Just Keep Digging

Today was our fourth day of excavation and it was pretty much business as usual. Group A continued its dig at the Ridgeline site. The rising heat and pounding sun did not deter us from our work revealing deeper layers of our pit structure.

IMG_2548 (1)
Ridgeline Crew

Our site so far has not revealed a ton of pottery, but today we continued to turn up a copious amount of charcoal and dendros. Some exciting finds included a stretch of dendro that follows the wall’s bench and at the end of the day, Masa uncovered plaster into the antechamber.

Moi, Steve, and Sebastion admire her bench dendro
Masa’s plaster wall

Today was a good education in practical experiences of archaeology. This was our first day where the temperature was in the 90s during excavations. Dr. Ryan made sure that all took breaks in the shade, drank water and reapplied lotion.

We were not the only ones trying to stay cool. All sorts of creatures were scurrying across our site today searching for shade. Today we made friends with a scorpion and bull snake who were using our excavation site to try and beat the heat.

Snakes. Why’d it have to be snakes?

Fur Therapy

Fur Therapy

It has been two weeks since we began this adventure known as the College Field School and I know we’re all getting a little frayed around the edges. Stress over research assignments as well as the temperature has risen to new uncomfortable heights (One paper down, two more to go!) Despite this, week three began with smiles (and coffee) as we headed over to Michell Springs ruins for our morning field trip.

When we arrived we had a pleasant surprise, our host, Dave Dove, has Four dogs and Two cats! Three of the pups “greeted” us as we climbed out of the van. They were good guard pups and barked their warnings at us as they herded us up the hill, but Sport is more of a lover than a fighter, and he soon made his rounds nudging each of us for ear scratches and puppy kisses. During the tour of the site, Max loosened up and allowed a few of us to pet him. But poor Maverick, the littlest of the three, was banished to the house for being too excited.

Bootie-cat gave us a tour of his Pit house, A.k.a. Structure 25, including his niche, which made for a lovely shady spot on this very sunny day. Dave, Sport and Max proceeded to give the class a tour of the fantastic structures all along the site, including a tri-wall structure that began as a pilaster free kiva, that then had a tower built around it, and when the tower walls began to falter, they built another set of walls surrounding the tower walls.

The whole site was just one structure built into, onto or around another structure over the course of generations of people living in this area. In one room they found Flagstone flooring, which was not found in any of the other structures. In yet another structure, the remains of two canines were recovered, strategically placed when buried, just like the male and female remains found in yet another room.  Unless you see the site for yourself, and take a tour with Dave so he can try and explain his findings over the course of the last 25 years, you just would not be able to make heads or tails of this amazing site.

I think my fellow class mates will agree excavation sites are made just a little bit better when there are furry friends to boost morale and give a little bit of fur therapy for those of us missing our own fur babies back home.



Bootie showing the (very attentive) class his excavation site (Structure 25)

Bootie showing us his lovely little niche and then bidding us farewell


Flagstone flooring in a room block room

Photos of the site tour and tower structure surrounding the kiva

Dramatic photos of Brian and Susan


Puppy Love! (Max and Sport)

