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Archive for the ‘Ornaments’ Category

Jet Contrail from Pueblo Bonito

Regular readers will probably have guessed that the reason I haven’t been posting very often lately is that I’ve been very busy with school.  This week is my Spring Break, however, and I’m in New Mexico visiting my mom, so I have a little time.  This past weekend we went out to Chaco and camped, which was interesting to me since I haven’t camped at Chaco since the first time I went there with my parents several years ago.  It was a different way to experience a place I’ve seen a lot of, and it was fun to go to Pueblo Bonito and Casa Rinconada with my mom and the friend of hers who accompanied us.  The friend’s 12-year-old daughter also came, and she found a beautiful turquoise bead in an anthill at Pueblo Bonito that was perhaps the highlight of the trip.  Finding it reminded me that I’ve been reconsidering some of my ideas about the relationship between Chaco and turquoise, and I should do a post about the topic when I get a chance.

Turquoise Bead from Anthill at Pueblo Bonito

My mom and I camped for two nights (the friend left earlier because her daughter got sick), and the second night it was very cold, as is typical for this time of year, so it wasn’t the most comfortable camping experience I’ve ever had but it was fun nonetheless.  The Chaco campground is one of the nicest I’ve ever seen, and it was quite a pleasant little trip all around.  I may not have time this break to do much more blogging, but I figured I should note this experience so people know what I’ve been up to.

Our Campsite at Chaco

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Turquoise-Encrusted Cow Skull, Santa Fe, New Mexico

In 1527 an expedition led by the Spanish nobleman Pánfilo de Narváez left Spain with the intention of conquering and colonizing Florida.  Accompanying the expedition as treasurer was Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, who ended up being one of a handful of survivors of the disastrous expedition.  Cabeza de Vaca later wrote an account of the expedition and the years it took for him and the other survivors to make their way from Galveston Island, where they had been shipwrecked after a series of disasters in Florida itself, to Culiacán in what is now the state of Sinaloa in western Mexico, where in 1536 they finally encountered other Spaniards who were busy conquering that area.  This account has become a classic of the ethnohistoric literature, both because Cabeza de Vaca was an unusually perceptive observer of the various native peoples he encountered during his travels and because very little other information is available about those peoples, whose numbers and cultures were later devastated by permanent European settlement so quickly and thoroughly that few observations about them were published.

One of the interesting episodes described by Cabeza de Vaca occurred when the small group of Spaniards arrived at a village where the inhabitants gave one of his companions a large copper bell decorated with a face.  When the Spanish, who were always very interested in any metals they could find, asked where it had come from the people told them they had acquired it from a neighboring group and that it had come originally from the north, where there was abundant copper.  At the next village the group visited they showed the people the bell, and were told that there was indeed much more copper where it had come from, in the form of both bells and plates, and that there were permanent dwellings in that area.  Cabeza de Vaca apparently concluded that the copper had come from the Pacific coast, which was indeed a major area of copper production in Mesoamerica.  This particular bell, however, and the other copper objects mentioned by the people he spoke to in the villages he visited probably did not come from West Mexico.

Macaw Feathers and Copper Bell on Display at Chaco Visitor Center Museum

This episode has been of considerable interest to archaeologists, as copper bells were among the most important items of trade between Mesoamerica, especially West Mexico, and the Greater Southwest.  They have been found in considerable numbers at Chaco Canyon, as well as at Hohokam and Sinagua sites in Arizona and various other parts of the Southwest.  One archaeologist, Jeremiah Epstein of the University of Texas, published an article in 1991 looking carefully at Cabeza de Vaca’s account and correlating it with known archaeological evidence and other ethnohistorical sources from later Spanish expeditions.  He concluded that it the likely source of the bell mentioned by Cabeza de Vaca, as well as other copper objects mentioned by the Ibarra expedition in 1565 and the Rodríguez-Chamuscado expedition in 1581, was the well-known site of Casas Grandes in northern Chihuahua.

