Saturday, November 9, 2013

UNM 2013 Fall Field School - Day 12 in Chaco

By Lauren Butero
Today may have been the crew’s last day in the field, but our work isn’t over. We spent today completing the end of our on-site recording both in the field and in our field laboratory, backfilling the last of our units, recording the last reference points for features, and packing up camp for the season. However, back in Albuquerque our work will continue. The in-depth analysis will begin and the group will have maps to make, records to formalize and finalize, and lots of information to process. While we won’t be surrounded by the beauty of the Canyon every day, the importance of what is to come shouldn’t be understated. What happens between now and the end of our semester (and beyond, in the case of the graduate teaching assistants) is essential. Our ability to record and interpret what we have seen, photographed, collected and measured determines whether or not the parts of the past that we collected and excavated and the knowledge and potential within those parts of the sites are preserved. If we fail to be diligent with our notations, reports, logs, and in caring for the artifacts we removed, much of the knowledge contained in the site we worked on could be lost. Excavation is a destructive practice, meaning that once it has been completed the site can never be returned to exactly how it was before. Some information such as relationships between objects and layers of soils is permanently lost if that information is not recorded in a way that people will be able to access it in the future. Even for things that are left untouched by our scientific endeavors, Mother Nature and other humans can take a toll and wash and erode away information with the ebb and flow of time. Archeology is the attempt to conserve the knowledge that is trapped in between the layers of time. Beyond recording, archeology is also about analyzing and theorizing --- essentially figuring out what all of our observations and measurements MEAN on a larger scale which will be part of our continuing work. 

Beyond the importance of our records and observations and theories, the field school also produced a crew that began as students and finished as a new group of archeologists. While our units are now invisible to passerby, the knowledge and skills gained by the group cannot be hidden under a layer of eroded sandstone dust. The field makes the best classroom, where students learn by doing and by experiencing. It also has strengthened the crew, and not only our backs and callouses on our palms. It was an unforgettable opportunity that none of us will likely forget, nor the bond that it forged between the crew and the canyon and between one another, living and working together. I think more than one of our group discovered they were made of tougher stuff than they thought, especially after our record cold nights and shortened schedule. Others uncovered talents they weren’t aware of and we will all walk away with wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime memories and stories and knowledge that we will carry with us as we accomplish more. Beyond that, hopefully, experiences and friendships forged in ice are as strong as those forged by fire.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

UNM 2013 Fall Field School - Day Eleven in Chaco

By Leon Natker

Today is our last full day on site in Chaco Canyon.  Last night was the coldest it has been so far.  The park service says it was somewhere around zero.  When you’re sleeping in a tent in a sleeping bag that is really cold.  We were all up early because of the cold to have breakfast and warm up in the kitchen.  We loaded up the trucks at 7:00 AM and headed out to the field.  The sky was clear all day so the sun came out and warmed us all up quickly.  It still only got up to 48 degrees.
There are many important things that have to be done on an archaeological site before you can leave the site. We can’t just dig holes and walk away.  All the units have to be backfilled. Backfilling is putting the dirt you dug out back in.  We do this so no one can vandalize the site and also so that archaeologists in the future can come back to the same spot and do further research.  In fact another field school from UNM might come back in the future to continue working where we did this year.  In addition to backfilling we have to make sure that every feature we found is correctly mapped.  This is very important on this site because there are both historical features and prehistoric features.  We have encountered both of them and need to keep a good record for all future research done on the site.  Jennie Sturm leads the way with the total station, mapping coordinates of every feature we found. Each unit also has to draw a plan view map, that’s like a bird’s eye view and then a profile of each of the walls showing all the different layers of soil we dug through. We also have to map coordinates for all the artifacts we found on the surface and then collect them. One of the great things about working in the field is how much of a family everyone becomes.  We all help each other to accomplish all of these jobs. In one day you might do four or five different jobs on a site.  For example today I started out collecting artifacts we had found on survey Monday, then I worked with Jennie to map features found all around the site. Then I helped Josh back fill the two units we had excavated. Then I went back to help Jennie map some other sites that had been found.  You see there is never a dull moment on an archaeological site. We really do become a family.  We take turns cooking dinner for each other, we help keep our living space clean and when it’s cold we all gather together in the kitchen, warm up and share stories. It’s a lot of fun and I know everyone will miss it when it’s over.
Pueblo Bonito and Pueblo Alto from South Mesa

