Lindsay Shepard, Arizona State University
When it comes to archaeological research, I tend to stick to the technical side of things. I especially enjoy using technologies such as laser scanning and 3-D modeling to analyze artifacts and features to gather quantitative data. Because of my preference for these types of analyses, I typically consider questions that I think can be reliably answered using quantitative approaches.
However, observations made during our field trip to the Gila Cliff Dwellings combined with my love for spending time alone outdoors have led me to meditate on questions that likely can’t even be answered using more qualitative research approaches. These questions involve the actual thoughts and feelings of the peoples who lived at sites like the Gila Cliff Dwellings, things that are impossible to truly know.
Mostly, I’ve been thinking about how group camp living might compare to life in a cliff dwelling. While camping is one of my favorite pastimes, I usually camp alone, and have never experienced camping with a group of strangers. Even though our camp population is small in number and has a friendly social atmosphere, in many ways it still feels like I’m in the city because there is so much action going on around me. I still need those moments of solitude when I can sit in silence and enjoy the beautiful landscape around me.
To get the true out-of-the-city experience I crave, I like to go mountain biking. The dirt roads near camp offer vehicle-free terrain, cute wildlife, and stunning sunset views over the mountains and open country. In addition to cycling, some nights I simply walk out of range of the camp noise and stargaze for a bit. With almost no light pollution, the stars seem countless and I usually see a meteorite or two.
During our trip to the Gila Cliff Dwellings, I found myself making comparisons between the size of our camp and that of the dwellings. Although the dwellings were likely partitioned off in a way that offered some privacy to its inhabitants, it still seems like it would have been an even more densely populated area than that of our field camp. I think I would also feel constrained living in the dwellings because light only enters from one side.
So, if I lived in this type of structure, how much time would I actually spend indoors? Would I feel as cramped as I sometimes do at camp? What type of activities would I be doing, since I wouldn’t have my bike? I’m confident that many of our modern outdoor activities, such as hiking and swimming, were also enjoyed by the peoples who lived there, but what other games and pastimes did they create to enjoy the landscape around them? Although these types of activities rarely leave tangible evidence, the stuff I most enjoy working with, I’ve had a great time considering how the past inhabitants of these dwellings might have recreated in their beautiful surroundings. These thoughts enhanced my experience of touring the cliff dwellings by allowing me to connect with the site in an emotional way.