The exact route of Cabeza de Vaca’s travels has been a matter of considerable debate.  Epstein’s article relied on a reconstruction of the route that placed the copper bell episode near the modern city of Monclova, in the state of Coahuila in northeastern Mexico.  This is about 500 miles southeast of Casas Grandes, which fits well with the claim that the bell Cabeza de Vaca mentions came from the north.  In addition, the Ibarra expedition visited the immediate area of Casas Grandes and reported copper ornaments among the local population there, and the Rodríguez-Chamuscado expedition encountered copper objects among groups in the Rio Grande valley east of Casas Grandes who reported that they came from the west.  Epstein concluded from these reports that Casas Grandes is the most likely source for the copper objects of the archaeological sites in the Greater Southwest known to have had large numbers of copper bells.  Furthermore, Epstein noted that while many Southwestern archaeological sites had copper bells, very few had bells in decorated with human faces, which Cabeza de Vaca clearly stated to be a characteristic of the bell he described.  Casas Grandes did have this type of bell, and it also had a variety of flat copper artifacts that could be plausibly described as the “plates” mentioned by the second village Cabeza de Vaca described.  (Interestingly, such “plates” seem to be virtually restricted to Casas Grandes in the Southwest, although copper bells are pretty common.  The only possible example of a flat copper artifact like this at another site was found in Room 2 of Pueblo Bonito.)  I find his specific reasoning about each line of evidence a bit less solid than he did, but all together I think he was probably right to point to Casas Grandes as the most likely source for the copper artifacts described by the sixteenth-century Spanish sources.

Doorway into Room 2 from Room 36, Pueblo Bonito

The most interesting thing about this, as Epstein noted in his article, is that Casas Grandes had been abandoned for about a century when Cabeza de Vaca came through the area and saw the bell that apparently came from there.  When it was occupied, Casas Grandes was one of the largest and most important sites in the whole region, and excavations there have shown that it was a major center for a variety of Mesoamerican-derived activities, including macaw breeding and copper working.  The bells and other copper artifacts found there were apparently made there, in contrast to those found at Chaco, which was occupied significantly earlier and imported its copper bells from West Mexico, which at that time was the only part of Mesoamerica to practice copper working.  By the late Postclassic period, however, when Casas Grandes flourished, copper metallurgy had become a standard practice at major centers throughout the Mesoamerican culture area.

In the sixteenth century, however, Casas Grandes was very clearly no longer occupied.  The Ibarra expedition, which came through the area in 1565, found the site already a ruin, and the only local people were hunter-gatherers living in simple, impermanent dwellings quite different from the imposing multi-story adobe edifices at Casas Grandes.  These hunter-gatherers, however, did have some copper “plates” which parallel the ones reported by Cabeza de Vaca’s sources.  The expedition also noted evidence of metalworking at the ruins of Casas Grandes, but did not mention any evidence that the current inhabitants had made their copper plates themselves.

So how did the hunter-gatherers who lived around Casas Grandes in 1565 get their copper plates, and how did the people in Coahuila in the 1530s and the people living along the Rio Grande in 1581 get their copper bells?  Epstein’s answer, which I find quite convincing, is that the local hunter-gatherers dug into the ruins to get the copper artifacts in them, then traded them to various other groups in northern Mexico.  That is to say, they “looted” the site for economic gain much the way modern pothunters in the Southwest and elsewhere do.  Indeed, according to Epstein, the extensive excavations at Casas Grandes conducted by Charles Di Peso for the Amerind Foundation in the 1970s uncovered “evidence of Precolumbian vandalism” (in Epstein’s words) in some areas of the site.  So it seems looting of archaeological sites has a long history in the Southwest.

Jerome, Arizona from Tuzigoot National Monument

What I find most interesting about this is the parallel to the situation in modern cities, which now contain such huge amounts of certain materials, especially copper, that they are becoming a major source for materials that have traditionally been mined from nonrenewable natural deposits such as those that spurred the settlement of Western mining towns like Jerome, ArizonaJohn Fernandez of MIT discusses this issue, drawing on the work of Tom Graedel at Yale, in this video from 2007 (starting at about 21:29).

