Final Post

Wow, what a whirlwind and great last day as fellow students presented their research projects to an almost full audience of Crow Canyon Staff . The topics were broad and covered subjects such as trade, gender,social networks, migration , material culture, economics, and a myriad of other topics. After the presentations were over, Susan thanked us all for great job and for surviving the five weeks 🙂

Once again,words cannot express our gratitude to you Susan and all of the staff at Crow .



The Holy Grail of Southwestern Archaeology

We’d been hearing about it for weeks.

“Trust me this masonry, while similar to the Chacoan style, is not nearly as precise as Pueblo Bonito Architecture…”

“These two Chacoan outliers have identical great houses that are bi-fold from other another…”

“The D-shaped structure which resembles the unique style of Chaco Canyon…”

It seemed that we couldn’t go a day without hearing about this elusive and mysterious place. To the native desert dwellers like me, the idea of “Chaco”had been imbedded in our brains since birth. Whether or not we had been there, Chaco was a part of our southwestern blood. Green chile, tumbleweed tornados, fire dangers never dipping below severe, and Chaco Canyon all define our southwest. However, to the foreign east coasters, Chaco was the Holy Grail of southwestern archaeology. Always talked about in high regards, always sought after, yet never truly understood.

It was nine of us who set out that hot Saturday morning. The quest for the Holy Grail had begun and the threat of 100 degrees was not to stop us. We knew what was in store for us. 5 long legged people in a car for 3 hours with no air conditioning and a broken radio playing only christian rock. It was a feat that would have driven the weak of heart to return quickly to the safety of swamp coolers. Whether it was madness or determination that drove us ever farther into the desert, we will never know.

Liz was our King Arthur and I was her faithful sidekick Patsy. The only two New Mexicans in a car full of East Coasters. Laila as Sir Lancelot the Brave, Kayla as Sir Galahad the Pure, and Dara as Sir Robin the Not-Quite-So-Brave-As-Sir-Lancelot. Our quest was wrought with obstacles as we watched in terror as two dogs walked back and forth across the back of the moving truck that had no walls. We braved the anticipation that came with hitting “Scan” on the radio. What fateful song would enter into our hearts and minds? We fought the Black Knight and won as the road changed from the wonderful Colorado pavement to that of the New Mexican cracked and broken. Our quest was long and sweaty, but as we turned onto the final stretch long dirt road and the endless desert landscape lay out before us, we were reminded of why we began this quest to begin with.

We regrouped with our fellow travelers at the entrance. The great mesa loomed on the horizon and the heat rose around us in waves. In a flurry of souvenirs, filling water bottles, rearranging cars,  pointing to maps, and photographing the unphotographable landscape, we split into different groups, and dispersed.

The Quest for the Holy Grail of southwestern archaeology continued. And like King Arthur and his band of misfits, the path there was winding and wandering one. The rangers who say “did you know…?” demanded payment in the form of a shrubbery (or maybe just 16$ per car…) Our attempts at disguising ourselves from the UV rays using sunscreen worked as well as the Trojan Rabbit worked at entering the castle. Clapping my coconuts together to led my three east coast knights through a slot canyon and onto the flat endless mesa.

The temperature creeped closer and closer to 100 degrees and the Irish among us did not fare well, yet we trekked onward. Like the dorks that we were, every null and every dip was an ancient and wondrous feature. We crowded around a sherd of pottery and with our expert knowledge of 5 weeks, quickly identified the small square of hardened mud. I loved being around people who, like me, wanted to point out every possible feature, every interesting window shape, and every block in the wall. Our quest took us through Pueblo Alto, which rose out of landscape and reminds me of the iconic monument of Stonehenge. We journeyed across the never ending mesa. The landscape comes alive and stretches to the ends of the earth. Something which can never be captured in pictures, never be captured in words, lay before us.

As we reached the final slot canyon which took us down to the outlook of the elusive Pueblo Bonito, we asked our three questions.

“Why is it so hot?!”

“Why is only the backs of our knees burning?!”

“Have we passed the lookout yet?!”

