A few Saturdays ago, on March 2, 2013, Doug Gann and I traveled up to the Casa Malpais Archaeological Park and Museum in Springerville, Arizona, for a regional Archaeology Road Show. Supported by the Arizona Humanities Council, this event represented our take on the popular PBS program Antiques Roadshow. We invited area residents to bring in archaeological objects so that we could tell them more about their collections, including when those items might have been made, who may have created them, and where they originally may have been produced. We differed from the Antiques Roadshow model, however, in that our evaluations spoke to the histories, meanings, and archaeological values of the objects, rather than their monetary value.
A number of local residents from Springerville and areas throughout eastern Arizona attended and brought some incredible objects. Among the many items that came across the table were:
- ceramic cooking and storage pots from eastern Arizona
- a number of interesting dart and arrow points and other stone tools spanning much of the precontact period in the Southwest
- a unique bone pendant from the Springerville area that depicted a bighorn sheep in relief (bighorn sheep are now rare in the area)
- several ceramic vessels that may have originated in Mexico
- an agave knife used to process and cut agave leaves
- two unusually shaped chipped stone objects that archaeologists sometimes call “eccentrics”
Two site stewards from the area also brought in field photographs of an interesting fragment of a probable effigy vessel. We were certainly pleased to see that photograph and even happier that the object remained in its original context. One of the most exciting objects brought in was a beautiful Clovis point, made between about 11,500-11,000 B.C., and found on the ground surface in eastern Arizona.
This event really was a win-win for professional archaeologists and local community members alike. In many cases, we could tell people a lot more about their objects than they already knew, and we learned where objects had been found, adding to the archaeological knowledge base for the area. With the owners’ permission, Doug photographed many objects with a special setup that will enable him to create 3D models, which, in turn, will be available for further study. Moreover, we’re currently working with several participants to record the locations where certain objects were found and preparing to make that information available to researchers. Based on people’s reactions and feedback, they loved learning about their collections, and we hope that, as we intended, the event enriched their interest in archaeology.
I was struck by attendees’ deeply felt connections to the archaeology and history of the area. Many of the items we evaluated were originally collected by parents or grandparents, illustrating residents’ long-term interest in regional archaeology. Local community members across the Southwest often have substantive knowledge to share, and I always learn from these interactions. With this event, we have set the stage for such fruitful interactions between the interested public and archaeologists at similar gatherings in the future.