Fernandez quotes Jane Jacobs as saying that “our cities are the mines of the future.”  And, at least as Fernandez presents it, that does indeed seem like a prescient statement.  Epstein’s article, however, demonstrates that digging for copper in abandoned homes is hardly a new phenomenon.  Like so much else that humans do today, it has a very long history.  The cities of today may be the mines of the future, but the cities of yesterday have already become the mines of the past.
ResearchBlogging.org
Epstein, J. (1991). Cabeza de Vaca and the Sixteenth-Century Copper Trade in Northern Mexico American Antiquity, 56 (3) DOI: 10.2307/280896

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US and Arizona Flags, Kayenta, Arizona

Most of what we know about prehistoric North American atlatls comes from the many well-preserved examples found by Alfred Kidder and Samuel Guernsey in the early twentieth century in Basketmaker II rockshelters near Kayenta, Arizona.  We know much more about atlatl use in Mesoamerica, where the atlatl was still widely used in the contact era, from descriptions by the early Spanish conquistadors and missionaries, and one account of the De Soto expedition indicates that the atlatl was still used as a weapon in the lower Mississippi valley in the sixteenth century as well.  Elsewhere in North America, however, the bow and arrow had apparently completely replaced the atlatl long before European contact (which in many areas was quite late), so only archaeological evidence shows that it was ever used at all.  In most regions conditions were not good for preservation of perishable materials like wood, so atlatls themselves very rarely survive except in the dry Southwest.  Many Southwestern atlatls, however, had attachments made of more durable materials, and similar artifacts found in other regions indicate that atlatl use was quite widespread throughout the continent.

US Highway 160, Kayenta, Arizona

The best known and most mysterious of these attachments are the so-called “atlatl weights” found securely tied or strapped to many Southwestern atlatls.  These are typically small pieces of stone, rounded or rectangular in shape, secured to the underside of the atlatl between the finger loops and the groove where the dart was placed.  Once they were identified as atlatl attachments from the intact Basketmaker specimens, similar artifacts in many other areas (such as the northern Great Plains and the Pacific Northwest) were grouped with them as well.  Since they are made of stone rather than wood, they preserve much better than the atlatls they were presumably attached to, so assuming the identification of their function is correct they constitute a reliable indicator of the distribution of weighted atlatls throughout North America.

Parking Lot at Hampton Inn, Kayenta, Arizona

The question of what these things actually were remains, however.  They are conventionally described as “weights,” and it’s certainly true that they weigh down the atlatl, but beyond that it is not at all clear why they were attached.  It’s important to note in this context that weights are not found on atlatls elsewhere; Mesoamerican examples, in particular, never have them, and are typically made of solid pieces of wood.  Since the atlatl was very important in Mesoamerica, it is interesting that the Mesoamericans never seemed to think it worthwhile to add weights.  This suggests that the weights on North American examples are either connected to some functional or design difference between types of atlatl or non-utilitarian.  Some of the attachments on some of the Basketmaker examples seem likely to have been charms, but others are more substantial and look more like they were added for a functional reason.  The exact nature of that reason remains elusive, however, and not for lack of attention from researchers.

Power Lines and Trailers, Kayenta, Arizona

One early experimental study aimed at determining the function of the weights was done by Orville H. Peets and published in 1960.  Using a replica of a well-preserved weighted atlatl found in a rockshelter in West Texas, Peets found that the weight made no significant difference to either the distance the dart traveled or the force with which it did so.  This is in contrast to the assumption by many earlier researchers that the additional weight improved force and/or distance.  Peets concluded that the purpose of the weights was instead to keep the atlatl and dart in balance on the hand while throwing, and he noted that Mesoamerican atlatls, which do not have weights, are typically heavier and would stay in balance more easily than the thin Southwestern examples.  Calvin Howard’s later experiments, which I mentioned earlier, didn’t focus primarily on the issue of weights, but they did support Peets’s conclusion that the weights did not improve the distance or force of the throw.  Indeed, Howard found that adding the weight decreased the distance substantially.

