Transcript: Field Class Takes Archaeology Students to Arizona

Scott Van Keuren, assistant professor of anthropology: Fourmile Ruin is an ancestral pueblo village in Eastern Arizona that was occupied in the 1300s, and we know that it's a village that's an ancestral location to modern Hopi and Zuni. This particular site is in terrible shape. It's been actively bulldozed in the past. It had been heavily looted for a century and had been on private land and was recently donated to the Archaeological Conservancy. It was really the first chance for archaeologists to get on the site and begin map the village — it's the village in this region — to begin to do some excavations to understand when it was occupied, who was at this site in the 1300s and maybe begin to talk about why it was abandoned so suddenly.

Students were really essential to this research, having UVM students come out and participate and get hands-on training. And even more important, the day to day ability to discuss things with students for us as a group. I'm the expert, but to be able to as a group to think about ideas, discuss ideas and speculate about what they're digging and so on. Students have great ideas, both in the classroom at UVM but also in the field so we certainly grow and learn a lot from that as professors.

The training is day and night. There's the formal excavation training. Literally on the first day, I show students how to use a trowel, how to use some of the other equipment, we go through the protocol of working at the site. Most of our real quality time was spent around the campfire at night. So it's a pretty multidimensional set of tools they gain from this.

Sydney Ganon, anthropology/English double major: We started off with shovels and pick axes of varying sizes. Some got very, very large, and when we got down to more sensitive material, stuff that wasn't looters' spoil, we would use trowels and sometimes brushes — like paint brushes. So we'd take the soil and put it in buckets. And then we'd have to carry the buckets over to the screens where we'd have a screener. We'd work in shifts; some shoveling, some screening. And then you'd take the screen and shift out all the dirt. What's left is a lot of stone and dirt clods and artifacts, and then we'd have to carefully sort through the remainders. Once we'd sorted through, we'd have a TA or Scott come and recheck our screens to make sure we weren't missing artifacts. Sometimes we'd miss something really big like a projectile point and then feel really silly.

Liz Wright, anthropology/art history double major: By the end, we would have screens that they couldn't find anything in which was a really proud feeling that you were able to go through it and find everything.

In these pictures we're washing ceramics or chip stone.

Sydney Ganon: Within every screen, we'd have to be careful to keep the bags in their separate places. Once the water got dirty we'd throw it out, fill it up again.

Liz Wright: Ceramics would have its own bag. Ground stone would have its own bag. If we found animal bone, that wouldn't get washed, that got its own bag. It was just wrapped in tissue paper and put in film canisters. The projectile points that we found, because most of them were made of obsidian, those wouldn't get washed either.

Scott Van Keuren: The artifacts sit here at UVM for several years and there are various students working on smaller projects — analytical projects. And then eventually most of these artifacts will be housed, curated permanently at the Arizona State Museum.

We targeted the kiva, the subterranean ritual structure, because we thought it might be in tact and might give us an understanding of the occupation of that part of the site and might allow us to address some of the major research questions we have about the area and time period.

Sydney Ganon: I was working on the Kiva and I was in the trench that we were digging when Moriah and I hit something kind of unexpected, and it turned out to be the bench of the kiva along one of the walls. I got to help uncover it, and it was the biggest rush of my life. So, a kiva was an underground religious structure used by the Anasazi. It was a totally male-dominated area. They would go in through a hatch in the roof — women were definitely not allowed — and do their religious ceremonies.

Liz Wright: Most people think of kivas as large round structures, but our kiva — because of the date — is a rectangular structure. So it's set up with a bench on one end; ours was along the east wall.

Sydney Ganon: We found loom holes, where a loom would be set up and a hearth for a fire as well.

When you're at a site and there are sherds of pottery on the ground that you can just pick up and look at, you're there. You can better understand what's happening, what had happened in the past, and you get such a feel for it — literally.

Liz Wright: You get to touch something that hasn't been touched in over a hundred years. It's incredible. When we uncovered the kiva, we were the first women to see that bench — maybe ever. We were the first people to see it in so long and maybe the last because we have to recover it at the end to protect it. And that's incredible.

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