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Yellow Jacket collection

Identifier: YJC

Scope and Contents

The Yellow Jacket collection consists of documents and photographs created by faculty, students, and staff in the course of operating an archaeological field school at an area known as the Joe Ben Wheat Complex, or Yellow Jacket, in southwestern Colorado. Yellow Jacket is recognized as one of the most important archaeological remnants of the Mesa Verde branch of Ancestral Puebloan culture.

The University of Colorado Museum of Natural History (CUMNH) operated a field school at Yellow Jacket for 25 summers between 1955 and 1991. Students and supervisors at the field school excavated three sites in the area known as 5MT-1, 5MT-2, and 5MT-3. Workers made excavation notes, kept journals, recorded groundstone and other objects through drawings, drew profiles of excavated areas, and cataloged excavated objects. The bulk of the collection consists of these documents created in the field or shortly after excavations were concluded. Field school participants also documented excavation activities and one another through photographs. Photographs were kept primarily as color transparencies (slides) of which there are 2,830 in the collection.

After excavation, faculty and students used the field documentation and excavated objects for original research. The papers and publications resulting from these projects are present in the collection along with a smaller number of draft versions. Students and faculty often prepared lists of objects as part of their research; these accompany the research papers when present.

Administrative documents such as correspondence, field school applications, and financial records document the logistics of maintaining the field school. Most of the administrative documents date to the second half of the 1980s and the 1990s.

A small portion of the collection is made up of documents created by students and staff in caring for the objects deposited at CUMNH as a result of the Yellow Jacket excavations. These documents include digital database files, database printouts, other handwritten and typewritten collection inventories, and guides to using the museum collection.

Finally, the Yellow Jacket archival collection includes a number of non-standard document formats. Foremost among these are the oversized maps and plans of which there are 120. These provide wide and detailed views of the excavated areas at Yellow Jacket. The collection also contains a number floppy disks which can be found among the files related to collections management and, to a lesser extent, in student research projects. There are a small number of film strips and one film reel in the collection.


  • Creation: 1954-2006 (Inclusive)
  • Creation: 1954-1991 (Bulk)

Conditions Governing Access

Some items in this collection have been restricted. Resticted materials fall into the following categories.

  • Images or information which are culturally sensitive as outlined by the Protocols for Native American Archival Materials
  • Geographic information protected by the 1979 Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA)
  • Personally identifiable information (PII)
  • Student records protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).
By default, these items are not available for in-person research or for viewing online. Individuals or groups seeking access to restricted material should contact the museum at the address below.

Biographical / Historical note

Yellow Jacket, formally known as the Joe Ben Wheat complex, is an archaeological area in southwestern Colorado characterized by the Mesa Verde tradition of the Ancestral Puebloan culture. Excavations in the area began after Dr. Joe Ben Wheat, a curator at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History (CUMNH), received notice about the potential of the site in 1953. Wheat led CUMNH to establish a field school at Yellow Jacket in 1954. Between 1954 and 1991, 137 individuals would participate in the field school as students or instructors in 25 field seasons.

Wheat and the field school began work in 1954 at site 5MT-1. This site, divided into "Porter" and "Stevenson" areas named for its original and subsequent landowners, contained objects and architecture characteristic of the Basketmaker III, Pueblo II, and Pueblo III periods. The architecture of the site had several atypical features, however, as compared to other Mesa Verde culture sites known at the time. The Yellow Jacket field school finished excavations at the site in 1966.

Wheat began work at a second site, 5MT-3, in 1961. 5MT-3 is characterized by Pueblo II and Pueblo III occupation. The site continued to demand the attention of the field school until its conclusion in 1991.

Dr. Frederick Lange assumed the position of field school director in 1986 following Wheat's retirement and began work on a third site, 5MT-2. Excavations at this Pueblo III site continued until the field school's completion in 1991.

The field school typically ran in the months of June, July, and August. The number of student workers present at the site varied year to year; most years saw between 3 and 10 students with an uptick in the mid 1980s reaching a height of 25 students in 1988. In addition to excavations, students participated in lab work, curation, and research activities.

The objects collected from Yellow Jacket were deposited at CUMNH where they make up a collection of over 300,000 artifacts. This collection is an essential resource for understanding the Prehispanic Ancestral Puebloan culture that occupied the Four Corners for millennia and whose descendants continue to reside in the region.

For more background about Yellow Jacket visit


33 linear feet

Language of Materials



The collection is arranged into seven series.

  • 01: Field documents
  • 02: Field journals
  • 03: Field school administration
  • 04: Publications and student projects
  • 05: Inventories
  • 06: Images
  • 07: Oversized maps and plans
  • All series are further arranged to at least the file level. Some series contain subseries and even subfiles. The use of so many hierarchical levels allowed the archivist to create an arrangement for the collection which mirrors the spatial division of the Yellow Jacket complex into archaeological sites. Series 01, 02, 06, and 07, are arranged in this manner. Those using these four series will be able to narrow down their research inquiries based on which site they have in mind, either 5MT-1, 5MT-2, 5MT-3, or 5MT-5. Series 03, 04, and 05 follow a topical or chronological arrangement.

    A more detailed look at the arrangement of each series follows below. Information about individual subseries, files, subfiles, and items, can be found by using the hierarchical browse function of this finding aid or, in its PDF version, by scrolling down the document.

