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Cliff Palace and Sun Temple, Mesa Verde

In addition to reports of potential astronomical features at prehistoric sites and speculations on the role of astronomy in ancient societies, Astronomy and Ceremony in the Prehistoric Southwest: Revisited contains some chapters giving guidance on methodology for archaeoastronomical research, particularly aimed at developing increased rigor that can make the results of this research more useful for archaeologists. One of these chapters, by Gregory Munson, focuses on archaeoastronomy at Mesa Verde National Park and how it can be supported or challenged by using a methodology he calls architectural documentation or “ArcDoc.”

Munson spends much of the paper laying out the details of how to do ArcDoc, which basically amounts to a standardized set of recording procedures for sites and a commitment to fully research historical archives for materials relating to site excavation and restoration. The formal procedures are apparently those used by park management at Mesa Verde, but the basic ideas here are standard pretty much anywhere archaeologists have put in place a rigorous site documentation program (e.g., on most public lands in the US).

Munson then turns to specific examples of how ArcDoc has helped clarify findings from archaeoastronomy, focusing on three sites at Mesa Verde: Cliff Palace, Balcony House, and Sun Temple. In each case, archival research has either significantly challenged findings from initial archaeoastronomical research or otherwise improved understanding of the sites.

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Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde

With Cliff Palace, Munson focuses on two features in the well-known “Tower” part of the site, both of which have been proposed to have associations with lunar standstill observations. One is a vent in the wall of the tower that has been demonstrated to align with moonset over Sun Temple during the southern major lunar maximum. The other is a nearby pictograph of four vertical lines with horizontal “ticks” that has been proposed to be a record of four 18.6-year lunar standstill cycles.

The vent alignment turns out to be very questionable after looking back at records of excavation and reconstruction of the site beginning with the work of Gustav Nordenskiöld in the 1890s and Jesse Walter Fewkes in the 1900s. Photographs from before the partial reconstruction of the site by Fewkes in 1909 show that this whole portion of the tower had largely collapsed, and the original size and shape of the vent in question is impossible to determine. Furthermore, the current vent that has the documented alignment isn’t even the result of Fewkes’s reconstruction, but of a later one by Earl Morris and Al Lancaster in the 1930s that replaced it. Munson claims that there is another opening in the wall that is more original and seems to display the same alignment, but this is an important cautionary tale for archaeoastronomers who, like many visitors, all too often assume that what they see at a site today is exactly what was there when it was originally occupied.

A similar problem affects the pictograph. The current version turns out to be a partial reconstruction by Lancaster in 1934 after two of the vertical lines had severely deteriorated, and the number of ticks on these lines does not match what appears to have been the original pictograph based on a photo taken in 1902, which Lancaster appears to not have had access to when doing his reconstruction. The numbers are still fairly close and Munson argues they could still be a record of lunar standstill cycles given the level of precision that might be expected for these observations, but still, another cautionary tale. Especially at a well-known, heavily visited, and actively managed site like Cliff Palace, you can’t assume that everything you’re seeing is original. (I used to make this point frequently to visitors at Chaco, and toward the beginning of my tours of Pueblo Bonito I would explain which parts of the masonry are and are not original.)

At Balcony House, Munson explains that proposed summer solstice and equinox alignments are thrown into question, in one case because an editing error resulted in results from observations at a different site being attributed to this one in publication, and in another case because archival research showed that a wall opening with a purported alignment had been partially sealed before impacts from recent visitation. These issues aren’t as major as those with Cliff Palace mentioned above, but they are noteworthy because they affect Munson’s own previous research, and he deserves a lot of credit for being straightforward and transparent about them.

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Sun Temple, Mesa Verde

Finally, a happier story from Sun Temple. Fewkes excavated here in 1915, and a 1916 publication of his illustrates two prayer sticks found in these excavations. However, the collections from this work, housed at the park, do not include any prayer sticks. Where did they go?

Through some archival sleuthing in Fewkes’s papers at the Smithsonian’s National Anthropological Archives, it turned out that he had also excavated at Oak Tree House in 1915, and the collections from this work are now held at the Smithsonian. And sure enough, this collection turned up two prayer sticks that could be matched to those in the illustration through their shapes and distinctive cracks. The fact that these actually appear to have come from Sun Temple rather than Oak Tree House helps to better understand the history and use of both sites.

In all these cases, the understanding of potential astronomical or ritual use of specific sites has been improved by carefully examining the archival history of their excavation and reconstruction. Archaeologists are increasingly aware of the importance of looking at this history when trying to understand sites like this, but this awareness is only beginning among archaeoastronomers, and Munson’s contribution here is a welcome illustration of its value.

