(June 15, 2018)—My time spent at the Preservation Archaeology Field School has deepened my appreciation for ancient artifacts. I believe the goal of archaeology is to use cultural material to gain a better understanding of how people lived in the past. Anyone who has picked up pottery sherds or projectile points from a screen can feel the excitement in seeing an artifact that was once an essential part of someone’s life. With this field school, I have now had the opportunity to experience aspects of a lifestyle with some similarities to the cultures we are researching as we survey, excavate, and participate in experimental archaeology.
Before coming out to Cliff, New Mexico, I had known that making a life in the desert was sometimes challenging, as I have lived in the desert almost all my life. Modern times enable people to acquire the things we need from many sources, but those who lived in the same landscape before us had to know how to use local resources. My experiences with a few of the techniques people used in the past were eye-opening. I did not anticipate the level of difficulty and skill it takes to do things, such as grinding corn in metates, flintknapping projectile points, and making pottery.
When I was exposed to the difficulty of as simple a task as grinding corn, I realized how special it is to make a life in the desert. Not only is it a challenge to grow corn with limited water in the desert, but also processing it and providing enough food to feed people throughout the year adds a whole other level of difficulty.
A similar challenge lies in sourcing material to use in tool making, where there is more to flintknapping than simply turning a rock into an everyday utility item. A lot of thought goes into processing raw material and producing a point as well made as the artifacts we find on archaeological sites.
Unexpectedly, I also learned to greatly appreciate utilitarian corrugated ceramics, due to the fact that the potters’ coiling work is clearly visible. When making my own pottery, I immediately realized how unpredictable clay can be and the skill necessary for consistency.
The experiences I have had at field school greatly exceeded my expectations. I now have a much better understanding of how remarkable it is to make a life in a desert environment. The peoples who thrived in the desert found ways to live successfully and did so in an extremely impressive fashion. I have a much deeper appreciation for those who lived before me, and I thank all who have taught me about Southwestern cultures along the way.