But unlike Arthur, Patsy, and the faithful knights, we reached our Holy Grail. We stood, awestruck. Some of us at a loss for words, and some of us with too many. To describe Pueblo Bonito is a feat I dare not attempt. I would love to describe to you the wonders of the masonry, the beauty of each of the stones, the way the light bounced across the canyon. I would love to describe to you everything. Each pictograph. Each stone. Each bead of sweat that dripped down our backs.

But alas I cannot. No one can. Just as no one will ever be able to describe the Holy Grail. However, the Holy Grail of Southwestern Archaeology is in our reach. In the stretching landscape of Northern New Mexico, nestled beneath the mesa, lies our beautiful, elusive, and mysterious Chaco Canyon.

Last Excavation Day at Mueller Little House

Today was the last day of excavation for the College Field School. Everyone was busy mapping, clearing those last bits, and if you were at Ridgeline – hauling as much dirt as possible. At Mueller Little House, there was a frenzy of dendrochronology samples collected in the main chamber of the pithouse, while the antechamber crew continued to define the wall and reveal closing and roofing material. Brian and Alex worked in a 2×2 meter unit investigating an anomaly in the remote sensing data and reached a sandstone and calcium carbonate rich deposit which got all the archaeologists scratching their heads. While still hot, temperatures were cooler than yesterday which allowed the excavation to end with a BANG! 🙂

On behalf of all the field crew, Becca wants to just say THANK YOU to the CFS for their hard work the past five week.

Ridgeline Excavation: June 14

After today, the field school students only have three more days of excavation at our sites. Three more days to answer our burning questions, and for some of us, figure out what is going on in our units! A couple of us at the Ridgeline site have been working on a unit placed over some possible circular storage rooms for the past few weeks. These storage rooms were built by setting large sandstone slabs upright into some adobe, posts placed in between, and a hatched roof on top.

Storage rooms! Notice the upright sandstone slabs toward the left.

So far, it looks like the majority of our unit falls in a space between storage rooms, so most of our work has been trying to excavate down to the prehistoric ground surface in this area to better define the boundaries of the walls. While we’ve identified the boundaries of one large storage room, there might still be another on the other side of the unit that we’ve yet to expose.

An exciting find today was an intact turquoise pendant! It was found in that space outside of our storage rooms (which raises questions as to how it got there) and is beautifully shaped and polished smooth.

So, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that after finding this I just wanted to put it on a string and wear it forever. But in archaeology, its not about the pendants or the pottery or projectile points you find and how cool they are, its about what we can learn from them. Where did this piece of turquoise come from? What did they use to smooth and shape this? Was it shaped here at this site, or was it traded here from some far off community? How did it get to where we found it today? Questions that can never be answered if someone removes it from its context. Sure a shiny pendant is cool, but learning about the person who wore this and treasured it over a thousand years ago seems much more interesting to me.


Excavation also continued at the pithouse today, however we all took a break to learn how to make plan view maps of our site.

Plan view of the northeast quadrant of the pithouse.

Plan view maps are used to get a birds-eye view of what your structure or feature looks like, which is often hard to picture when you’re down in the dirt. As we continue excavation, these maps will be used to plot things like where are walls slope downward, any postholes or dendro samples, special artifacts (like pendants!), and any objects resting on the floor of the structure.

Tomorrow will be another day of excavation, so we’ll see what new questions pop up then!

So many places. So little time.

For the College Field School, the beginning of each week means a new adventure, as each Monday brings us to a new archaeological site. Today we visited not one, but three sites which included Lowry Pueblo, the Albert Porter site, and Woods Canyon.

First up, Lowry Pueblo.Lowry was first excavated by Paul Martin in 1930, and work continued there on and off for four field seasons. It is one of only three clustered great house sites including Haynie and Mitchell Springs. The workers, often made up of local farmers, were digging at least one ton of fill A DAY from the site as it was being excavated in 1930. They used a system of chutes and mining carts on tracks to move the fill the the edge of the canyon, where they would dump it. The site features many examples of the Chaco style of architecture, but we discovered it is in fact a Mesa Verda expression of the Chaco style of architecture.