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Vent at Sun Temple, Mesa Verde

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Bears Ears from Natural Bridges National Monument

Last week, President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order requiring the Secretary of the Interior to review all presidential designations of national monuments under the Antiquities Act since 1996 where the size of the designated monument exceeds 100,000 acres or where “the Secretary determines that the designation or expansion was made without adequate public outreach and coordination with relevant stakeholders,” and to provide a report within 120 days evaluating the extent to which any monument designations did not conform to the requirements of the Act and recommending actions the president or Congress might take to remedy these problems. This order has widely been interpreted and reported as an attempt by Trump to abolish controversial national monuments designated by his predecessors, especially Barack Obama, who designated more monuments than any other president. This certainly seems like a fair reading of Trump’s intent in signing the order, or at least of the impression he sought to make with it.

It’s not clear that he can actually do this, though. It’s noteworthy that the Executive Order itself only orders a review and report on whether there are problems with the designations and what might be done about them if so. It doesn’t directly have any substantive impact on anything. While this is a common pattern with Trump’s executive actions so far, in this case there is a very clear reason for it, which is that it’s not at all clear that a president actually has the authority to abolish a national monument or to revoke a designation made by one of his predecessors.

Much of the discussion of this order has centered on Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah, which President Obama designated on December 28, 2016. Local officials in Utah were furious about this particular designation and have been trying to overturn it since it was made. Bears Ears is the only specific monument designation mentioned by name in the Executive Order, in a section that requires an interim report within 45 days on it and any other designations the Secretary sees fit to include. Bears Ears is also potentially of interest to readers of this blog as the location of numerous ancient Pueblo (and other) archaeological sites, including the Mule Canyon and Butler Wash Ruins, which are easily accessible Utah Highway 95 and developed for visitation. It surrounds Natural Bridges National Monument, which also contains many archaeological sites in addition to the geological structures for which it is named.

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Butler Wash Cliff Dwelling near Blanding, Utah

To understand why it is unclear whether the president has the authority to abolish a national monument designated under the Antiquities Act, it is necessary to go back and look at the Act itself. Passed in 1906 under president Theodore Roosevelt, who went on to use it to establish many monuments including Chaco Canyon in 1907, the Antiquities Act is noteworthy these days for being both remarkably short and remarkably ambiguous. It states:

That the President of the United States is hereby authorized, in his discretion, to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be national monuments, and may reserve as a part thereof parcels of land, the limits of which in all cases shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected

Presidents since Roosevelt have interpreted this authority broadly, and have used it to designate monuments of up to millions of acres to protect the “objects of historic and scientific interest” therein. (Bears Ears alone is about 1.35 million acres.) This seems inconsistent with the colloquial meaning of the term “monument,” which to many people implies something much smaller than, say, a national park, but in fact the broad interpretation goes back to the very beginning and even Roosevelt himself designated 800,000 acres as Grand Canyon National Monument (which, like many monuments, was later changed by Congress into a national park). Furthermore, the courts have generally agreed with this broad interpretation of the president’s power under the Act, including in an important Supreme Court case in 1920 regarding Grand Canyon. Thus, opponents of particular monuments, such as the Utah politicians upset about Bears Ears, have sometimes been inclined to try to get a subsequent president to revoke a monument designation.

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Tower at Mule Canyon, Utah

However, as a recent Congressional Research Service report explains, no president has ever tried to do this, and while this means there has been no test in court of a president’s authority in this area, there are other indications that it is unlikely to hold up. In 1938 President Franklin Roosevelt wanted to abolish a monument and consulted with his Attorney General to determine if this was possible. The AG determined that the text of the Act did not explicitly give the president the power to abolish a monument, and that there was no precedent for that power being given implicitly either. Roosevelt elected not to put this to the test.

It may seem odd that the president would have authority to take an action but not to revoke it, especially since Executive Orders are often described in exactly these terms (i.e., that they are weaker than Acts of Congress because a future president can unilaterally revoke them). A designation under the Antiquities Act isn’t quite a regular Executive Order, however. This is not an inherent power of the executive, but a Congressional power delegated explicitly to the president through the Act. Congress can also designate national monuments, and only it can establish national parks. The power to establish parks is an authority that Congress has not delegated to the president. The authority to abolish national monuments, including those designated by a president under the Antiquities Act, appears to be another such undelegated authority retained by Congress alone, and Congress has in fact abolished a few presidentially designated monuments by statute.

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Sun Marker at Edge of the Cedars with Bears Ears in Background

So it seems that if Trump were to unilaterally try to revoke Obama’s proclamation and abolish Bears Ears or another monument covered by this Executive Order, the move would probably (but not necessarily) be overturned by the courts. This doesn’t mean these monuments are totally safe, however. There has been precedent for a president to add or subtract land from an existing national monument, and while the addition of land appears to be legally valid under the same theory underlying the power to create new monuments, the authority to remove land is more questionable. While this is also untested by the courts, presidents who have removed land from monuments have claimed to  have authority to do so under the provision of the Antiquities Act requiring that monuments be confined to the “smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected.” In theory this means Trump could reduce the size of a monument like Bears Ears to a tiny area, perhaps the immediate surroundings of the eponymous buttes, and claim to be within the law. Obama’s proclamation, however, in this case referred to “numerous objects of historic and of scientific interest” within the monument boundaries, without being very specific about what those objects are, which might make it difficult for a reduction in size to pass muster with the courts. As with so much else on this topic, however, this theory remains untested in an actual court case.