"No Water Hauling" Sign, Kayenta, Arizona

A later article by John Palter took issue with Peets’s conclusion that the weights served to balance the atlatl by pointing out that in Australia, where the atlatl was widely used well into the era of European contact, very large darts were thrown easily with no attempt to bring the atlatl/dart system into balance on the hand, which suggests that balance actually doesn’t matter.  Palter further argued that the fact that Southwestern atlatls, unlike Mesoamerican ones, were typically thin and flexible may indicate that flexibility was an important consideration in their design, and that the weights may have served to amplify this flexibility.  He doesn’t give much support for this other than pointing out the use of flexible (but unweighted) atlatls from Australia, and he does acknowledge that at least some of the items attached to Basketmaker atlatls were likely charms with no practical function.

Horse Trailers, Kayenta, Arizona

Yet another article on the issue of atlatl weights was published by Anan Raymond in 1986.  Using high-speed photography to carefully document the actual motions involved in throwing the atlatl, Raymond concluded that Howard’s description of how it works was correct and that the spur of the atlatl, where it contacts the nock of the dart, essentially moves in a straight line forward during the throw.  He also notes that much of the inconsistency in previous experimenters’ conclusions about the function of weights is likely due to differences in the design of the atlatls they used, most of which were made of modern materials and not necessarily comparable to archaeological examples.  (He mentions Peets as an exception.)  His own experiments were done with replicas of Basketmaker atlatls and darts using materials as close as possible to the originals.  He found that the weights did improve both speed and distance, but by a very small amount that may not have been statistically significant.  He did notice in the high-speed photography that the atlatl did flex during the throw, and he speculated that, as Palter predicted, the addition of a weight might enhance the flexing, but the film speed was too slow to give enough frames of the flexing to see any difference between weighted and unweighted atlatls.

Kayenta Presbyterian Church, Kayenta, Arizona

Since his experiments showed that any improvement in speed or distance from the addition of a weight were likely negligible in practice, Raymond took a different tack in trying to explain the function of the weights.  He argued that the addition of weights increased the inertia of the throwing system, which made throwing more difficult but also increased angular momentum, which kept the throwing arc more stable and thus improved the accuracy of the throw.  This is an interesting and plausible explanation, and I think it makes more sense than any of the other theories offered by earlier researchers.  After all, in either hunting or war accuracy is a very important consideration, and a substantial increase in accuracy could easily be worth a small decrease in distance or force.  (Raymond also did some interesting comparative experiments to look at the differences between atlatls and bows, which I’ll discuss further in another post.)

Water Tower, Kayenta, Arizona

Even if Raymond was right that it was accuracy rather than force or distance that made weighted atlatls advantageous, there are still some puzzles remaining about the weights.  Most importantly, if they were in fact so useful, why didn’t they spread further?  They do seem to have been used over most of North America, but in Mesoamerica and further south people seem to have achieved more or less the same thing by just making heavier (and less flexible) atlatls.  The differences in types of atlatls used in different geographic areas, and the persistence of atlatl use even after the introduction of the bow and arrow to some, but not all, areas, suggests that a wide variety of cultural factors were involved in choices about weaponry.  Given that, there’s a limit to how much information can be obtained from looking at these issues from a purely technological perspective, as valuable as that perspective undoubtedly is.
ResearchBlogging.org
Bushnell, D. I. Jr. (1905). Two Ancient Mexican Atlatls American Anthropologist, 7 (2), 218-221 DOI: 10.1525/aa.1905.7.2.02a00040

Butler, B., & Osborne, D. (1959). Archaeological Evidence for the Use of Atlatl Weights in the Northwest American Antiquity, 25 (2) DOI: 10.2307/277441

Fenenga, F., & Wheat, J. (1940). An Atlatl from the Baylor Rock Shelter, Culberson County, Texas American Antiquity, 5 (3) DOI: 10.2307/275282

Howard, C. (1974). The Atlatl: Function and Performance American Antiquity, 39 (1) DOI: 10.2307/279223

