Archaeological authenticity always is the goal of Gregory Wood, a world-renowned expert in ancient pottery techniques and recipient of the National Park Service Award of Interpretive Excellence. That is why he hand-builds pottery using only tools and technology that were available in prehistoric times.
Last weekend, Wood held his annual Ancient Culture through Pottery workshop outdoors at scenic Chimney Rock Archaeological Area, east of Pagosa Springs. Participants diligently reconstructed mugs and other pottery creations in the Pueblo III and Mesa Verde black-on-white methods.
The three-day workshop held at a living archeological site of the ancestral Pueblo people had every student immersed in history. They hand-burnished, painted with yucca brushes and trench kiln fired, striving to emulate the techniques of the ancestral Puebloans.
"I'm all about the process," Wood said.
The students worked at picnic tables in the shade, racing against time as the dry Colorado air sucked the moisture from their pots.
First, they built a base for their mugs from a golf ball-sized ball of clay, and then flattened it like a pancake. Then they scored the pancake of clay and joined it with a clay doughnut shape. Next, the students pinched and willed walls into form. Then they smoothed the hardening pot and began the tricky process of joining the handle.
Each student produced a well-formed, soft, gray mug, regardless of previous skill or experience. They cheerfully worked alongside each other, sharing occasional advice, as they all moved as a group toward the next step. The workshop was made up of men and woman of all ages, some taking it for two college credits, others taking it for the fourth time for personal enrichment.
"I just enjoy it - Greg, and his knowledge," said longtime participant Colin Fallat, of Santa Barbara, Calif.
Wood's tool chest contains only tools that would have been available in ancient times, such as yucca, bone, gourd scrapers and locally available plant-based paint. He also hand gathers available fuel for the fires. Even the clay Wood chose for the workshop, Dakota Sandstone, appropriately was abundant in the fourth century to ancestral Puebloans.
"Lewis Shale deposits found near here might have been what (the ancient people of Chimney Rock) used," Wood said, "but we didn't have time to dig the clay."
Wood said he is able to achieve such outstanding results only by trial and error, much in the same way prehistoric peoples learned the same techniques.
Wood is sought after by both scientists and art collectors because of his years of scientific research and a passion for accuracy. He recently was asked to join Stanford University's archaeological team, in Catalhoyuk, Turkey, to recreate the ancient pottery made there 8,000 years ago.
Rachel Beckelhymer is a freelance writer living outside of Durango. Reach her at Rachel@