Pedestrian Survey Day

Friday started off with a clear blue sky and the bright yellow sun climbing into the sky. June is here and it was going to be a hot one. After breakfast in the lodge our perspective groups headed off to either lecture or to the van. The Little Mueller House group would have lecture with Grant before heading out to the Larson site. The Ridgeline crew headed off to the Hayne site. After a quick lecture on some survey techniques the Mueller Crew was off to the Larson site. We all disembarked at the first stop to take in the view and observe the memorial that Mr. Larson left for his wife. It overlooks a beautiful view of the canyon. Second stop was the top site that was in such beautiful condition that room blocks and kivas could be picked out on the landscape with the naked eye. Every step piece of pottery or flake. The heat of the day was starting to kick in and we were thinking of our fellow students at the Hayne site. It was going to be a long, hot day. There was no driving down so we all filled our camelbacks and water bottles to full and stuffed our packs full of food from the cooler as Grant and John carried the cooler down by hand. It was a bit of jaunt down into the canyon but as we looked out it was a wonderful site. Possibly walking in the steps of the ancient Pueblo people down into a place that had never been surveyed before. Passing several different layers of geological deposits along the way, we arrived at the bottom unpacked and rested. We would be doing a pedestrian survey which meant walking though some daunting topography. Having to avoid cacti, shrubbery and the most dangerous of them all, the cholla. Oh, and then there was the possibility of snakes, too. Grant had us make a line and we were to do some transects across the bottom. North to south was the first and on the first transect we rested under some oaks on the mountainside. The day was definitely warming up. Under the oaks we found some bones and John would give us some osteology lessons. With the bones that were found it is totally possible that a young mountain lion and a large beaver fought to the death. Then it was back to the north again with only small finds that were not significant enough, a possible historic dump site and a big pack rat den with another assorted set of bones. Time for lunch and we were all glad for the rest. Red-faced and tired, grabbing sandwiches and snacks we sought refuge in the shade of the trees. The ancient gods blessed us with a slight breeze that cooled the sweat that had drenched our bodies. Grant and John were awesome and hiked up to refill water bottles for those that needed it. After a nice catnap, it was back to work. It was coming close to the end of the day and Grant asked us if we were up to one more transect and of course as the dedicated archaeologists that we are it was a resounding yes. One more chance to find something that would show that this area had been used by the Pueblo people. Then walking to the north, there began shouts of sherd, sherd and flake. Then a beautiful white piece of Burro Canyon chert stuck out of the dirt and there it was, the tip of a projectile point just there like the owner had dropped in hundreds of years ago. We had found something and we started mapping, taking pictures and getting GPS points. Paperwork had to be filled out too. It made our day. Trudging back up the hill back to the van all sweaty and dirty, we all wore a grin knowing we had worked hard and earned it by our finds. Pulling up to Crow Canyon we piled out of the van and thanked Grant and John. We knew that our tired Hayne crew would be back soon too. As we all headed back to our cabins to wash the grim and aches from our bodies, there was Frank the collard lizard to greet us. We were exhausted and sore, but we were back home after a great adventure knowing that archaeology is the best job ever!

Lab Day 2 – Pottery and Chipped Stone Galore

Ode to Lab Day – A Poem as Told by the College Field School

It was a beautiful day, sun was shining

We were inside, no bumpy van ride

The blisters were healing and the sunburns were peeling

Between chert and sandstone we must decide


No rabbit terds, just pottery sherds

No testy Gophers were amiss

No children could be seen or heard

No choices of turkey, cheddar or swiss


Pottery and lithics

All the specifics

It’s all about the chert

But also the dirt


Today we were rested

Tomorrow we’ll be tested

Tomorrow we survey

And it will just be another beautiful day!

A Gates Building Collective


Today the College Field School took a break from the dirt and sun and spent their second day in the lab. With help from the lab staff, they learned how to analyze and categorize pottery and chipped stone. We spent the first half of the morning sorting through pottery, distinguishing between corrugated and non-corrugated, grayware or whiteware, painted or not painted, early or late period and region. During a short break some of the students snooped into the wash lab and found a beautiful Brushy Basin chert monster core in a site artifact bag. One of the lab staff even let them take it out and wash it! The second half of the day was spent sifting through chipped stone, determining the type of stone, if it was modified or utilized, if cortex was present or not, then sizing and weighing. Before our evening program with Mark Varien, some students gathered in the Gates Building and created the masterpiece above. We ended the day with a great lecture on the Four Corners Region with Mark Varien. We’re all excited to be back in the field tomorrow to experience remote sensing for the first time and learn more about surveying!

June 2 008
Chipped Stone Analysis
June 2 011
Sorting into different categories
June 2 004
More sorting and categorizing
The Monster Core!

Excavation, June 1

The first day of June had the two groups out excavating at our respective sites, Little Mueller House and the Ridgeline Site. We got right to work using the precious morning hours, when it’s cool and you are fresh, to really move some dirt. Everyone was busy gophering around in their units. Small artifacts and features continue to be found, helping the morale as the whole site slowly reveals itself. So far we have lucked out with no bugs and pleasant weather; hopefully I didn’t just jinx it. Speaking for my own crew, excavating is a great time to talk, trade banter and laugh; we are all doing well at keeping the mood light. Our instructors, Susan, Steve and John, are patient and easy going and add greatly to the fun (and instruction).

For the most part, in most units, the crews have cleared away the overburden on these structures and we are rapidly approaching the floor level, where the real important work will begin. A sizeable chunk of burned wood was excavated in the antechamber at the Ridgeline Site. This was most likely a collapsed roof beam and there was enough preserved that we may be able to get a cutting date from it. Careful digging around it allowed Steve to show us the process of how to remove it and wrap it so that it can be sent to the Laboratory of Tree Ring Resarch for analysis. One must work quickly once the burnt wood has had the dirt taken off of it because it will dry quickly in the desert sun and almost immediately start falling apart. We were, thankfully, successful in our endeavors to get this collected on time.

