Thursday, February 24, 2011

Rare Find

We had a new crewmember join us on our weekly rounds of the Cienega sites.

He had just been introduced to archaeology through the Site Steward classes.

He was quick to identify ceramics - pottery sherds - on the ground but was having trouble identifying lithics – stone tools or debitage.

We found four projectile points one day and he was disgusted that he was not one of the ‘finders.’

Last week I heard this emphatic “YES!”

He walked to me hand outstretched on which he had a projectile point.

It was dirty so I cleaned it off a bit.

“Wow! Bingo!” I said to him.

“You have an archaic point and it is obsidian! A rare find indeed!”

I held the point up to the sun and by golly it was green obsidian - very rare in this area.

“You have green obsidian to boot. It comes from Mexico,” I said to him.

“Yep! I purchased it for $2.00 at the Gem and Mineral Show last week!”

I am such a fish and get hooked easily!

Friday, February 18, 2011


With an excavation expedition comes a cooking story - it has to! Right?

We were in Lake City with about 16 students for field school. Actually, we were about 30 miles in the middle of nowhere outside of Lake City.

We had a wonderful cook. She not only cooked she made the long trip into town to do the shopping.

The local grocery store had a special on bananas so she bought a ton of them.

We put them in our lunch bags – great for mid day snack or just as a treat for lunch. But we were not eating them fast enough and they were going brown/black then everyone ignored them.

She made banana bread but there were still a lot left and she was in the process of tossing them when I asked her if I could have a few.

“Sure but they are rotten.”

I grabbed a frying pan, a lump of butter (margarine doesn’t work) and proceded to peel the bananas, slice them in half lengthwise and fry them out.

This was after dinner and the students were playing board games but one came over to see what I was doing.

In my opinion, curiosity is the mark of a good student!

“Hmm-that smells good. May I try some?”

When really ripe bananas are fried out in butter they candy/carmelize and are delicious over ice cream!

“Oh! This is wonderful,” she said as she scooped fried banana with the attendant brown syrup and ice cream into her mouth.

Her ohs and ahs immediately caught the attention of the rest of the board players! They left their games to see what we were doing.

We cooked up more bananas - cooked until all the bananas were gone! No one had ever had this treat before they said.

We had this treat several more times during the excavation.

And no banana went wasted again!

Sunday, February 13, 2011


Topo map in hand. Sites plotted on map. Site cards (description of site) in hand. GPS in hand, and a very experienced survey crew. All things necessary to re-find sites recorded in 1972!

The area we are to survey for these 3 sites is flat and quite barren. Not quite the same as we are used to in the Tucson area. The creosote bush is smaller and grows further apart but then this desert is almost 1000 feet below the desert area we are used to. It is also hotter during the summer. It has been reported that the desert surface during the summer can reach 165° F.

First site.

We are at ground zero according to the UTMS/GPS. Nothing here. Land looks sheet washed and has areas of deep erosion. Hmm - there should be something here in the eroded areas. Not a sherd or lithic! Has the site been buried since it was first recorded in 1972? We have had 2 major flooding situations. But something is usually on the surface and in the eroded area! Nada.

Second site.

Same scenario. Nada.

We survey great distances around the two illusive sites that are supposed to be quite close to each other. Another eroded area examined and it has sherds, lithics and a roasting pit. Is this the first site? Heck it is only about 400 meters off the official plotting!

We get the UTMs and record it on the map. Then do a quick write up of the artifacts. Hmm.

Third site.

Site map shows the site about ¼ mile SW of a huge cattle tank. We are at the cattle tank and there are sherds galore at the NORTH side! This area matches the description on the site card. There is nothing at the SW area. Is the site really on the north side?

The original recorders were here in August, 1972. Did they suffer from the desert heat and miss plot the sites? Or????

This situation reminds me of what a Ute girl told me years ago when we were trying to find a site we had recorded just the day before and now couldn’t find.

She said, “Our ancestors come and go. Sometimes they show up for you, other times they go into hiding.”

Monday, February 7, 2011

No Hable Espanola?

We were on survey in Pinal County Arizona, the county north of Tucson’s Pima County, to evaluate a number of sites for possible preservation and protection.

We traveled a long paved road that led us to a dirt road.

Horrors! There was a sign at the fenced entry to the dirt road:




Boy! This sign meant the owner really meant business! We had no permission from the landowner to cross the land.

I pulled off to the side of the road.

A small truck approached and started to enter through the open fence gate.

I flagged it down.

I walked to the truck and said to the driver, who was a wizened Mexican man, “May we cross this land to get to the pumping station at the aqueduct?”

He said, “No Hable Espanola?”

I understood this to be - don’t you speak Spanish?

I don’t! “No Hable Espanola,” I said to him. This and “respiree profundo” (breathe deeply) is the extent of my Spanish speaking!

One of the crewmembers came to my rescue.

He spoke in broken, haltering Spanish and the driver of the truck responded - I heard “publico-no problemo. Si”

Yea! We could cross the land! As I said I can understand Spanish! (yeah sure!)

As we started to drive onto the dirt road, my rescuer said, "If we get stopped by others we say", ‘Juan McDuff, Spanish speaking only, Georgia license plate, has given us permission to cross this private land.’

Only in Arizona!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Thorny Humor

The Cienega Creek Preserve area is unbelievably beautiful!

But it can be treacherous too.

It has the full range of Sonoran desert plants including the dreaded Cholla (pronounced choy-ya) cactus.

Some call it 'jumping’ Cholla as its thorny stubs/clumps get into you no matter how careful you are.

To describe the clumpy thorns better just think of a ball full of thorns, all extruding from the sides. At least half those thorns get in you too! And those thorns hurt! I swear cactus has a toxin on the thorn tips that give rise to the pain the small thorns can cause. And the pain lasts for about half an hour.

Bend over and BANG! you are stabbed – nailed!

Just walking near a Cholla and you will hear a shout from a crewmember, "Check your right/left boot."

Some of our sites contain these nasties - other sites are calm quiet ones with just creosote bushes.

The 'jumping' Cholla nailed a crewmember in her butt. She just turned too quickly!

"Help me. I have Cholla in my butt," she called out.

We normally carry a small comb to remove the dreaded cactus’s thorny stubs.

I dropped my fanny pack to the ground to search for the comb.

While fumbling through the small pack I heard -

"Hurry! Why don’t you have it handy?"