Adventures in the Southwest

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.


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.


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.


This is a remain 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.

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 collaboration 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 Protection 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.


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.

Luckily, for over 30 years, Crow Canyon has maintained a positive relationship with the Navajo and Ute nations in addition to many of the 23 recognized Pueblo descendant communities across the southwest. The positive effects of these 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.

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 memorable 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.

Lauren C.


Live Broadcast of Student Presentations 6/22/2018, 9:00 am MST

We invite our friends, families, professors, and followers of this blog to join us for a live broadcast of our student research presentations on Friday, June 22, 2018 starting around 9:00 am MST. Presentations will continue until noon. Here is the link:

We hope you are able to join us!


Paleoindian Discussions with Dr. Jesse Tune

We were fortunate to have Dr. Jesse Tune, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Fort Lewis College, join us for a lunch-time discussion about the Paleoindian time period. Dr. Tune answered questions about human migrations, DNA, lithic technology, the hunting of big game animals (think mastodons and mammoths), and hafting technology, and showed us replica casts of Clovis, Folsom, and Midland projectile points found across the United States. He even passed around a replica cast of a mammoth tooth–their molars are huge! It was fascinating to think about the earliest dates for human occupation in North America (around 15,000 BP near Salado, Texas at the Debra L. Friedkin site!) and how many of the earliest archaeological sites are found near waterways (in the states of Oregon, Texas, and Florida). This discussion was an excellent review of the information we learned from Dr. Ryan on the first day of field school. We appreciate Dr. Tune’s time and for checking some of our screens while he was visiting our field school at the Haynie site!Jesse 1Jesse

Service Learning Project: Ute Mountain Ute Reservation, Towoac, Colorado


Today we went to the Ute Mountain Ute reservation in Towoac, Colorado with Rebecca! We joined the Bushwackers (a summer program for kids) at the baseball field. We set up different stations for them to learn about archaeology and culture. The educational stations consisted of a flintknapping station with Sean, zooarchaeology with Jon, drone and surveying with Grant, atlatls with Dr. Ryan, and fire making. The Bushwacker kids seemed to enjoy the stations and doing hands-on activities.

We ate sandwiches, chips, and cookies in the town park. The park had a structure with the Ute men’s names engraved that served in the military. Rebecca stated that none of them passed away in the wars. Then, she showed us around Towaoc, including the recreational center and the Ute Tribal Council building.

After our tour, Rebecca guided us to two large archaeological sites on the reservation. We explored Moki Springs and Cowboy Wash. The two sites had multiple kivas, interesting pieces of Pueblo II and Pueblo III pottery and shell fossils. It was a sunny day with good people studying Archaeology.




Lessons in Identity

Projectile PointWe started off the day with a demonstration of flintknapping and what it takes to produce a projectile point. The excessive amount of flakes, or debitage, created from this process was incredible. This, in combination with the intricate, multi-step method to develop these points really gave me an insight into how special and socially constructed the process of flintknapping was, as seen in the transition between the Paleo period from around 13,000 to 14,000 years ago to the much smaller Archaic projectile points we see every once in a while in our pit at the Haynie site.

Once the morning concluded, we attended a brown bag lecture with our native scholar, Justin Lund. As mentioned in a few prior blog posts, Justin is a molecular anthropologist. In addition to that, Lund is also a scholar who has a background in bioethics in regards to how genetic information of how native peoples is treated. With that kind of interdisciplinary background and the ability to speak in such an articulate manner about his research, Justin gave an excellent presentation.

He began his talk with an introduction of himself in Navajo and went on to describe how native identities have not only been disrupted and even destroyed by colonization of this country in the past, but also continue to be invalidated and oppressed by society by what is referred to as settler colonialism. Settler colonialism is defined as the continued oppression by the colonizer on the native communities after both groups call the same landscape home. Lund makes the point that there are only two possible conclusions for this conflict: 1) The colonizing community eliminates the native community; or 2) The colonizing community leaves the landscape. He continues to describe this as something that is not always clearly seen in greater society, but continues to occur throughout the country and takes on several forms. One of these forms is the current methodologies of companies that essentially sell identity to people willing to have their ancestry tested through DNA samples. Lund explains most of this big data is incorrectly used for a variety of reasons including the data produced by the company is often biased by the limited samples they have previously gathered, the accuracy of the results that come back to customers is often heavily flawed, and as a result of both of the previous dilemmas, people’s view of their own identity is often skewed based off of the flawed interpretations of their DNA.

Lund continued the conversation this evening with another lecture that reemphasized the importance of respecting, giving reciprocity to, and understanding the relationality of indigenous peoples when conducting big data research of genetic information. He went on to explain the Indigenous Research Paradigm he and other interdisciplinary scholars have created in order to work closely with indigenous communities from Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Alaska to understand how these groups feel about their DNA being added to a genomic database. Lund stated that he believes that by approaching consultation through the method of democratic deliberation, indigenous people will have greater control and protection of their own genetic information. This line of research is important for native peoples all across the nation and world because their genetic information should be protected and not misused or manipulated by biologists as has been the case with archaeological remains from Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon.

5MT1905 – Day 7…

Hour 36… Or something like that. The site has become a very familiar place to us, as has its sounds, smells and of course, its dirt. For a few moments in the morning, we work alongside each other in silence; trowels scraping, hand axes thudding, dust pans clanging. Wheelbarrows filled we head to the screens and begin processing the still cool and wet dirt. You could almost say that we know what we’re doing – pulling sherds, debitage and NHB at a rate far greater than when we first started working the site.

Noon comes quickly and lunch is served. Apple chicken salad, Cheetos, and frozen Twix are specials on todays menu.

Dr. Ryan arrives soon after we finish eating, atlatls and spears in-hand. Becca retrieves a foam archery target from the garage and we all take turns giving this primitive hunting implement our best tries. Given its ubiquity in the ancient world, surely some of our own ancestors used this tool to survive – maybe we even perceive a distant familiarity in its use.

Dirt starts moving again, this time into several piles scattered about the 4X8 excavation unit. We peel and shovel in our own rhythms. Lenses of modeled adobe appear with every-other slice into the still moist dirt.

We find ourselves at the screens for the rest of the work day. The usual sun-fueled goofiness slowly emerges in the conversations being had at every screening station. 3:30 comes around as the afternoon wind begins to pick up, and for the seventh time we head back to shop carrying our dig kits in our hands and a proper coating of dirt on our skin.

Our day in the field is capped off with ice cream, food, beer, and some much welcomed rest.

Smoke and a Snake in the Field

This morning was smoky, I could smell it when I woke up, but it got heavier when we got to the site. The horizon was invisible and the smoke had driven all of the gnats our way. This luckily cleared up as the day went on. We also had a little serpentine visitor this morning as well who was relocating by Dr. Ryan. We took elevation measurements then started digging. I spent most of today digging and made good progress I think. I usually put in more screen time but I wanted to dig today. It got hot like it usually does so frequent water breaks were needed. I greatly enjoyed the tacos and sundaes for dinner. To finish up this day we had a lecture with Paul on experimental archaeology. I’m fascinate with this topic. He spent most of the time on pottery but also about flint knapping and the use of lime in cooking corn. It is fascinating that they new that was needed and discovered how to do it. Paul said that there isn’t really a career solely in experimental archaeology but it is possible to do a thesis on an experiment. He said that through experimental archaeology we can get a better and deeper understanding of how ancient people lived.