Finally, setting aside all of these questions about the president’s authority, there’s Congress. Note that Trump’s order asks the Secretary for recommendations on congressional as well as presidential action to address any problems he identifies with the monument designations. Here, there is no legal ambiguity: Congress has the authority to modify or abolish a national monument in any way it wants. With Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, and Trump in the White House, it might seem like the obvious approach for the anti-monument forces would be for Congress to pass a law abolishing Bears Ears and whichever other monuments the Secretary recommends getting rid of. In theory this would indeed be possible, but in practice the current Congress and president have had a lot of trouble passing even their highest-profile priorities, so it’s by no means a sure thing that they would be able to get a bill like this through. Public lands are quite popular with the country as a whole, if not with Utah politicians, and it’s likely that any attempt to roll back monuments would stoke extensive public opposition that would make it a hard lift for a Congress with plenty of problems already. Similarly, while Congress could effectively neuter the management of new monuments by withholding funding for them from spending bills, the current state of budget negotiations suggests that they would have trouble doing that as well.

Does all this mean Bears Ears and the other monuments are definitely safe from the machinations of Trump and his congressional allies? By no means; if they’re committed enough there are definitely things they can do to harm them, such as through budgeting decisions within the executive branch departments tasked with managing them. But like so much else in our system of government, once a monument is in place it’s no easy feat to get rid of it.

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Entrance Sign for Natural Bridges National Monument, Est. 1908

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Chaco Preservation Crew Repairing Masonry at the Fort Site

Today’s Albuquerque Journal has an article, originally published in the Gallup Independent, about the Chaco preservation crew and their work maintaining the various sites in the park.  The article focuses specifically on recent work they’ve done at Pueblo Pintado.  I don’t have a whole lot to add, but it’s an interesting account that addresses some of the complications of doing this sort of work for traditional Navajos, who have a strong taboo against even visiting Anasazi sites.  The article says that the crew deals with this in part by conducting prophylactic ceremonies before starting work on the sites, which I hadn’t known.  These ceremonies are apparently led by Harold Suina, a member of the crew who is from Cochiti Pueblo and is not Navajo (although I believe his wife is, and they live near Chaco in an area inhabited almost entirely by Navajos).  The article doesn’t say this, but I suspect that Harold’s role is particularly important since Pueblos like Cochiti have different attitudes toward the sites at Chaco than Navajos do, so he may not feel as uncomfortable dealing with them as the other members of the crew, all of whom are Navajo, do.  Not all of the Navajo members of the crew are traditional, however; some are Christian, as are many Navajos in the Chaco area, and they may not have the same qualms about their work that their more traditional colleagues have.

Anyway, it’s an interesting article, and it’s nice to see the preservation crew getting some media attention.  They do crucial work for the park, but it rarely gets noticed by either visitors or the many people who have written books and articles about Chaco over the years.  When I was doing tours I would usually do a fairly detailed description of the preservation work early on in the tour, both because people often want to know how much of what they see at the sites is reconstructed (at Chaco, very little, unlike at many other parks) and because I wanted them to appreciate how much work it is to maintain the sites and why it is therefore important for them as visitors to treat them respectfully and minimize the amount of damage they cause.  Hopefully this article will serve a similar function for a wider audience.

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Entrance to Kiva at Edge of the Cedars State Park, Blanding, Utah

Sticking with the topic of the small round rooms traditionally called “kivas,” which Steve Lekson would prefer to call simply “round rooms,” it’s important to note that there is a wide variety of formal types.  In addition to the modern distinction between square and round kivas, which is basically geographical with square ones in the western pueblos and round ones in the eastern pueblos, and setting aside the highly specialized “great kivas,” among the prehistoric kivas (I’m going to stick with the traditional term for now) of the San Juan Basin there are at least two types.  In his writings on Chacoan architecture, Lekson has distinguished between two main types of kivas found in great houses at Chaco: “Chacoan” and “Non-Chacoan.”

Kiva Z, Pueblo Bonito

The type of kiva that Lekson defines as “Chacoan” (originally defined by Neil Judd, who excavated Pueblo Bonito and Pueblo del Arroyo in the 1920s) has a variety of standard features, especially in the later examples from the period of approximately AD 1075 to 1130 when the Chaco system was at its height.  They are not quite as standardized as Chacoan great kivas, but the features associated with them are nevertheless found wherever there is evidence for Chacoan influence during this period, and it seems clear that this particular suite of features is a specifically Chacoan development.  (These kivas have often been called “clan kivas” in the past, but I don’t like that term because of the huge assumptions it makes about social organization and kiva function, so I’m just going to call them “Chacoan kivas.”)  The standard features defined by Judd are:

  1. A central firepit
  2. A subfloor ventilation system with an opening south of the firepit leading to a shaft opening south of the kiva
  3. A subfloor “vault” west of the firepit
  4. A bench around the circumference of the kiva
  5. 6 to 10 low “pilasters” roughly evenly spaced around the bench
  6. A shallow recess in the bench at the southern end

Lekson adds two more features, which are certainly present in many Chacoan kivas but less universal than Judd’s and more controversial:

  1. The elevation of the kiva into an aboveground square enclosure
  2. “Wainscoting” around the edge of the bench

This set of features is certainly consistent with the general “San Juan” type of kiva that developed out of the Basketmaker pithouse, but it differs from the kivas found most commonly in areas like Mesa Verde to the north in a few ways.  Before going into the differences, though, I want to just explain the importance of the lists of features given by Judd and Lekson.

Kiva Firepit at Lowry Pueblo in Colorado

Firepit: All kivas have firepits; it is one of the defining characteristics of the form.  In Chacoan kivas specifically, the firepit is offset slightly to the south of the center point of the kiva, which is always circular.  Firepits in Chacoan kivas are deep, circular or square in plan, and usually lined with masonry.

Subfloor Ventilation Shaft in Kiva at Edge of the Cedars State Park, Blanding, Utah

Ventilation System: One major characteristic of San Juan small kivas in general is that they have ventilation shafts, usually at the southern end.  Jesse Walter Fewkes wrote an article in 1908, which I mentioned in an earlier post, in which he set forth an argument that these shafts were indeed for ventilation rather than for any other purpose, and this argument is now more or less universally accepted.  There are different types of ventilation system, however, and this is one of the major features distinguishing Chacoan kivas from other types.  Chacoan kivas have ventilation shafts that run underneath the floor of the kiva and are accordingly called “subfloor” ventilation shafts.  One end of the shaft opens vertically into the floor just south of the firepit, and there may or may not be a slab or low wall in between used as a deflector to distribute the air and shelter the fire.  From this opening the shaft runs down a short distance then turns and runs horizontally to the south underneath the floor (or as a shallow trough that would have been covered by boards or poles) until it gets past the southern wall, at which point it turns again and runs vertically upward until it reaches the ground surface (at the level of the kiva roof, but just to the south of it) and opens up to provide the source for fresh air.

Great Kiva at Chetro Ketl Showing Floor Vault

Floor Vault: Most Chacoan kivas have a single rectangular “box” sunk into the floor just to the west of the firepit.  These are often filled and plastered-over, and sometimes have boards covering them, so Lekson notes that this feature may actually be more widespread than it appears from the literature (since excavators may have missed covered vaults in some cases).  Since about three-quarters of excavated Chacoan kivas had evidence of vaults, this suggestion implies that these may have been nearly or literally universal in actual fact.  These vaults are reminiscent of the similar “vaults” known from Chacoan great kivas, although its unclear why there would be different numbers of them.  In both great and small kivas the function of the vaults is obscure.  The fact that they sometimes have wooden boards on them has led some to argue that they were “foot drums” that people would have danced on to create a drumming sound, but Lekson points out that they are often filled with sand, which makes this explanation implausible.

Chacoan Kiva at Aztec Ruins National Monument

Bench: There is a low masonry bench around the circumference of the room.  This is another standard feature of San Juan kivas in general, although the bench is not always made of masonry in non-Chacoan versions.

Kiva Pilasters at Pueblo Del Arroyo

Pilasters: At roughly equal intervals around the bench there is a series of “pilasters.”  This term comes from Mesa Verde kivas where the pilasters are often tall and made of masonry, and it is not as applicable to Chacoan kivas where the defining feature of a “pilaster” is a short segment of a wooden log oriented radially with one end set in the wall just above the bench.  These beams are often set in small masonry cubes which do somewhat resemble Mesa Verdean pilasters and imply a similar function.  Mesa Verdean pilasters typically serve to support a cribbed roof, and Chacoan pilasters have often been interpreted similarly, although Lekson disagrees with this interpretation.  The issue of roofing is discussed more fully below under “wainscoting.”

Kiva I at Pueblo Bonito Showing Southern Recess

Recess: At the south end of the bench there is a shallow “recess” in which the bench narrows.  The location of the recess corresponds to the location of the subfloor vent shaft, but since the vent shaft is underground it does not actually have anything to do with the recess (this is another difference from Mesa Verdean kivas, which have above-floor vent shafts that open into the recess, which is often more prominent).  There is some evidence that at least in some cases there may have been a shelf over the recess, which would have continued the line of the bench and created a large niche under it.  The purpose of this recess is obscure.

Southern Recess in Kiva at Pueblo del Arroyo

Those are the criteria Judd gives, and they are pretty universally accepted and uncontroversial.  Lekson adds two more, which are a bit more controversial.