Neuman, R. (1967). Atlatl Weights from Certain Sites on the Northern and Central Great Plains American Antiquity, 32 (1) DOI: 10.2307/278777

Palter, J. (1976). A New Approach to the Significance of the “Weighted” Spear Thrower American Antiquity, 41 (4) DOI: 10.2307/279019

Peets, O. (1960). Experiments in the Use of Atlatl Weights American Antiquity, 26 (1) DOI: 10.2307/277169

Swanton, J. (1938). Historic Use of the Spear-Thrower in Southeastern North America American Antiquity, 3 (4) DOI: 10.2307/27562

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Turquoise-Covered Pottery, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Probably no single material is more closely associated with Chaco than turquoise.  The vast amounts found in Room 33 at Pueblo Bonito alone suggest its importance, but it has been found in considerable quantities at many different sites, both small houses and great houses and both inside and outside of the canyon.  There is considerable evidence that manufacture of turquoise jewelry became a major activity in Chaco and some of the outlier communities during the period when the Chacoan system was beginning to form, and probable ornament manufacturing areas have been found at both great houses and small houses.  It’s not clear what precise role turquoise may have played in the system (though there are some intriguing possibilities suggested by other lines of evidence), but it is apparent that it was an important one.  It’s also important to note that unlike some rare artifacts, such as shell trumpets, turquoise seems to have been associated with the system as a whole rather than with Chaco Canyon or Pueblo Bonito specifically.  Both finished artifacts and manufacturing debris are found in significant quantities at many outliers, especially to the south in the Red Mesa Valley.

Turquoise Display at Visitor Center Museum

What’s really remarkable about this apparent centrality of turquoise is that there are no turquoise deposits anywhere near Chaco, or indeed within the area covered by the Chaco system as a whole.  All of this turquoise had to be imported from somewhere, and this importation was clearly occurring on a vast scale and over a relatively long period of time.  The closest source of turquoise to Chaco is in the Cerrillos Hills south of Santa Fe, which have extensive turquoise deposits that show much evidence of being mined in antiquity (as well as in modern times), including some apparent campsites with material culture suggestive of a connection to the San Juan Basin.  For a long time most researchers assumed that most or all of the turquoise at Chaco came from Cerrillos, and for a while it was fashionable to come up with theories explaining the rise of Chaco as being based on control of the Cerrillos mines and the trade routes connecting them with the vast market for turquoise in Mesoamerica.  These theories have more recently fallen out of favor for a number of reasons, one being the general trend away from emphasizing Mesoamerican influence on the Chaco system and another being the inconvenient fact that many of the most productive turquoise deposits in the Southwest are in southern Arizona and New Mexico, considerably closer to Mexico than Chaco, which makes it difficult to explain how the  Chacoans could have sustained a monopoly on the turquoise trade.

Turquoise Display at Chaco Museum

This whole issue would benefit greatly from more precise information on the actual source of Chaco’s turquoise.  The idea that it came from Cerrillos is basically just an assumption based on geographical proximity, and while it’s a reasonable enough assumption there have been many attempts to use chemical properties of the turquoise to determine its precise origin and either confirm or deny the Cerrillos hypothesis.  Most of the early attempts to do this using trace element analysis were unsuccessful, due mainly to the complicated internal structure of turquoise as a material.  One recent  paper, however, reports on a remarkably successful attempt to use a new technique based on isotope ratios to characterize sources and assign artifacts to them.  The technique uses two isotope ratios: hydrogen to deuterium and copper-63 to copper-65.  The combination of the two ratios can be used to define a two-dimensional space within which individual samples can be placed to determine if samples from the same source cluster together.

Anthill at Pueblo Bonito with Piece of Turquoise

It turns out they do.  The researchers used samples from a variety of Southwestern turquoise sources, most of which show clear evidence of having been used in antiquity, including three in the Cerrillos area, one in southern New Mexico, two each in Colorado and Arizona, and four in Nevada.  They analyzed several samples from one of the Arizona mines to test internal variation within a single source.  There turned out to be little variation, suggesting that individual sources generally have homogeneous isotope ratios, and the three Cerrillos sources also clustered close to each other, suggesting that this similarity in ratios operates at a regional as well as local scale.

