Student Adventures Around The World


Audrey, SMU-in-Taos

Audrey is a senior majoring in economics and public policy and minoring in Spanish. She also heads the Marketing Economics Club.

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June 27, 2006

Yesterday we went out to Ojo Caliente to meet Felipe Ortega. Felipe is a master potter and a member of the Apache Indian tribe.

We went to his home where he guided us to his work area. We stood in a circle and he performed a blessing using the colors in the sky and the directions of the wind. We were each given a pinch of cornmeal to sprinkle on the ground in reverence to the people that came before us.

Then we went into the workroom where he showed us an example. He took the clay which was purified, and mixed it with a little water to get the lumps out. After about five fist-size balls were made, he began to form the clay around what he called a pookie. A pookie is basically a bowl that is used to help form the base of the pot. You rub the pookie with corn oil and then add a layer of mica before adding the clay. He explained it is like baking and adding flour to the pan before the cake batter.

The mica was gorgeous; it looked like white glitter. Mica comes from up in the mountains and was essential to ancient Indian tribes. They used mica in their pottery to keep it strong; after it is fired it is extremely durable as well. It also dries a lot faster than other clays I have worked with, and the exiting part is that when we get home, we can use these pots on our stoves and in the oven, just like the Indians used to cook in their fires.

We each had our own work stations, and with some help from Felipe, succeeded in making a bean pot as well as an offering bowl. He gave us the option of adding a decorative band across the pot. It is traditional to put the band under the lip, but about three fourths up from the bottom. I decorated my band with deer tracks, other people used images of moons, suns or mountains.

We took a break for lunch and returned back to clean up our mess. It was our job to take the pots home, check for cracks after they dried and then sand and polish them. My class is in the process of sanding now; we use sandstone or actual sandpaper to smooth the edges. Once the pot is fired, it is pretty permanent in its shape. So it is up to us to make the necessary improvements and we will see how it goes from here.

On Wednesday, the rest of the class will be taking the pots back to Felipe to fire them; I wish I could join everyone, but Iím coming back to Dallas.

June 9, 2006

Flint Knapping

Instead of lecture on June 9th, we had a surprise. Two of Dr. Adlerís friends came to visit: Jim and Jay. Jay is a graduate archaeology student and it turns out that both of them were flint knappers.

Flint knapping is the art of manipulating rocks like the archaic and historic people would have; they recreated projectile points and other rock tools. After we watched their demonstration of how to hit the rock on a platform, which is the flat part of a rock. They taught us about percussion, the way you hit a rock and the effects of the angle you hit it at. We each were then given a flake of a huge rock that Dr. Adler began to chip away at with a hammer. Different tools were available to work with, anything from elk antler and other rocks to more modern tools, like hammers and picks. We gradually worked down the piece of rock we were given into different shapes. It helped me to use a pencil and draw the shape I was aiming for onto the rock to give me some direction. Itís amazing to me the precision the people making these points had.

I would strike the rock and sometimes it would flake the way I wanted and other times I had to redraw my goal because I accidentally flaked away part of my point. We all sat outside with small mats to collect our rock flakes that broke off when we struck the rocks. Once we got our chunks of rock down smaller into the general shape we wanted, we took the antler or something with a point and very carefully pressed the sides of the rock to create a sharper point. Sometimes pressing too hard or at the wrong angle would cause a lot more than expected to break off.

There was a trick that they taught us in the beginning that I wish I had remembered. Before you strike a rock, it is necessary to grind the platform you are planning to strike; this helps the rock not to shatter. Well, I forgot that information on part of my flint knapping and originally aimed for projectile point and ended up with a chopping blade.

The experience was one of a kind. In trying to understand why or how these people created these tools, it really helps to try to recreate the same thing. You can understand their goals, frustrations and really comprehend the time and effort that was necessary to create these small works of art.

June 6

After a few days of lecture we finally set out to study in the field. Our class has only five students in it so we were sure to get lots of hands on time. Our professor, Dr. Eisel, led us to the Pataca Wash, west of Taos. A private land owner, Ms. Van Buron was our stakeholder and gave us permission to survey her land. We were allowed to record what we saw and found, but we were not allowed to dig the land or deface any of the artifacts. I found that it is very important in archaeology to acknowledge the intentions of the stakeholders and respect their wishes, along with following the laws of the state. For instance around our area, once human remains are found, archaeologists are instructed to stop digging and not only call a coroner, but also contact the local tribe members if available and find out what they want to be done.