Our next stop, Albert Porter, was owned by Albert Porter and donated by his family after his death. Looking over the landscape, there were great house mounds as well as the kiva impressions all over the property. Though Albert was a farmer, he made sure to move around the obvious archaeological structures on his property, in order to preserve them for later excavation and study. The Albert Porter property was actually the first Chaco site that Crow Canyon excavated. They excavated only 1% of the property in order to not disturb the site. From those excavations we have learned that the site is located in an area that contains Basketmaker III, Pueblo I, Pueblo II, and Pueblo III artifacts.

Our last site for the day was Woods Canyon. Woods Canyon is a cliff dwelling not far from the Albert Porter site. It is a classic late Pueblo III site, and displays a McElmo style of masonry, where the stones used to build are more chunky. The pueblo was once surrounded by a small wall which served to protect, and also keep water from moving the structures. The people also utilized check damns which slowed the water running near their site, providing a place to obtain water as well as protecting their structures from being destroyed.



Lab Day #3

Today was our third day in the lab, which was a nice break from the sun and heat. The morning started off with an overview of dating methods that are used to determine a site date and accurate timeline. We were introduced to dendrochronology which is used to analyze tree-ring growth, archaeomagnetic and radiocarbon dating. After our dating methods overview we were given the chance to go out and remove core samples from trees with an increment borer here on campus. We were able to remove three different core samples which gave us a great look how these samples are retrieved in the field.

The second half of the morning consisted of us doing flotation samples. These are samples of sediment that contain organic and inorganic materials. Through the process of a flotation sample these small materials are removed from the sediment. There are two samples pulled from the process, a light fraction and heavy fraction. The light fraction consists of plant remains, and the heavy fraction is mostly small rocks and possible flakes.

After lunch we were reunited with our clay from week one and introduced to Paul Ermigiotti. Paul is an educator at Crow Canyon who also creates beautiful replicas of prehistoric pottery. He demonstrated his techniques and methods with us then set us off on our own. It seemed effortless, unfortunately for some of us that wasn’t our experience. We were told to speak with the clay and listen to it, I don’t think mine was much of a talker. There were definitely some talented people in the group as seed jars, bowls and mugs began to emerge. Paul offered assistance as needed to those who may have needed a little help refining their creation. Before we knew it, the time to clean up had arrived and we had to settle for the way our pottery turned out. We will see our creations soon, if they survive the kiln.


June 9
Dara and Emily taking a core
Coring a tree
Flotation in the lab
Processing the heavy fraction
Working with clay to build vessels.

Ever Forward

Week three has been progressing quickly! The other field students at the Mueller Little House site and I have been making steady progress. Two midden units have been completed with a third about halfway done. The northeast quadrant of the pithouse has produced some unique rock formations and we’ve found some interesting pieces of pottery in the surface soil that was removed prior to the beginning of the dig. Sadly, it has lost its context and has become generally unusable for cultural analysis, but hopefully it’ll be put on display somewhere to help people learn about ancestral Pueblo culture.

The heat’s really become oppressive these last couple days, though being from Wisconsin I suppose anything over 80’F would be considered too hot for me. Drinking a lot of water has been essential and so far I’ve been able to avoid dehydration. The view in this area is definitely desirable but I don’t think I could justify ever living here due to the weather and environment. I’m just not built for it.

This weekend will be a busy one for the graduate level field school students, myself included. Our second paper’s due date is fast approaching and many of us still don’t have a clear idea of what we’ll be writing about. It’s definitely hard for me because I know next to nothing in-depth about this region’s history and I’d imagine at least a few other students are in the same boat. We’ll make it through though, I have confidence in us.

Everyone enjoy the rest of their week and have a great weekend!
~Alex M.

P.S.: I apologize to the rest of the field school students for my lack of photos–my phone’s camera is out of whack and I couldn’t find anything suitable for us. That said, I’ve seen hundreds of photos on this page so far and I have to say they’re looking great!