to stabilize the walls.  Despite these efforts, the walls continue to deteriorate from thermal cracking and capping loss and wall bulging continues to threaten the structural stability.