Corner of Room Containing Blocked-In Kiva at Tsin Kletzin

Elevation and Blocking-In: The early examples of Chacoan kivas at Chaco great houses, dating from around AD 900 to 1070, are generally subterranean and usually located in the plazas of great houses, backed by suites of rectangular rooms.  The “classic” examples of Chacoan kivas, dating from about 1075 to 1130, are generally built into square rooms within the great-house roomblocks, usually on the first floor but occasionally on the second.  Lekson considers this tendency to “block-in” kivas a key part of the Chacoan kiva tradition, and in his 2007 chapter on great house form he goes into some detail on the historical development of the Chacoan kiva, starting with the early tenth-century examples, which are poorly known, and continuing through what he refers to as “transitional” Chacoan kivas, built between 1030 and 1070, only a few of which have been excavated.  The best known of these is Kiva G-5 at Chetro Ketl, which was later covered over by later kiva construction culminating in an elevated “classic” Chacoan kiva (Kiva G) but is still kept open and visible underneath the later construction.  These transitional kivas had most of the characteristics of later elevated kivas, and by Judd’s standards they would all be considered just Chacoan kivas.  Lekson makes a big deal about the blocking-in, however, and it is true that this is something that markedly distinguishes Chacoan kivas from other types.  No one else did this, and it’s very odd in a structural sense since those huge masonry cylinders needed extensive support, which often meant the “interstitial” rooms in the corners of the square room were braced with timbers or filled in with earth.  One problem with using this as a defining characteristic of Chacoan kivas, though, is that there are a few late, very large Chacoan kivas that are subterranean and located in plazas rather than being blocked-in.  These approach great-kiva size, but they lack the features of great kivas.  The best known of these is the Court Kiva at Chetro Ketl, which was later remodeled into a great kiva.  Only two other examples have been excavated, Kiva R at Pueblo Bonito and Kiva J at the Talus Unit.  Kiva R has standard Chacoan kiva features, whereas Kiva J was only partially excavated and little is known about its features.  Five additional kivas like this are known at Pueblo Bonito, and Lekson describes them as unexcavated, although at least two or three of them clearly seem to have been excavated as far as I can tell and they seem to have typical Chacoan kiva features, so I’m not sure what Lekson’s talking about when he says they’re unexcavated.  Indeed, one of these, Kiva O, is still visible in the east plaza.  (Kiva R, which is in the west plaza, is also visible.)  The fact that some of the largest Chacoan kivas are subterranean and in the plazas of great houses rather than elevated and blocked in makes Lekson’s use of blocking-in as a standard attribute of Chacoan kivas problematic, even just looking at the “classic” Chacoan kivas built after 1075.

Kiva L, Pueblo Bonito

Wainscoting: This is the most controversial of Lekson’s criteria for Chacoan kiva status.  Basically, many of the excavated Chacoan kivas have a series of thin wooden poles (or, less often, boards) rising from the back of the bench and leaning in toward the center of the ceiling.  Between them is a sort of wickerwork held together with clay or adobe (i.e., a sort of wattle-and-daub or jacal), plastered with mud on the interior side.  The space behind this wickerwork is either left open or filled in with trash or other vegetal material (Lekson’s account is unclear here).  Lekson claims that this “wainscoting,” supported by the poles, formed the ceiling of the kiva, sort of a false dome, with the exterior roof at the top being supported by horizontal beams much like those used in the roofing of standard square rooms.  This is in contrast to the standard way that Mesa Verde kivas were roofed, which was also a false dome but one made of cribbed logs beginning on the pilasters and alternating rows up to the roof.  (This is the way Navajo hogans are traditionally roofed as well.)  Some examples of intact roofs like this are reported in the Mesa Verde region, including one at Square Tower House that Fewkes used as the basis for interpreting and reconstructing the roofs of kivas at Spruce Tree House, which had not survived intact.  There is at least one kiva at Pueblo Bonito that also had a largely intact cribbed roof (Kiva L).  It has often been assumed that most Chacoan kivas, including the blocked-in ones, also had cribbed roofs resting on the pilasters, but it’s noteworthy that Kiva L is not blocked-in, although it does otherwise show classic Chacoan features, and that Kiva 67, another plaza kiva with classic Chacoan features, also showed evidence of having a cribbed roof through the impression of a log in clay spanning two pilasters, although the log itself did not survive.  It’s possible, then, that the development of “wainscoting” as a means to roof kivas was an innovation spurred by the building of kivas in square rooms, which could easily be given flat roofs like other square rooms, although it’s not really clear what the advantage of wainscoting over cribbing would have been.  It would probably have used less timber, but the Chacoans were hardly averse to importing huge quantities of timber and it’s hard to see them making decisions about architecture based on efficient use of resources.  Chacoan kiva roofing remains an open question.

