University of Vermont

University Communications

Field Class Takes Archaeology Students to Arizona

Release Date: 10-28-2009

Author: Amanda Kenyon Waite
Phone: 802/656-8381 Fax: (802) 656-3203

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If you thought digging in the dirt stopped being a suitable summer activity in sixth grade, think again. For four weeks this July, seven UVM undergrads and two teaching assistants joined Scott Van Keuren, assistant professor of anthropology, on an excavation at Fourmile Ruin, the largest Ancestral Pueblo, or Anasazi village, in Eastern Arizona.

The archeological site is an important one for Van Keuren's research, which focuses on a shift in pottery styles that took place around 1325. "Potters in this area begin to reorganize the way that they painted bowls," he explains. "These are really gorgeous vessels that are red and black and white. And in the 1320s, for whatever reason — we're not sure why — they begin to embellish these bowls with very important, symbolic subject matter. So the larger research is intended to understand this transition and the broader social and economic implications of this major change in craft production."

The site, which was recently donated to the Archaeological Conservancy, was relatively unexplored by anthropologists. Although Van Keuren had been once before with other UVM students, this year's trip was the first field school offered at Fourmile Ruin and one of the first chances archaeologists had had to map the village and begin excavations.

"You hear so many stories of people digging and not finding anything, but from the first day we were finding sherds of pottery," says Liz Wright, a sophomore anthropology/art history double major.

The group found their share of pottery sherds, having sorted and washed bags upon bags of findings. But the biggest discovery came later when the group revealed the intact bench and floor of a kiva, a subterranean structure used by the Ancestral Pueblo for ritual activities. Finding the structure in such good condition on a site that has been ravaged by looting and bulldozing was especially gratifying.

See photos from the excursion, taken by junior Moriah Hounsell, and listen to commentary by Van Keuren and Wright, along with junior Sydney Ganon, in this audio slideshow.

Read the slideshow's transcript.