Tonight we are getting a special treat. G.B. Cornucopia is the Park Service interpreter who specializes in the night sky.  He has invited all of us to the observatory for a special talk on the stars and to give us each chance to have a look through the telescope. We’re all very excited about this opportunity. You have to spend the night in Chaco Canyon at least once to really appreciate how beautiful the sky is. We have been out here since the last full moon, now the moon is almost gone so you can see the Milky Way clearly.  Almost every night someone sees a shooting star.  It’s another part of what makes Chaco Canyon so special. Whether or not you want to be an archaeologist, visiting Chaco Canyon is an experience everyone should have.  I’ve included a picture from our hike yesterday that shows Pueblo Bonito and New Alto from South Mesa.  It’s just another of the many wonderful things to see here.  I know all of us will miss being here, it is a really extraordinary place. We will all value this experience in a special way.  Not just because it has been a remarkable learning experience with great teachers but because it is one of the most unique places to visit anywhere on this planet. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

UNM 2013 Archaeological Field School - Day Ten in Chaco

By Pablo Flores

It was Day Ten  at Chaco Canyon and we all awoke to a beautiful scene as it had snowed the night before. All of Chaco Canyon was covered in a thin layer of white that reflected the sunlight as it rose. Although it made for a gorgeous morning in the canyon, it as was a cold one with the wind blowing in from the south. As we made our way to the site where once the Wetherill Homestead and Trading Post had been to continue our work, we were given the chance to explore and photograph the snow covered Pueblo Bonito - this was an opportunity I had been hoping to get the entire time we have been in Chaco Canyon. With the snow it heightened the already mysterious and awe inspiring Pueblo Bonito and created a picture-perfect moment that any photographer would want to have. The snow also prevented sound from vibrating off the canyon walls as it typically does making it seem unnaturally quiet except for the laughter and talk from the students as they wondered about Pueblo Bonito.
After visiting Pueblo Bonito we returned to each of our units and began the last bit of work required in order to be finished before this coming Thursday – our last day in Chaco Canyon. For some of us this meant completing profiling, which requires mapping the changes in soil composition of your unit walls, using a Munsell soil chart to identify the color of each defined layer of soil and determining soil texture using a Feel Flow Chart. Others continued excavating their units due to continued interest in what was being found or had not been found, and some performed various tasks on the site as instructed. The morning progressively got colder as wind increased and clouds thickened causing many – including myself – to wish for a cup of hot chocolate, however we made due with a hot cup of coffee with some cookies.
We were all surprised to discover that the afternoon plans were to take a hike out to the unexcavated Great-House called Tsin Kletsin, which is located on the top of South Mesa. The hike is about three miles long with the first part being entirely uphill. Along the way one can get a great view of Pueblo Bonito, Chetro Ketl and Casa Riconada (Downtown Chaco). Further up the trail Pueblo Alto and New Alto become visible on the top of the other side of the canyon with the La Plata Mountains in the backdrop. These are not the only great views to see as South Mesa provides a variety of spectacular views of the surrounding landscape in and around Chaco Canyon. Today was one of the best days I have had in Chaco Canyon, which is a challenge in itself since every day in Chaco Canyon is wonderful in that there is always something new to discover.       