Cribbed Kiva Roof at Edge of the Cedars State Park, Blanding, Utah

Kivas are particularly vulnerable to deterioration if they are left open to the elements, so all of the small kivas at Chaco that have been excavated have been subsequently backfilled to varying degrees.  Many have been filled entirely, so that no trace of them remains on the surface; this is the case with the Court Kiva at Chetro Ketl and many of the plaza kivas at Pueblo Bonito.  Others have only been refilled partly, in some cases to a low level so that the bench and pilasters are still visible and in other cases to a higher level so that only the upper parts of the wall can be seen.  Thus, there is nowhere at Chaco where the floor features of a Chacoan kiva can be seen.  This is in contrast to Mesa Verde, where especially at the cliff dwellings like Spruce Tree House many well-preserved kivas in sheltered locations have their floors open to be examined.   Those are generally Mesa Verde-style kivas, of course, rather than Chacoan ones.  The best example I know of a basically Chacoan small kiva where the floor features can be seen is the reconstructed blocked-in kiva at Edge of the Cedars State Park in Blanding, Utah.  This is an outlying great house that is much more modest than what you see at Chaco, but one of its kivas has been given a restored cribbed roof and other reconstructed elements to give a sense of what it would have likely looked like in its prime, and as it happens this kiva shows most elements of the Chacoan style despite being far from Chaco itself and in the Mesa Verde region.  Also in the same region, one of the kivas at Lowry Pueblo has not been totally reconstructed to the same extent but it does have a protective roof over it and so also has its floor features open.  This is another blocked-in kiva at an outlier far to the north that is nonetheless a good example of classic Chacoan kiva design.
ResearchBlogging.org
Fewkes, J. (1908). Ventilators in Ceremonial Rooms of Pre Historic Cliff-Dwellings American Anthropologist, 10 (3), 387-398 DOI: 10.1525/aa.1908.10.3.02a00020

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Mix of Covered and Backfilled Rooms in Old Bonito

My main area of expertise when it comes to archaeology is the Southwest, but I currently live in New Jersey, and while I don’t know a whole lot about the archaeology of this part of the country I feel like I should probably weigh in on those rare occasions when an archaeological issue makes it into the news.  We seem to be in the midst of one of those occasions now, with the State Capitol Joint Management Commission having recently approved an order by Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno to rebury the Petty’s Run archaeological site, which is immediately adjacent to the Statehouse in Trenton.  This site, which was uncovered in 2008, contains a variety of buildings from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that shed considerable light on the early history of Trenton.  The site lies right between the Statehouse and the Old Barracks Museum, and the administration of then-governor John Corzine planned to make it a key part of a new state park.  The plan for establishing the park called for the site to be enclosed in glass, presumably to protect it while leaving it visible.

Room 6, Pueblo Bonito

When Chris Christie defeated Corzine last year, however, plans for the new park came to a halt and the site has just been sitting there, exposed but visible behind a fence.  Indeed, Guadagno’s problem appears to have been that the site is all too visible.  She can see it from her office in the Statehouse and she apparently considers it an “eyesore,” which is why she wants it reburied.  Many people, including political opponents of the Christie administration and Old Barracks Museum director Richard Patterson, are outraged by this move.  (The archaeologist who excavated the site, Richard Hunter, has declined to comment on the issue.)  Guadagno’s apparent motivation in having the site reburied does seem rather petty, but a lot of the outrage seems to be directed at the very idea of reburying the site.  I think this outrage is misplaced.  This may be a silly reason to rebury a site, but reburying (or “backfilling”) sites is a standard and very effective way of preserving them.

Chaco Preservation Crew at Work on the Fort Site

One of the major problems with excavation, and one of the reasons it is often avoided when possible, is that once a site is excavated it is no longer protected by the dirt that covered and preserved whatever was in it.  If left open a site will rapidly begin to deteriorate, so whatever organization is responsible for the site has a choice.  It can leave the site open and let it fall apart (not a popular option), or it can do something to preserve it.  In places like Chaco Canyon, where the visual impact of sites is considered a high priority, preservation involves an elaborate and very expensive effort at stabilizing standing walls and preventing further deterioration.  Since the main sources of impacts are weather and visitation, and these are ongoing year after year, preservation through stabilization means continual work.

Structure Covering Megalithic House, Mesa Verde

Another option is to build some sort of structure over the site to protect it from impacts while still leaving it visible to visitors.  In the Southwest this is rarely done for major sites because it makes them look “inauthentic,” with some exceptions such as Casa Grande and some of the especially well-preserved rooms at Pueblo Bonito.  For smaller sites and particularly fragile ones, however, this is a popular option, as it is much cheaper and less labor-intensive than constantly struggling to prop up the walls and generally provides better protection as well.  Many of the mesa-top sites at Mesa Verde and other parts of southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah have this kind of protection.  It sounds like this is the kind of thing the Corzine administration was planning to do with Petty’s Run, although it’s not totally clear to me exactly how the glass enclosure concept would have worked.