Sign at Santuario de Guadalupe, Santa Fe, New Mexico

The researchers also tested several pieces of turquoise found at several small houses in Chaco Canyon and one at the Guadalupe outlier community, which marks the far eastern edge of the Chacoan system and is the closest Chacoan community to Cerrillos.  Guadalupe plays a key role in models of Chaco that posit Chacoan control of the Cerrillos mines, since any transport of turquoise from Cerrillos to Chaco would almost certainly have to have involved Guadalupe as an intermediate stop.  Guadalupe is thus probably the outlying community most relevant to an investigation of Chacoan turquoise sources.

Santuario de Guadalupe, Santa Fe, New Mexico

The results were interesting.  Several of the artifacts seem to have come from Cerrillos, with a much higher proportion at Guadalupe than at Chaco, but a few other sources were present as well, including one of the Colorado sources at Guadalupe and the southern New Mexico source and two Nevada sources at Chaco.  Four artifacts matched none of the sources tested, implying that they came from some other, as yet unidentified, source.  The Chaco artifacts came from a wide range of chronological contexts, with earlier periods more strongly represented than later ones.  The Guadalupe artifacts unfortunately didn’t come from a securely dated context, so nothing much can be said about their relative or absolute chronology.  In general, the Chaco artifacts seem to have come from a wide range of sources in all time periods, but the sample size is so small that it is hard to come to any more specific conclusions.

Turquoise-Encrusted Cow Skull, Santa Fe, New Mexico

This paper is really just a pilot project, intended primarily to demonstrate the methodology used, and the conclusion mentions that continued research using more sources and artifacts is underway.  The main conclusion that can be drawn at this point is that assuming all the Chaco turquoise came from Cerrillos is no longer warranted, and it seems the trade networks in the prehistoric Southwest were much more elaborate and far-flung, at least for valuable, portable materials like turquoise, than such an assumption would suggest.  Chaco may or may not have been primarily about turquoise, but it certainly wasn’t about Cerrillos turquoise.
ResearchBlogging.org
HULL, S., FAYEK, M., MATHIEN, F., SHELLEY, P., & DURAND, K. (2007). A new approach to determining the geological provenance of turquoise artifacts using hydrogen and copper stable isotopes Journal of Archaeological Science DOI: 10.1016/j.jas.2007.10.001

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newaltolookingnorth

Looking North from New Alto

When I was working at Chaco, we would often get visitors who would complain about how hard it was to get there.  They usually focused on the road in and asked why there wasn’t more effort to pave it and make it more accessible to the American public.  After all, isn’t that what national parks are for?  Well, no, I would often respond.  The Park Service mission is preservation foremost and visitor services secondarily, and most of the time concerns about preservation trump concerns about accessibility and interpretation.  There is one interesting exception at Chaco, but for the most part the park is concerned more with preserving the sites than with showing them to the public.

areaclosedsign

"Area Closed" Sign on Peñasco Blanco Trail

Some people were satisfied with this explanation, but many weren’t.  I didn’t have much to say to those who took a more absolutist position on the right of the public to access the parks.  That’s just a basic philosophical difference, and the best we could do was agree to differ.

farmingtondowntownseeyousoon

Downtown Farmington, New Mexico

One thing I often thought about saying, however, was that it might be better to just build a full-scale model of Pueblo Bonito in downtown Farmington (or even Albuquerque).  For a lot of the visitors who come to Chaco, it’s really just a matter of seeing Pueblo Bonito, marveling at it, and going on their way.  They’re the ones who complain about how hard it is to get there; arguments about how the isolation is part of the point carry no water with them.  I never actually said this, but I do wonder if it might be a good idea.  One of the ways in which the two aspects of the Park Service mission are very much in tension is that preservation and visitation are not only different, they’re actually often in direct conflict.  Visitor impacts are among the most serious threats to the preservation of the sites.  Sometimes people deliberately vandalize the sites, carve their names one the canyon walls, or steal artifacts, but even the vast majority of visitors who don’t do anything deliberately nonetheless destabilize the sites just by being there, walking through them, inadvertently touching the walls, and so forth.  The biggest single thing the park could do to improve preservation of the sites would be to limit public access to them.