After lunch we had a chance to take a tour of the Hatch Group sites, several clusters of pithouses, roomblocks, and kivas perched on one of the most scenic hilltops I have seen in the Montezuma Valley yet. A 360 degree view of the whole valley made it clear and obvious why the ancestral Pueblo people chose that spot, plus clear line-of-sight to many other habitation sites around the valley at that time allowed one to keep an eye on one’s neighbors. The day concluded with the Ridgeline Site crew making a trip over to visit the other crew at the Mueller Little House so they could show us their progress to date. They have been finding some interesting artifacts right out of the gate including a projectile point, some fossil shells and an azurite ball. I’m not envious or anything, nooo…

Tomorrow we will take a break from digging in the sun and will be in the lab instead doing ceramic and lithic analyses. It’s always a good idea to know what you are looking at out there in the field. The archaeology immersion continues; exhausting but fascinating.

June 1 006
Becca and Emily placing the azurite ball into a container.
June 1 008
Lexi and Kat excavating at the Mueller Little House.
June 1 011
Jon and Brain screening roof sediments from the pithouse at Mueller Little House.
June 1 010
Megan’s heart-shaped sunglasses make the dirt easy to read!
20160531_143052 (2)
Excavation progress at the Ridgeline Site.

Life in the Dirt

The snow capped peaks rose in almost every direction. The bright green grass blew in the constant southwest spring wind. As I stared out across the field, it faded away into the dark green juniper and light blue sage. The Sleeping Ute mountain rose to my left and as I turned I could see the faint outline of Chimney Rock and even farther out lay my favorite rock, Shiprock. I was surrounded by undescribable wilderness. People travel hundreds of miles to see the wonders of the southwest. However, I was not staring out at the horizon. I was looking down at my feet. None of beauty of Colorado compared to the moment when the remains of the pit house support post was uncovered. The tarp was pulled back and the small chunk of burned wood lay nestled in its home of red and brown dirt. I imagine trying to explain to my friends what the draw of the small burned lump of woods was. I can imagine them looking at me confused if they were to have seen it. To them it is nothing more than a charred branch. Something they could easily find in their everyday fire pit. But they have not been dreaming about archaeology for as long as I have. Seeing the darkened dirt in the exact shape of the pit house made me want to jump up and down gleefully, but I remained calm and composed as I stared at the multi colored patch of land. Most people would have have glanced at it without a second thought. Nothing more than black dirt. Up until now, I probably wouldn’t have given the charcoal colored patch any importance, but I know that from now on I will look at odd soil with intrigue. To my friends, and to most people, it’s simply dirt. While that is fundamentally true, it is dirt, it is dirt that contains the lives and memories of the families who lived there. With each scrape of my tiny pointed trowel, I pull back thousand year old clay, each clump telling its own story. Each clump is alive with the past.

It’s incredible how much can be known from such small things. If there’s teeth in the skull, then it is not a rabbit. If there are neckbands in the jars, it belongs to pueblo I and not basketmaker. If there are barley seeds in the soil, that is evidence of migration. Small things that I never would have picked up on become pieces to a thousand year old puzzle. As I watch the sediment turn from charcoal speckled to red, to black, back to red, I know what is construction fill, I know where the post occupational fill stops, and I know where the wall begins. As I sift through the hardened pieces of dried clay, I spot tiny sherds of pottery and even smaller flakes. Some try to hide under the densely packed soil, clinging desperately to the dirt from where they came. It’s the second day we are excavating our beautiful, little pit house. The sun is high in the sky, my hands are blistered, my body is caked in red dirt and sweat, and my sinus infection is causing me to lose my body weight in snot. All things that would make any sane person call it a day and return to the safety of his or her bed. However, I am not a sane person, I am an archaeologist.

Everyone here shares that same bit of insanity. The dirt hardens quicker than we can dig it up. The sun burns no matter how much sunscreen we apply. Our bodies complain as we sit, kneel, and stand in awkward positions trying to scrape away the red clay.  We carry dozens of buckets to the screener each time coming up with nothing more than dirt. We spend hours aggressively pulling back layer after layer of dirt and seeming to get nowhere. However, when one of us uncovers a tiny little arrowhead, and everyone rushes over eagerly wanting to see it, we all forget the blisters and burns and aches. When I pull out a sherd of pottery and gleefully pass it to my grid partner, we don’t care about the our nemesis layer of clay we can never dig through. When our instructor points out the new strata we’ve reached and the wall we’ve uncovered, it doesn’t matter that every inch of our body is caked in dirt. As I look around at my exhausted, burned, dirt covered classmates, I know that there are very few people who would look like this but eagerly await the next day in the field.

