(December 28, 2017)—Saturday, December 16 was my first big event up at Tonto National Monument. We celebrated the Monument’s 110th birthday by presenting archaeological demonstrations, passing out cupcakes, and hosting our 2nd Annual Luminary event! It was an exciting experience that reminded me how incredible my job is.
The Importance of a Touch-Table
Touch-tables not only provide an interesting way to capture people’s attention and teach them about tangible objects themselves, but also provide a conversation opener. Discussion might begin with basic questions about the object specifically, but then transform into discussions about larger archaeological theories and concepts. I had a visitor pick up a shell and ask how it was transformed into the bracelets she saw displayed, which then lead to a discussion about trade and wealth. She provided her own theories about the kind of people that wore shell bracelets based on our discussion of the work that was put into obtaining the raw material and the labor that was put into making them.
Her question about the making of the bracelet highlights another thing I find interesting and enjoy sharing with the public—not only the final product of an artifact, but also the raw material from which it was made from. It is a great way of opening up conversations about “how did they do that back then?” and being able to discuss the processes involved. Many visitors were impressed by Allen Denoyer’s argillite pendant replicas and were surprised when they saw the rock sample from which it was made. When I was asked how Allen had made them, I then had an excellent segue to direct onlookers to create their very own argillite pendants at the activity table.
I am a strong proponent of using touch and experience as a method of learning, and it wouldn’t have been possible at this event without Archaeology Southwest’s Allen Denoyer providing bones, artifact replicas, shells, baskets, and more, in addition to leading demonstrations. Bianca Sicich, our Student Conservation Association (SCA) Intern at Tonto, harvested corn, beans, squash, cotton, and gourds from our very own onsite garden for the touch-table. Combined with some replicas I created, her harvest made for a great tangible display.
If you want to see pure happiness, tell a group of kids they are welcome to pick up anything on the table and watch their eyes light up!
Having Allen at the event was enjoyable for the public, and extremely helpful to me. In order for an event of any kind to be successful, the people involved must work as a team—which I believe we did seamlessly. For example, Allen demonstrated flintknapping and discussed the properties of stone tools, and then when people came to the touch table and saw the obsidian pieces, I could show them the very properties he had taught them. Likewise, when people would pick up the antler tine from the table and ask what it would have been used for, I directed them to Allen who was using antler tines in his flintknapping.
Bianca helped with the pendant-making portion of the demonstrations, providing examples of designs that kids could do and answering questions. She also identified the many birds that came to visit our demonstrations, including a beautiful male Cardinal and some Cactus wren. Three wrens particularly enjoyed Allen’s flintknapping flakes.
None of this would have happened without the great partnership between Archaeology Southwest and Tonto National Monument. The folks at Tonto advertised the event, helped organize it, and made sure it ran smoothly, for which I am grateful.
Get Your Hands Dirty
My favorite part of the event was running the activity table where kids, adults, and seniors alike joined in to create pendants out of argillite found right in the Tonto Basin. Each visitor picked their favorite stone piece and began scraping it on a sandstone slab, shaping it to their desired form. Some people got really creative and carved designs into their pendants using sharp rocks. Next, participants used stone drills to drill holes. We gave them string to make it easier to take their new creations home. I was impressed with the kids’ excitement and diligence in drilling their holes. Though I did help some people, others insisted they drill the holes entirely by themselves. People got to walk away with a nice pendant and an appreciation of the hard work that went into making stone jewelry in the distant past.
After the Archaeology Demonstrations were completed the park opened up for the 2nd Annual Luminary Event, in which our lower cliff dwelling was lit by paper bag lanterns. Overall I think the monument had a very good birthday indeed.