UNM 2013 Fall Field School - Day Nine in Chaco

By Holly Bennett
Today marks the first full day of the last week in Chaco Canyon and our 2013 Fall Field School in total. It is a silly mix of the bitter and sweet. Last night we found ourselves discussing when we prefer the cold onset of darkness. Six in the morning when we rise or six in the evening when we sit down for dinner? There was no unanimous decision, but the truth is either way you look at it dark brings cold. Plus, daylight savings forced its agenda on us this week. And something I learned very clearly this morning is that the theatrics of sunshine never really brings warmth here in the Fall. So the bitter aspects are rising early in the cold. Now for the sweet. This experience day in and day out provides those moments you know you’ll never forgive yourself for not relishing. Luckily the crew in this field school is really good at stopping and remembering what we are doing every day. Chaco Canyon’s ever-changing beauty really helps to conjure up this appreciation. We are on our third week of working beside Pueblo Bonito. We get to survey some of the most beautiful landscape a naked eye will see. We look up at unbridled star light every night. It’s kind of funny, because Chaco Canyon seems to slap us upside the head with almost too beautiful beauty to insist on our great fortune.
Today, our crew was split into two categories. You were either down in your test pits or on survey with one of our teaching assistants. Those that were in test pits had staggered duties. Some of the test pit crews were directed to continue excavation based on what was appearing in their units. Although continued excavation was exclusively permitted there was a bigger goal in mind. Since we are very near the end of our time here, recording our findings is the most important task at hand. What we have found needs multiple forms of documentation and mapping is one of the largest ways to communicate our findings. Today, the test pits that have reached an endorsed end started mapping. This includes both plan view maps, which are like a bird’s eye view, and stratigraphic maps which are detailed wall maps. So many of us started on this very detailed venture.
The second group went on survey between the Wetherill Cemetery and Pueblo Bonito. They were searching for historic artifacts. They were looking for diagnostic artifacts and features. Diagnostic Artifacts are artifacts that can provide detailed information. Today they mainly came in the form of full bottles or cans. There was even an old wash tub found in the field! As for the features, they were comparing aerial photos from the forties to features that appeared in the field. They are seeking a comparison between remaining structures with these older photos. Overall, today kicked off a campaign to start tying up our field school work in Chaco Canyon. Turns out no matter how cold and how tired we all our, the end is starting to feel a lot more bitter than sweet. At least we have three more days to relish the last of our time here!

And here is a photograph of what greated the crew the next morning in Chaco: first snowfall!
Snow on Wetherill Homestead excavations, November 5, 2013.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

UNM 2013 Fall Field School - Day Eight In Chaco

Halloween at Chaco Canyon

By Katherine Shaum

Even in the apparent remoteness of Chaco Canyon, people find excellent ways to celebrate that spooky day at the end of October. Last night, we joined a number of Chaco Culture NHP staff in listening to a recording of the original broadcast of the extraterrestrial radio drama “War of the Worlds”. It originally aired as a Halloween episode on October 30, 1938. As we left the apartment, small flakes of snow filtered from the dark sky and showed themselves for a second each in one of the few lights that illuminated the residential area of the park.

            This morning, crystalline frost blanketed the ground, lending a picturesque effect to the wooden steps of the bathroom trailer, but also making it difficult for some people to exit their tents. At around 7:15am, our kitchen trailer was invaded by an interesting group of figures including a buccaneer, a pumpkin, and Ted the teddy bear. These were park staff members making the rounds before starting the day. Later that morning, we students donned Dr. Seuss-esque hats and reciprocated by trick-or-treating through the offices in the Visitor’s Center.

Teaching Assistants and Field School Students wearing Halloween headgear

Jennie Sturm holding prism for total station mapping confers with Ted

Stablization Crew visiting Wetherill Homestead and Trading Post project on Halloween

            Thursdays are short days so we can return to Albuquerque before 5pm. We only had about 3.5 hours to work, but everyone made good progress in bringing their units up to speed. Many of us were trying to complete the last levels in our units in order to prepare for profiling. Profiling is a process in which we will measure and draw the side walls of our units. Many of our units have interesting features visible in the side walls such as layers of ash or charcoal, signaling that there was, at some point, a fire. Excavation must be completed and the walls straightened before profiling can begin. We will profile by laying out a tape measure along the base of the wall and marking points of interest at given intervals on a sheet of graph paper. We will eventually be able to connect the dots and create a picture with more detail than a camera can sometimes deliver.

            My partner and I are working on a unit with an old sandstone wall in it. It is a small place for two people to work, so one person would fix the unit’s walls and excavate while the other would screen buckets of soil and organize the artifacts. We used several tools in this process: the blunt end of a pick-mattock for speedier (but still careful) excavation, a trowel for finer work and for leveling and straightening, a dustpan and brush for sweeping up soil and a bucket for holding it, and 1/4” and 1/8” screens to better examine the contents of the soil in the buckets.

