Adventures in the Southwest

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This is a remain of a kiva and room block built into the side of a cliff face in Grand Gulch in what was Bears Ears National Monument. You can’t see it here, but the area was littered with pottery sherds and flakes from the production of projectile points. There were also several remaining corn husks within the room blocks.

Over the course of past five weeks, I traded the cool, early summer air of Montana for the hot afternoons and cold evenings of the Colorado Plateau. For my out-of-classroom experience, I completed an archaeological field school under the direction of the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, a nonprofit organization located right outside of Cortez, Colorado in the very southwestern corner of the state.

When deciding how to complete my out-of-classroom experience for FGLI that would fit into my selected theme of Natural Resources and Sustainability, I, at first, struggled with the idea of meshing my own studies of Biology and Anthropology into a framework that could incorporate methods of sustaining ecology, while at the same time working to sustain and restore cultural impacts that are often the effect of ecological degradation. For my case in particular, the clearest path for me to explore both cultural and ecological sustainability was to study past Puebloan peoples here in the United States.

Archaeologically speaking, the southwestern United States is significant in terms of the incredible preservation of artifacts and features (immovable indicators of human activity, i.e. hearths, architectural structures, etc.). The fact that so much has been so well preserved over the course of 1200+ years, has allowed archaeologists to gather a lot of data about the ancestors of living Puebloan peoples.

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This is Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde National Park. Many of the artifacts, ecofacts (corn cobs, potentially cacao beans, etc.), and even human remains were taken from this site in the early 20th century and are now mostly housed in a museum in Helsinki, Sweden.

 

In addition to just digging in the dirt, over the course of the past twenty to thirty years, archaeologists have changed and improved their methods of study to include consultation with descendant indigenous communities. Crow Canyon is unique in the fact that it was one of the first organizations the in the United States to put consultation at the forefront of their mission statements and methods of inquiry. This type of methodology in addition to legislation like that of the Native American Graves Protect and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) of 1990, that states human remains and sacred objects must be returned to their appropriate descendants for the purposes of reburial, can make the process of archaeological excavation in the United States very tricky and it encourages archaeologists to maintain a positive relationship with current indigenous communities.

Luckily, for over 30 years, Crow Canyon has maintained a positive relationship the Navajo and Ute nations in addition to many of the 23 recognized Pueblo descendant communities across the southwest. The positive effects of this relationship allowed us to visit many unexcavated sites on both the Navajo and Ute Mountain Ute reservations and discuss the indigenous interpretations of what we were finding with native scholars who would each stay, travel, and excavate with us for a week.

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This is a ceremonial space, called a great kiva, located in the larger Pueblo Bonito structure in Chaco Canyon in northwestern New Mexico. When this structure was in use, the top would be covered with a roof of wood and adobe, people would sit along the two-tiered bench, and the floor vaults were most likely used to grow ceremonial plants.

It was such an amazing opportunity to learn from native scholars and to understand their perspectives of the work we do and how the field of archaeology will continue to grow and change. I think the most impactful part of my experience was the ability to see firsthand how important it is to protect the cultural heritage of these people and value descendant opinions rather than conduct research behind closed doors. I hope to incorporate this into my FGLI capstone project by understanding the indigenous communities are almost always the first to be affected by fluctuations in climate and understanding that consulting these communities is extremely important in the context of any kind of research or development.

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This is our 4 meter by 8 meter excavation unit at the Haynie site on the last of the field school. We did all of our excavation at this site over the five weeks. We found lots of pottery sherds, lots of faunal bones, lots of flakes, a few projectile points, some potential wall fall from a structure, and what is most likely a hearth feature.

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