Student Adventures Around The World

Brian, SMU-in-Taos

Brian is a junior majoring in English (creative writing) and photography.

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June 12, 2006: San Francisco de Asis Cathedral

I did not know much about the San Francisco de Asis cathedral before today, and what I did know about it was through other people’s experiences and interpretations of the church. As an infrequent church-goer at best, I was not spiritually enthralled, but when I heard that this was one of the most photographed churches in the world, as well as an object of study for Georgia O’Keefe, I was excited about photographing this visually stunning site.

When we arrived at the site, Dr. Adler had arranged a meeting with the local priest. We had just learned that arranging communications with stakeholders of sites was very important in the archaeological process. Since we were outsiders walking into a very close-knit community, communication with the local stakeholders, those who own and operate the church, was absolutely necessary. After all we have don’t run the show so we are at the mercy of their opinion of us. Fortunately everybody was extremely nice and we were all well accepted. Pretty soon after we arrived they put us to work moving mud/plaster that we would be using to cover the surfaces of the church. Although the site was very work-oriented, some of the locals were very friendly and had a good sense of humor. They offered to give Sunday and Audrey a ride in a giant bucket attached to a huge crane. He must have taken them about fifty or sixty feet up. I was glad to see that the locals were not just comfortable to let us volunteer, but also they were able to crack jokes and become friendly with us.

In re-plastering the church I understood what Sunday meant when she told us that archaeologists preserve the future. Here was a church that was an artifact in itself that reveals the history of its surrounding community. We can continue to learn from this history but only as long as the artifact exists. I have never thought of archaeology in terms of its relation to the future until this experience.

June 9, 2006: Flint Knapping

This evening we did a hands-on activity with flint knapping. Beside Dr. Adler and Sunday two graduate students Jay and Jim joined us to teach us their techniques. They were very excited to teach us how shape flint, chirt, obsidian, and other rocks into artifacts similar to those that the natives of this area used many years ago. At first I was suspicious of how much there was to know about flint knapping, just shape the damn thing into a triangle with some other rocks right? Wrong. Typical college student behavior my mistake was not realizing that my brain was full of mush and that I might be able to learn something new. The lecture alone was roughly 30-45 minutes of straight technique with shaping and chipping the rocks. Geometry was essential in deciding what kind of angle to chip off the edge of a rock to get the best flake. If an improper angle was used you would result with something called a step fracture. The step fracture looks like somebody scooped out a small portion of the edge with a spoon, leaving the edge more rounded and structurally unsound than if the proper angle was applied. I quickly learned that even when I thought I was applying the right angle I would sometimes make a step fracture. This led me to believe that this art, much like most other art forms, requires years of practice to obtain an unconscious “feel.”

After reading the chapter on lithic analysis in Archaeology in Practice I only then fully appreciated the live demonstration of flint knapping. The chapter is sufficient in familiarizing the reader with basic terms so that you can define the rock features and know what to look for, but knowing what to look for does not always mean it will be a cinch to identify these features once the rock is in your hands. Many times during the demonstration I had to close one eye and look down the side of a flake like I was sighting a rifle just to identify platforms, dorsal, and ventral sides and even to line up my next break point. The rock examples in the book are fairly bulbous and easy to identify, but the text is only half or less of the entire flint knapping experience. The demonstration is a must to fully understand the art.

One aspect of the flint-knapping lecture I found interesting was Jim’s analysis of artifact locations. He said that they could find a chipped flake 20 or more meters away from its original rock, and he said that sometimes this could be an act of frustration. Also the location of the sediments can reveal the position in which the person was sitting while they were shaping their rock. This day definitely taught me to rid myself of all pre judgments about what I think to be primitive. This hands on lecture definitely open my mind by destroy my prejudice.

June 7, 2006: Rock Art Day 2

Day two in the rock art canyon was similar to the first. We worked on finishing up our records of the panels, sketching, and photographing the art. Since we had somewhat of a handle on what we were doing, Sunday and Dick went down further into the canyon along the arroyo to try and discover new panels. What they found were various initials of people who either previously owned the land or traveled through the area. Albert asked an interesting question to Dr. Ford, “are these personal carvings graffiti?” I instantly thought that Dr. Ford would say yes since he seemed so passionate about the Native American rock art, but surprisingly he answered no and gave a logical reason. He thought that since the names were on their own rock away from the panels and not obstructing it, that these people were conscious of the rock art location and respectful by not covering it up with their own names. Now if the names were written over some of the panels then he would consider it graffiti. Also we were dealing with a plot of private property, so if the landowner wanted to put his name on his land it would be impossible to vandalize his own land.

One big difference between today and the first day is the focus on mapping a portion of land. Sunday assigned Edwin and I and area of land, which she wanted a map of only using a compass and some graph paper. Fist we measured our paces, which roughly equaled ten meters for every four paces. Then we selected a fixed point or datum, which everything else would be drawn around. Next we made a scale where two centimeters equals ten meters in order to shrink our landscape onto paper. Before this trip I had never really used a compass all that much and I was surprised how accurate of a map we were able to draw just by pacing our steps and locating our position with a compass

Before we came back to the campus we stopped at the bottom of the Rio Grande gorge to lock at a final piece of rock art. The art was carved on top of a giant boulder, which we had to climb to get a view of the pictures. One thing that we noticed were many crosses were carved along side the native drawings. Since we did not see any crosses at the canyon Dr. Ford concluded that these drawings were done later after the natives were converted to Catholicism. Again I was surprised because I usually do not associate Catholicism with Native Americans. Slowly but surely Archaeology is breaking my stereotypical thought patterns about Native Americans and I am enjoying this intellectual destruction.

June 6, 2006: Rock Art Day

Our first trip to the rock art site was a crash course in archaeology. We needed general archaeology skills to decipher and record the rock art, a concept of stakeholders since this was privately owned land, and good mapping skills to be able to accurately record the site. As soon as we arrived Mori, the landowner, immediately came down to greet us, and that was probably the first time I realized that this was the real deal. We were not in a classroom and not even our teacher had any pull in a decision that was on privately owned land. Luckily Mori is a self-proclaimed historian and was very tolerant and appreciative of our presence. She seemed very interested in the history of her own land and in terms of stakeholder’s interests; her ideas were very similar to ours. She was the optimal stakeholder for an archaeologist.

Accompanying us that day Dr. Dick Ford, a former teacher of Sunday’s and an expert in rock art. Over the course of his lecture he showed us how much information could be extracted from seemingly simple pictures crudely carved into the face of a rock. As an English major this was very interesting to me. He was drawing inferences about these Native American people like one would analyze a character in a novel based on the author’s descriptions. After he turned us loose to our individual panels, he encouraged us to be creative in our interpretations and create a narrative based on what we saw in the rock art. I was beginning to understand why Sunday told us on the first day of class that archaeology was the most humanitarian of the sciences. I was using literary techniques I learned in fiction and poetry to create a technical account of a scientific record. I was also able to apply my photography skills to photograph the rock art. A day that I thought was going to be very dry and scientific turned out to be a field trip in art and literature applied to a scientific method.

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