Backfilling Using Tarps at Homol'ovi I

The final option, which is generally both cheaper and more protective than the other two, is backfilling.  This takes most or all of the site out of public view, of course, which makes it problematic for sites that are intended to be developed as tourist attractions.  For sites that are not publicly accessible, however, this is the standard means of preservation.  It can be done in a way that makes it relatively easy to open up the site again later for further excavation, and in many cases archaeologists will refill sites at the end of each excavation season with the intent of returning to them later.  This can be done with tarps, for example, as the Arizona State Museum has done in its multi-year research project at the now-closed Homol’ovi Ruins State Park in Winslow.  In some cases responsible organizations start out trying to stabilize excavated sites and end up backfilling them when they can no longer afford to.  This is what has happened at Casa Malpais, which is owned by the town of Springerville, Arizona.  Some rooms that had been left open after excavation were recently backfilled because the town could no longer afford to stabilize them.

Preparations for Backfilling a Room, Casa Malpais, Springerville, Arizona

Now, this is all based on my experience of preservation techniques at sites in the Southwest, and it’s certainly possible that archaeologists in the Northeast don’t do things the same way.  For one thing, Northeastern archaeology seems to be much more focused on the historic than the prehistoric period, presumably because there has been so much historic development overlying whatever prehistoric sites remain.  Since historic sites are often built of sturdier materials than those that were available to prehistoric people, it might not be as problematic to leave a typical historic site exposed as it would be to do the same with a typical prehistoric site.  On the other hand, preservation conditions are much worse in this humid environment than in the arid Southwest.  Water is one of the biggest threats to preservation of exposed sites, and with the amount of precipitation that is typical of this area I’m sure even the best-constructed historic sites are at considerable risk.  The fact that the Corzine administration’s park plan called for enclosing the Petty’s Run site in glass makes me think this is indeed a major concern in Northeastern archaeology.

Structure Covering Coombs Village, Anasazi State Park, Boulder, Utah

The upshot of all this is that to the extent that the Christie administration is showing a lack of respect for the state’s heritage in its treatment of the Petty’s Run site, that’s being manifested in the decision not to pursue the park plan rather than the decision to backfill the site.  Guadagno may be motivated by superficial aesthetic considerations in wanting the site reburied, but whether or not the site is an eyesore leaving it exposed is not the way to preserve it.

Highly Deteriorated Vertical Intramural Beams at Pueblo Bonito

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Excavating the Lift Station Site in the Chaco Maintenance Yard

Continuing my recent agriculture kick, I thought I’d just point to an interesting post from a little while back talking about modern agriculture, private property, contract archaeology, resource protection legislation, and the tendency for people (even archaeologists!) to not understand how they all relate to each other in practice.  I don’t have much to add, but it’s a nice post and well worth reading.

Shoveling at the Lift Station Site in the Chaco Maintenance Yard

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Parry Lodge, Kanab, Utah

Several years ago I was in Kanab, Utah on the Fourth of July.  When the segment of the town parade representing the local office of the Bureau of Land Management went by, a man standing near me in the crowd yelled out “Management, not ownership!”  The people around him laughed and slapped him on the back good-naturedly.  It was obvious that he was just saying what they were all thinking.  This was just a few years after President Clinton’s controversial establishment of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which is administered by the BLM’s Kanab Field Office, and there was still a lot of obvious bitterness about that.

Sign for Anasazi Indian State Park, Boulder, Utah

I was there because my family had decided to do a big trip that summer to explore the new monument.  I was a teenager at the time and had never been to that area, but my parents used to go to Kanab and the surrounding area a lot before I was born and they were curious to see if and how it had changed with the new designation.  (It’s also just a beautiful area; I went through it again last year when I did a big road trip to California.)

Sign Describing Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Kanab, Utah

We did a lot of things on that trip.  We camped at Calf Creek in the monument itself and visited Anasazi State Park in Boulder, Utah, which is a fascinating place, of considerably more importance archaeologically than I realized at the time.  We ended up in Kanab, where we stayed at Parry Lodge, which prides itself on its history of housing movie stars who came to film in the area, and which was also where my parents used to stay when they had come to Kanab years before.  It’s a nice little town, but it’s definitely part of southern Utah and has its share of the political attitudes typical there, as shown clearly by the man’s outburst at the parade.

Linear Roomblock at Coombs Village (Anasazi State Park), Boulder, Utah

That kind of attitude toward the BLM in particular, and the federal government in general, is very common in southern Utah.  It’s particularly obvious right now in light of the outrage over a leaked government document mulling the possibility of establishing new national monuments throughout the West, including at two sites in southern Utah, but it’s been there for as long as there have been white people in the area and it’s never really diminished.  Another recent example of the same attitude is the local reaction to the arrests in the Blanding pothunting sting, many of which portrayed it as an example of the BLM and FBI overreacting to a harmless hobby and oppressing good people for no reason except to show that they could.

