(June 7, 2022)—Each morning as we drive from our camp to the site, the early sun’s trace against the mountains of the Gila National Forest brings Paul Simon’s “Hearts and Bones” to my mind.
Prior to this year, I had never been to New Mexico—save for the occasional vicarious trip through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains courtesy of Simon’s rich recollection of a romantic yet turbulent trip through the American Southwest. Before leaving home, I added this song and others of a Southwestern theme to a playlist, in the hopes that it would prepare me for stepping into the dust of two brand-new experiences—exploring a new state and conducting archaeological fieldwork. Equipped with familiar favorites like John Denver, Dolly Parton, and the Beatles, I compiled a reliable soundtrack I could imagine myself listening to for long hours in the desert, flintknapping to Elvis and prying loose rocks from my boot treads while Linda Ronstadt also let loose.
At the site, my group’s unit lies under a thick group of shady trees that cool the soil and provide us much-appreciated relief from the blazing subtropical sun. After days of sifting through an upper layer of thick river cobbles, we are now attempting to square up to a baked spread of adobe melt—a good sign of a former Salado architectural formation brought to its feet by the elements, but a bad sign for our hopes of an easy exposure. As we bring our big picks and our hand picks down to the unforgivingly packed earth, we take turns putting on our playlists of curated songs, laughing and trading stories, exclaiming over popular hits from years past as the opening chords ring, and pausing for rare, though welcome, dance breaks among the rocks.
These songs become the backdrops for our finds, coloring our unearthing of corrugated pottery, obsidian flakes, and tiny faunal bones with music steeped in personal contexts, tying us all together as we marvel over 700 years of history at our feet, and in our ears and hair and nostrils…
On Thursday nights, we trek down the road to our neighbor’s spacious garage to enjoy a local band performing their repertoire of classic Country and Bluegrass. The air fills with the soothing twang of their guitars and voices as they play through songs that are largely unknown to most of us (including me) but still invite us into a new type of discovery, one that parallels our work in the field—partaking in the privilege of learning about communities we are unfamiliar with.
The archaeological remnants of the community we are working to preserve are no strangers to the rich sense of unity we are building through the joy of shared memories, a soundtrack immersed in experiences, and a deep appreciation for the beauty in everyday life.