When we pulled up to the site I could immediately see the rock art panels from the van. They were pretty large in size; I donít have the measurements on me right now. On closer inspection there were a variety of images pecked into the stone. Some of the art on the panel I was assigned to was eroded from water minerals coming down the rock when it rained. Footprints were very distinctly seen as well as hand prints and a bear claw. The art was almost the same color as the rock, which means it had heavy repatination. Our first step was to measure the panel and then record exactly what we saw. The sun wasnít helping in most of the recording so my partner Evan and I had to work together, one of us making a shadow on the rock, while the other recorded the art. The meaning of the art was not completely figured out, and will never be. It is extremely difficult to guess the significance and exact circumstances of the drawings. One picture could have been a story or directions for others. We also noticed some superimposition on the panel. Some of the footprints were pecked in over a parallel string of dots, which were perhaps a map or calendar. After we finished drawing the art we recorded the quantity of the elements on the rock and classified them from a predetermined number system. This is a technique that allows archaeologists to compare datum in other areas and quantify the rock art. Dr. Ford accompanied us on our excavation and help explain some of his theories of the meanings of the rock art.

After lunch we hiked around the area and stumbled on more art in the valley. Dr. Ford explained to us the anomaly of the different art. The previous art we were looking at was done by hunters and gatherers in the area. Projectile points, also known as arrowheads, were found lying on the surface at the site along with flake fragments of rock that had been worked into tools. Also the presence of animal prints was a hint, because from an early age, we read that children of hunters are taught to recognize tracks of animals for identification. The art that we found on our walk was different. It had the characteristics of Pueblan art, which Dr. Ford said was not usually native to the area. Puelban art depicted a human figure with prominate hands, feet and sexual organs. Although it looked as the man was carved into the rock around the same time, there is no way of knowing if the two tribes met or if they were even alive during the same eras.

The clouds began to roll in and we could all see rain in the distance. We piled into the van back to campus to continue our adventure the next day.

So the next day we went to the site to continue what we started. We still had to record our global position as well as the position of surrounding artifacts we flagged in the area. Dr. Ford and Dr. Eisel were with us showing us how to properly use a compass. This might sound silly, I thought I knew how to use a compass, but I found out that the regular North the compass shows is the magnetic north. The magnetic poles are constantly moving over time and if we recorded our position with that North in 50 years, other archaeologists might have some trouble. So we had to change our compass to orientate our North to the actual North Pole, a standard to keep records constant. We formed a map and paced out our steps to get an accurate distance. The map was drawn to scale the best we could do and then surrounding rocks were filled in along with the general typography of the area.

All of our preparation and work is going into a binder we are making for the land owner. The maps, coordinates and drawings of rock panels and artifacts are going to accompany pictures we are giving her. The information will go into a file for next years SMU in Taos Archaeology students as well as for other archaeologists that have permission to survey the area.

The really interesting part of our day, was when the landowner took us to her earthship. An earthship is a dwelling that is built from all natural material, such as tires and mud, and is dependant on batteries and solar power. The water she uses in her home comes from a 16 foot well along with rain water that comes into the house from the roof. She buys bottled water to drink, but all of the showering and dishwater is taken care of. There was plenty of open space in the earthship even though that characteristically they are built part underground. It is built into a sort of hill, remaining cool in the summer and warm in the winter. They seem to be pretty efficient and even run on solar power for the toilets. We ate our lunch in her home and continued back to the field.

We were driving to the site and came upon a herd of horses that were just gorgeous against the mountain backdrop. First we assumed they were wild, but when we got out of the van to feed them our leftover apples and celery from lunch, we found they were very friendly. It was a great break to have in the day, and later on they would follow us to our site and keep us company throughout the day.

The rock art was a great experience for me. I never thought that what we would do in the field would actually be recorded and go to use for future research in the area. It was surprising and made me feel appreciated for the work that we were doing and really motivated us to do the job right. Although I wont ever know who did the art or their reasoning behind it, it was still very eye opening to previous cultures and what kind of marks they leave compared to what kind of marks we will leave for our future.

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