Entrance Sign for Natural Bridges National Monument

There’s a fundamental selfishness and sense of entitlement lurking behind this attitude, a feeling by many of these people that they should be allowed to do whatever they want just by virtue of being who they are.  How exactly “who they are” is defined differs in different contexts, but most of the time I think it boils down to being white people (often specifically white men) in a country where the untrammeled right of certain white people to do anything they want has long been a powerful ideal.  It’s an easy attitude to imbibe as a white person growing up in America, and I think it’s much more widespread than extreme examples in the rural West would suggest.  I’ve encountered plenty of good liberals who are quite happy to propose and support policies that restrict the ability of others (corporations, polluters, police, soldiers, etc.) to do whatever they want, but whenever their own freedom is threatened suddenly change their tune.  It’s an easy enough attitude to understand, and I don’t mean to be accusing anyone of hypocrisy here.  I’ve certainly done plenty of this sort of thing myself.  I’m mostly just suggesting a bit more humility and a bit less self-righteousness on everyone’s part, not as a transcendent moral principle but as a practical way to get along in a pluralistic society with lots of conflicting interests and opinions.

Southern Utah Regional Map, Kanab, Utah

It’s in that context that I note a good post by Keith Kloor on the monument kerfluffle, which includes a link to a very good meditation on some of these issues from an environmental journalist who is very clearly aware of his own sense of entitlement when it comes to issues of wildness and preservation.  Resource management and preservation are fundamentally difficult issues to address, and there are no easy answers.  There are too many conflicting priorities and contrasting opinions for there to ever be a simple way out.

Sign for Butler Wash Ruins Overlook, Southern Utah

Keith’s quote from Ed Abbey is a case in point.  I’ve never read any Abbey, but I know my dad hated him, more for The Monkey Wrench Gang than for Desert Solitaire, which I don’t remember him ever mentioning.  I’m not sure what it was exactly about Abbey that rubbed him the wrong way, but I suspect it had to do with what Abbey represented: the outsider blundering crudely through a place extolling its virtues without ever really understanding it the way the locals did.  My dad was very much a local in the Southwest, and while he had his own strain of entitled-white-guy thinking, it was very different from Abbey’s.  It wasn’t so much Abbey’s environmentalism per se that annoyed people like my dad and his relatives, many of whom were strong supporters of the Sierra Club, Rachel Carson, and the “mainstream” environmental movement that they saw as totally compatible with their small-town petit bourgeois Republican worldview.  Abbey, though, was different, a representative of a worldview that, while “environmentalist” in some sense, seemed to be more about self-indulgent destruction and nihilistic romanticism than about stewardship and preservation.  It was people like Abbey, and especially his more extreme acolytes, who I think contributed heavily to the souring of local white people in the rural West on environmentalism in general and activist groups composed mainly of people from elsewhere in particular.  It’s a shame, too, because there is actually a lot of sentiment among westerners in favor of conserving natural resources and limiting destructive development, but these days that sentiment seems to be used mainly as a rhetorical cudgel against environmental groups, giving cover to exploitative corporations, some of which have become pretty good at ingratiating themselves with local communities.  I don’t mean to try to pin all of this on Abbey, since there has obviously been a lot of other stuff going on that has contributed to this dynamic, but I do think he played a role.

Butler Wash Ruins Overlook, Southern Utah

One other thing about Abbey that Keith notes in his post, however, is the fact that he was living in Hoboken, New Jersey when he completed Desert Solitaire, and he may even have written the whole thing there.  One way to interpret this, in light of what I wrote above, is that it reinforces his “outsider” status relative to the West, but I think there’s a better way to look at it.  Abbey’s West, like most people’s, existed primarily in his mind, and his perception of the landscapes he wrote about was filtered through his experiences and preconceptions.  That doesn’t make it any less “real,” however.  Abbey’s books, which I emphasize again I have not read, should stand or fall on their own merits, regardless of how much or how little time their author spent in the places they describe.  I’m a strong believer in the idea that physically being in a place, while helpful and perhaps necessary to having a “complete” or well-rounded understanding of it, is not a necessary precondition for talking about it at all.  Indeed, I could hardly think otherwise, given that I write all about the Southwest on this blog while living in (a different part of) New Jersey myself.  For me, then, the idea of Abbey sitting in a bar in Hoboken recalling the canyons of Utah makes me more sympathetic to him, not less.

Slickrock along Trail to Butler Wash Overlook, Southern Utah

Personally, I’m not a very adventurous type.  I’ve been a lot of places and I’ve seen a lot of things, and those experiences have been immensely valuable to me, but I’d fundamentally prefer to be sitting in a cute little coffeeshop somewhere, reading or writing a book, rather than hiking across slickrock canyon rims contemplating the beauty of the landscape.  Not that I don’t enjoy the latter, but it’s not my usual preference.  Personal preferences don’t matter that much to larger issues most of the time, but when aggregated across large numbers of people they do add up, and in the context of resource protection there are actually some important implications.  One way to look at it, and by no means the only one, is to ask a simple question: On the margin, who is impacting the landscape more, the reader in the coffeeshop or the hiker on the canyon rim?

Bench on Trail to Butler Wash Overlook, Southern Utah

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