We are all little insane. We are all archaeologists.

DSCN2617 (1)
Kayla excavating the evil layer of clay
DSCN2623 (1)
Fun in the dirt.
DSCN2629 (1)
Everyone writing findings from the day.
Sediment sifter with dramatic Colorado backdrop.
DSCN2630 (1)
Megan and the dramatic Colorado sky.
Kat and Lexi using the sifter to hunt down artifacts.
Our newest arrowhead found by Kayla! (I call them snail arrowheads or sparrow arrows because they are so small)
My zombie archaeology outfit which was both critiqued and admired throughout the day.
The true mark of an archaeologist.
The Ridgeline site which is a much larger pit house.
May 31 004 copy
Dutifully digging.
May 31 006 (1) copy
Valerie and Alison in their 2-x-2 m unit in the storage rooms.
May 31 008 (1) copy
Liz sifting through the rock hard dirt.


The Field School Goes to Mesa Verde National Park!

Memorial Day, Monday, May 30th, the students of the 2016 Crow Canyon College Field School went on a trip to Mesa Verde National Park. It should be noted that 2016 is the National Park Service’s centennial, and Mesa Verde celebrates its 110th anniversary. It is also the 110th anniversary of the Antiquities Act, the United States’ first law protecting archaeological resources on Federal lands.

The beginning of our trip to the park entailed visiting the Mesa Top Sites occupied from the Basketmaker III to Pueblo II time periods, A.D. 600-1100.

13321096_10209627273342748_1961107551_o13340911_10209627273142743_1928955319_oThe students got to see examples of what an excavated pit structure looks like. Now they know what to expect later in the field school as their excavations progress!

The students also got to see examples of how these sites have multiple layers of occupation. In the pit houses there was evidence of remodeling, such as multiple post holes. One site  even had two kivas and a tower superpositioned, or built in levels, on top of each other. This gave the students a chance to practice dating the periods of occupation based on the architecture of the individual structures. Another site had an early roomblock, or pueblo building, and kiva with a later roomblock and kiva built right over the earlier’s midden.


Before lunch the students stopped at an overlook to see Square Tower House (above). Towers date to the mid 1100s-late 1200s A.D. in the Mesa Verde region. This is the tallest tower in the park. And notice the “T” shaped door at the bottom of the tower? “T” shaped doors are prevalent in Chaco Canyon too, and are believed to be evidence of Mesoamerican influence in the Southwest.

The students then enjoyed a view of Cliff Palace and other cliff dwellings from Sun Point Overlook…


After lunch it was time for the tour of Cliff Palace!


The students filed down the narrow path and staircases towards the village under the alcove.


The students and Dr. Ryan rested a few moments in the shade as they listened to the ranger tell the story of the people who once lived at Cliff Palace.


Many of the structures in Cliff Palace still have original wood beams (above). Some of these beams were used by archaeologists to obtain dendrochronology samples, allowing them to date Cliff Palace. Cliff Palace was built between A.D. 1190 and 1280 and is believed to have housed up to 200 people. It was built around a water seep in the back of the alcove, typical of Pueblo III period architecture.


Cliff Palace housed several towers. And there are more “T” shaped doors!

After the tour the students were given a special treat by Ranger Lloyd and were allowed to look at a pictograph panel that was up inside one of the towers (below). Even though the pictograph had been restored, it still showed a textile-style motif, typical of acestral Pueblo designs.13324220_10209627579550403_1920315974_o


The students got to enjoy a climb up several ladders to bring them back up to the top of the mesa!


After the tour of Cliff Palace the students browsed the dioramas and collections held at the Chapin Mesa Archaeology Museum.


Near the Museum is Spruce Tree House. It was recently closed because of a rock fall in the alcove, but the students still enjoyed the view from the overlook.


Some of the students gathered more information about the geological process that effect the park from the rangers.


After visiting the gift shops near the museum it was time to head back to the Crow Canyon campus. Overall the students all agreed that the Mesa Verde trip was a great experience!

After dinner the students had a program about collections management led by Jamie. The students were excited that Jamie used Indiana Jones as an example for how to manage and organize collections and exhibits.

Tomorrow will be back to the grindstone by continuing our excavations at the Ridgeline and the Mueller Little House Sites!