Earlier this week, I drove up to Springerville, Arizona, to give a talk at the Casa Malpais Museum hosted by the Little Colorado Chapter of the Arizona Archaeological Society. My presentation focused on migration and cultural diversity in the Upper Little Colorado region in the centuries before the Spaniards arrived (what archaeologists now call the precontact or prehispanic period). It’s always fun to give talks to interested groups, but it’s even more fun when the subject is local archaeology. Everyone I met had a deep appreciation for local history and a lot of knowledge to share about archaeology in and around the community.
The Upper Little Colorado region, which lies in the areas surrounding St. Johns and Springerville, is a truly beautiful and fascinating place. This region is environmentally diverse, sitting right along the transition between the Colorado Plateau and the Mogollon Highlands. It was also a culturally diverse place in the distant past, characterized by evidence for people with very different historical backgrounds and social ties living close together. The region lies right along the traditional boundary that archaeologists draw between the Mogollon and Ancestral Puebloan culture areas. Sites in this region often show a mix of influences in the ways people built their houses and in how they made and used pottery. The region also sits between the two Western Pueblo communities of Zuni and Hopi, which have existed in place for many centuries.
The archaeological record of the region in the two centuries just before Europeans arrived is marked by evidence of interaction with the Hopi and Zuni areas, including the movement of pottery and probably even people. I argue that the Upper Little Colorado region served as a crossroads among many different groups, and that people living in this area played a key role in connecting diverse populations and spreading ideas across much of the Southwest.
My presentation was organized in conjunction with Journey Stories, a new traveling exhibit currently at the Casa Malpais Museum. Created by the Smithsonian Institution’s Museums on Main Street program, the exhibition focuses on the lives of individuals and groups who entered and traversed the lands that now make up the United States. The stories are quite diverse, capturing many aspects of the American experience, past and present, from immigrants in search of a new life making the treacherous one-way trip to the Americas, to enslaved Africans taken from their homes and forced across the ocean, to Midwestern drought refugees heading west from the dust bowl.
The exhibit also examines transportation technology. From sailing ships and covered wagons to trains and eventually cars and airplanes, new methods of transportation revolutionized lives by connecting people and places across the country with ever-increasing speed and efficiency. I enjoyed looking at the many maps in the exhibit, including Native American trails and wagon trails and train tracks and modern highways. These showed that, even as the modes of transportation changed, many of the paths remained the same. This exhibit really illustrates in an interesting way the legacies of the past in the present.
I wholeheartedly recommend a visit to Springerville to see Journey Stories. It will be at the Casa Malpais Museum until September 22, 2013. The Springerville Heritage Center includes two other museums in addition to the Casa Malpais Museum, which exhibits artifacts from the Upper Little Colorado. The Becker Family History Museum provides a look at a family with deep roots in the region. But, the real surprise is the Renee Cushman Museum, several rooms of exquisite art and antiques from across the world—there is even an etching by Rembrandt! (The story behind how this collection was acquired is quite a Journey Story, as well.) The Museum offers tours of the Casa Malpais archaeological site Tuesdays through Saturdays, March through November, at 9: 00 a.m., 11:00 a.m., and 2:00 p.m.