            At noon, each team cleaned their unit and placed a tarp over it to protect it from the elements for the weekend. We then headed back to camp to clean up the trailers and pack up personal items. As we left the park, we spotted a number of elk on both the left and right sides of the road. A beautiful 2.5 hour drive back to campus concluded the day.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

UNM 2013 Fall Field School - Day Seven in Chaco

A Day of Wisdom
By Caitlin Holland
I have never seen so many stars in the sky when I awake before the break of dawn. Billions of stars illuminating the dark sky surrounding a crescent moon over Chaco Canyon. The ruffling of sleeping bags, the unzipping of tent doors and the contemporaneous symphony of alarm clocks illustrate the departure time from the safe boundaries of our camping area to the extensive mesas and pueblos of Chaco Canyon.  A discussion of goals for the day arises while we carry and prepare necessary equipment to the site for excavation as well as site assessment surveys.  Some students continued exposing historic features and structures within the borders of where the Wetherill Homestead and Trading Post used to be located in the early 1900s. Other students were led to the Chetro Ketl agricultural fields, where they received direction on the utilization of remote sensing and GPR (Ground-penetrating radar). 
Remote sensing techniques, such as GPR, allow archaeologists to retrieve exciting data. Particularly for GPR, the radar sends a high frequency of radio waves through the ground that bounce off a buried object or boundary and that signal then goes back to the machine and results in a basic outlay of a map showing the object. This is used to understand what is located beneath the surface of the ground without disturbing the original context of the site(s). While students were becoming familiar with this process, another group of students, me included, were driven up to a site in the South Gap of Chaco to learn how to complete site assessment.
Site assessment is when the National Park Service wants to assess prehistoric and historic sites that were previously recorded by other researchers. The goal is to update the records of each site (maps and notes) based on changes that have occurred through geological, environmental and animal and human impacts. Today we relocated a Basketmaker Period site, where we additionally learned about the process of structure collapse and of ecological adaptations that took place within the area. Strong gusts of wind, rain and a “stampede” of tumbleweeds off in the distance marked the end of our work for the day!
The day was not over yet though, as everyone huddled together at the Wetherill Homestead site to begin a tour of everyone’s excavation units! Many of the units held exposed architecture such as a rock wall, concrete step or a well house. Other units showed remarkable stratigraphic layers of dirt, then ash and organic material, and then sand. Still other units, under closer inspection, showed remnants of other features such as post holes from previous buildings.  From the beginning to the end of the day, wise lessons were acknowledged by all of us; lessons that will provide guidance in the days ahead. These lessons, sometimes masked by everyday events such as trying to retrieve pickles from a jar, are what mean the most to us out here in Chaco and elsewhere: Slow and steady finds the unexpected, and value friendship and guidance when you need it the most.  

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

UNM 2013 Fall Field School - Day Six in Chaco

By Curtis Randolph
It was another gorgeous day in Chaco Canyon. The warm rays of the sun shone down on our site as soon as they peaked over the walls of Pueblo Bonito. The ancient architecture we are surrounded by could not be more beautiful than it is first thing in the morning. We are truly working in an awe-inspiring place. The weather was perfect today. Every time we even began to feel warm, a breeze came by to cool us down. The wind did pick up a bit in the late afternoon, but like everything else that seems to fall into place here, we were ready to pack up anyway. We all kept very busy today.  Some people went on a hiking expedition to do site assessment along the south mesa, while the rest of us stayed and continued to excavate our assigned units. We are all uncovering very interesting things. The land is rich with historical artifacts left behind by people working at and around the Wetherill Trading Post. Every bucket of earth we screen seems to be full of treasures. Bits of metal are very common, but we also come across artifacts left behind by earlier occupants such as pre-hispanic ceramic sherds and chipped stone. LeeAnna was even fortunate enough to uncover a projectile point. It was a very finely crafted biface that appeared to be made of chert.
Jenny did some work with her GPR equipment today. She was looking at the agricultural fields just south of Chetro Ketl. This particular type of field that is laid out in a grid type pattern may not have been so common in the canyon, so the data she collects should tell a very interesting story having to do with irrigation systems and farming techniques. 
There is never a shortage of things to do around here.  Our days are spent doing fieldwork and our evenings consist of bagging and tagging the day’s uncovered artifacts. Any spare time in between can be filled by giving one of the other group members a helping hand.  No one person’s assigned task is expected to be their burden alone. We work as a team. In a group this large you wouldn’t expect us all to be able to work together efficiently, but every day we do just that. From loading the trucks to clearing fields, we all seem to move together like a well oiled machine. You wouldn’t believe the amount of vegetation we can all clear in just a matter of minutes.
All in all fieldschool can sometimes feel a little intense, but it is immensely rewarding.  Every minute seems to bring another once in a lifetime opportunity. We go places and do things that many of us may never have the opportunity to do again. I know there are fieldschools held all over the world, but I really couldn’t imagine a better place to be or a better group of people to be experiencing it with.