    Series 01: Field documents

    This series is arranged into subseries, files, subfiles, and items. There are three subseries.
    • 01.01: 5MT-1
    • 01.02: 5MT-2
    • 01.03: 5MT-3
    Each subseries contains all of the field documentation for the site indicated by its title. Categories of field documents include field notes, field catalogs, maps and plans, drawings, and profiles. A portion of Series 01 has been processed to the item level.

    Series 02: Field journals

    Field journals are day-to-day accounts of excavations by field supervisors and student workers. Series 02 is divided into two files: 5MT-1 and 5MT-3. There are no field journals for site 5MT-2. The titles of individual journals are listed at the item level within each file.

    Series 03: Field school administration

    This series is divided into subseries, and files. It is not processed to the item level. There are six subseries.
    • 03.01: Correspondence
    • 03.02: Permits
    • 03.03: Grants and proposals
    • 03.04: Personnel
    • 03.05: Finances
    • 03.06: Lab
    The correspondence, permits, grants and proposals, and finances are arranged by date. Subseries 03.04, Personnel, is arranged topically and is the most extensive subseries. It includes applications to student worker positions with the field school, paperwork for registering accepted applicants, information sent to potential applicants, and manuals for performing field work and processing excavated objects. Series 03.06, Lab, is arranged both topically and chronologically. It includes a small number of files related to organizing, transporting, and studying excavated objects as well as the personnel hired to do so.

    Series 04: Projects and publications

    Anthropology and Museum Studies students at the University of Colorado utilized the Yellow Jacket museum objects and field documents for theses and other projects throughout the course of the Yellow Jacket field school and extending into the 1990s. Student projects both published and unpublished form the bulk of this series and are joined by a smaller number of faculty publications. Materials are organized topically (e.g. Burials, Ceramics, Lithics) and alphabetically by author last name within topic.

    Series 05: Inventories

    Staff at CUMNH maintained paper and electronic lists of the objects in the Yellow Jacket museum collection. These inventories are present as database print-outs, electronic files on floppy discs, and as handwritten lists originally kept in 3-ring binders. The files in this series have topical titles and are arranged alphabetically. In addition to the inventories, there are a small number of guides for using the collection.

    Series 06: Images

    Series consists of 2,830 photographs arranged by site (5MT-1, 5MT-2, 5MT-3, and 5MT-5) or by subject depicted. Images are not separated by medium in this arrangement although the vast majority (2,450) are color transparencies / slides. This series is processed to the subseries or file level. The subseries are listed below.
    • 06.01: 5MT-1
    • 06.02: 5MT-2
    • 06.03: 5MT-3
    • 06.04: 5MT-5
    • 06.05: Field Crew
    • 06.06: Environs
    • 06.07: Sites other than Yellow Jacket
    • 06.08: Unknown site/area
    • 06.09: Excavated objects
    Series 07: Oversized maps and plans

    The materials in this series closely resemble the maps, plans, and profiles present in Series 01 but can be differentiated by their size (greater than 8" x 11") and the fact they were not necessarily produced close to the time of excavation. This series is processed to the item level and is divided into 10 files.

    Processing Information

    The collection was initially rehoused and processed in November and December of 2020 by Will Gregg with funding made available through the National Endowment for the Humanities Preservation Assistance Grant. Additional processing to the file and item level as well as digitization of a portion of the collection took place in the first half of 2021 and was funded by Colorado's State Historical Fund.

    Before rehousing in 2021 the collection consisted primarily of documents in three-ring binders, documents in filing cabinet drawers, and slides in binders and metal cases. The three-ring binders contained what is now the contents of series 01 and were already well labeled and documented with binder titles and descriptions on tabs. As such, the archivist made few changes to the original order. The binders had been previously processed in the 2000s by staff at CUMNH; the state of the materials before that time is not known.

    The materials in the filing cabinets were, by contrast, largely unprocessed and disorganized. Their contents make up the current series 03 through 05. The archivist made significant changes to their original order but preserved the scheme whereby student and staff publications (series 04) are divded based on topic.

    Before processing the slides were mostly housed in metal cases and were divided into categories based on archaeological site number within the metal slide cases. Some categories appeard more than once, however, and some slides had been misidentified. Many slides also lacked categorization. During processing the archivist adapted to the existing categories and added new ones. Slides were then arranged into the appropriate category based on their captions or resemblance to other slides. Prior to 2021 a selection of slides had been removed from the cases and placed in plastic sheets inside of a binder to make a convenient sample for research. The slides from this beinder were taken out and re-incorporated with the rest of the slides upon processing.

    Finally, a small number of documents were transferred into the Yellow Jacket collection from the unprocessed Joe Ben Wheat papers. These include grant applications to the National Endowment for the Humanities, National Science Foundation, and others (now part of series 03.02), student reports and project documents (series 04), field crew manuals (series 03.04), and field notes by Pat Wheat (series 01.01).

    All of the materials in the collection have been reviewed and restricted when appropriate. Special precautions were taken with materials in series 03.04. These documents were screened for PII including dates of birth and social security numbers. When present, this information was blotted out on the original. A copy of the original was then made and placed in the folder where the original once stood. The original was then shredded.

    Finding aid to the Yellow Jacket collection
    Will Gregg
    Description rules
    Describing Archives: A Content Standard
    Language of description
    Script of description
    Language of description note
    Finding aid is in English.
    National Endowment for the Humanities and History Colorado

    Repository Details

    Part of the CU Museum of Natural History Repository

    15th and Broadway
    Henderson Building
    University of Colorado at Boulder
    Boulder Colorado 80302