bonitofromabove

Pueblo Bonito from Above

A full-scale replica of Pueblo Bonito in another location would have a similar effect: drawing the casual visitors away from the canyon and leaving it to the more serious people who are willing to brave the road to get there.  There would be little need to recreate any of the other sites, except perhaps Casa Rinconada; Bonito is what people come to Chaco for.

rinconadalookingnorth

Casa Rinconada, Looking North

It won’t happen, of course, but it’s not as crazy an idea as it sounds.  I was reminded of it by Paul Barford’s recent post on an idea proposed by Trevor Watkins for dealing with the recent disputes among governments over some high-profile antiquities.  The proposal is to make replicas indistinguishable from the originals, then trade both the originals and the replicas back and forth between the source countries and the countries that currently have the objects without telling the public if what they see is original or a copy.  This seems like a bizarre thing to do, and I kind of doubt the source countries will be in favor of it (though they might like a version in which they get to keep the originals permanently and the acquiring countries have to make do with copies), but the proposal notes that there are actually some archaeological sites, particularly the Paleolithic caves at Lascaux and Altamira, that have full-scale replicas, and visitors seem to like them just fine and to even say that they are better than the originals because they allow better visibility of the interesting parts, which in the case of the caves are the cave paintings for which they are famous.  This is kind of an extreme version of the reconstruction of prehistoric sites that was popular in the Southwest in the 1930s, moving beyond that only in that the replicas are not adding on to the originals but are separate entirely.  In addition to being more convenient for visitors, this would also be better for preservation of the original sites.  I think American archaeology might actually be moving in this direction too, with the reburial of Baker Village after excavation, with only the protective capping on the walls visible from the service, being an early indication.

altolowwalls

Low Walls at Pueblo Alto

More directly relevant to Watkins’s proposal, perhaps, is the famous jet frog found in Room 38 at Pueblo Bonito by the Hyde Exploring Expedition in 1897.  Often considered one of the most remarkable Anasazi artifacts known, the frog is made of jet with turquoise inlay forming its eyes and neck, and is intact except for a couple of pieces of inlay on the neck.  Like all the rest of the material found by that expedition, the frog was sent to the American Museum of Natural History in New York, where it remains to this day, not on display but somewhere back in the storage cabinets.

chacomuseumjetfrog

Jet Frog Replica at Chaco Museum

There is, however, a jet frog prominently displayed in the museum at the Chaco visitor center.  Although it is not labeled as such, this is an exact replica of the original, right down to the missing inlay pieces.  Since the American Museum is notoriously protective of its collections, this is the best the park could do to show what the jet frog looks like.  This is exactly what Watkins is advocating: exact replicas, put on display without any indication that they aren’t original.  Unlike his proposal, of course, in this case the original and the replica don’t move back and forth, but any real-life implementation of the proposal would probably end up that way.

chacomuseum

Museum of Chaco Culture

What all this goes to show, I think, is that most people who come to archaeological sites and museums to see the wonders of the past aren’t all that concerned with the “authenticity” of what they see.  Indeed, for a lot of people an impressive reconstruction is preferable to an unimpressive original.  We would get some people who really wanted all the sites to be rebuilt to their original state.  (No way that’s ever going to happen, for a lot of reasons.)  There are visitors who only want to see the “real stuff,” but it’s important to realize that that isn’t everybody, and it may not even be a majority.  Many people go to see this stuff as entertainment, and they judge it on that basis.
ResearchBlogging.org
Pepper, G. (1905). Ceremonial Objects and Ornaments from Pueblo Bonito, New Mexico American Anthropologist, 7 (2), 183-197 DOI: 10.1525/aa.1905.7.2.02a00010

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