It’s easy to look at an archaeological society as a bunch of dusty old academics (or Indiana Jones) in pith helmets. Blame the movies for that.
But the San Juan Archaeological Society, which held its holiday party earlier this month, is so much more than that. There are certainly academics in their midst, but it’s mostly regular people who want to learn more about this area, from archaeology and history to the culture and customs of modern day Native peoples.
They’re people of all ages and backgrounds who have one of the busiest groups in town between lectures, field trips and opportunities to help with archaeological surveys. Oh yeah, and they raise money to provide internships and scholarships to Fort Lewis College students who are interested in the fields of archaeology and anthropology or in working at museums and institutions such as the Center of Southwest Studies.
At the party, the group held a silent auction to raise money for the John W. Sanders Internship Fund. Sanders, who died in 2013 at 92, was one of the society’s earliest members and was extremely active in it, writing the newsletter for more than 20 years. The auction brought in $900 for the fund.
The fund also grew this year because of a tragedy. Longtime San Juan Basin Archaeological Society member Ruth Shields was killed in a car accident in July, and her family designated the fund for memorial contributions.
The group now is in a position to fund two internships a semester to the Center of Southwest Studies, President Janice Sheftel said.
The holiday party is also a look back at the field trips and activities of the current year and, with great anticipation, the unveiling of what’s on offer for the upcoming year.
In 2014, the group spent an afternoon at the Aztec Ruins National Monument in a trip led by Rhonda Raffo and Jim Mueller; visited ghost towns in Cochise County, Arizona (what, you thought they just did stuff around here?) led by Gail and Marlo Schultz; toured the B-Square Ranch Totah Archaeological Project along the San Juan River east of Farmington led by Richard Robinson; explored the Tomboy Mine near Telluride courtesy of trip leaders Bev and Bob Danielson; spent four days camping and hiking along the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park with Robinson; viewed Barrier Canyon-style rock art at Capitol Reef and Canyonlands national parks with Barb and Lyle Hancock; and even stayed close to home by taking a historic walking tour of downtown Durango led by Andrew Gulliford.
They celebrated the summer solstice at the Aztec Ruins and explored winter solstice sites in Mancos Canyon at the Ute Mountain Tribal Park. (And that’s not all they did, just a sample.)
In collaboration with the Hisatsinom Chapter of the Colorado Archaeological Society, they enjoyed a work/play outing at the Ute Mountain Tribal Park. One of the perks of doing this kind of thing means they get to see sites not often opened to the general public.
Coming up in 2015?
Among the offerings are a visit to the Puye Cliff Dwellings and Feast Day at San Ildefonso Pueblo in New Mexico; a tour of the new Mesa Verde Visitor Center – I got to that when it opened, and it’s pretty cool – and the Anasazi Heritage Center near Dolores: a trip to Hovenweep, New Mexico, and Montezuma Canyon, Utah; a visit to rock art sites near Moab, along the Green River and the Northern San Rafael Swell in Utah; an exploration of the Salinas Pueblo Missions in New Mexico; a visit to Homolovi, the Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest in the Winslow, Arizona, area; and a hike of the back country at Mesa Verde National Park with a National Park Service guide.
The big event for 2015 is the annual Colorado Archaeological Conference, which will be hosted in Durango in October.
Sheftel tells me she’s quite excited about the keynote speaker, Douglas Owsley, who’s the division head of physical anthropology at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. That would be enough to make him interesting, but Owsley has had a career that has made him one of the foremost forensic anthropologists of our time.
Archaeology buffs are most impressed by his work on Kennewick Man, a 9,800-year-old (plus or minus) skeleton discovered in Washington and determined to be unlike modern Native Americans and Europeans, which greatly challenges our understanding of early peoples in North America.
But Owsley also has excavated at the Jamestown Colony in Virginia and examined skeletons from the Civil War-era submarine the H.L. Hunley. On a more modern side, he examined the bones of Jeffrey Dahmer’s first victim, identified more than 60 people killed at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, and identified the remains of slain American journalists Griffith Davis and Nicholas Blake in the Guatemalan Highlands.
Save a seat for me at the talk, please!
Visit www.sjbas.org to learn more about the San Juan Basin Archaeological Society. Anyone who’s interested in Southwest culture and history would enjoy being a member of the society, or, at the very least, checking out the suggested books for a reading list.
Nonmembers are welcome at any of the society’s meetings, but one must be a member or participating in the state-sponsored Programs for Avocational Archaeological Certification to participate in the field trips.
The next meeting will take place at 7 p.m. Jan. 8 in the Lyceum at the Center of Southwest Studies. My colleague Judith Reynolds will give a presentation on “Lost Cities.” The public is welcome.
Celebrating their birthdays as attention shifts from Christmas to New Year’s are Jeff Branson, Lynn Mueller, Carol Connelly, Danah Barlow, Gordon Cheesewright, Paul Sandhaus, Laurie Barker, Madison Hening and Anna Cheesewright.
Belated birthday greetings go to Marta Snow, who turned 80 on Christmas Eve.
Consider this a shout-out to all the snowplow drivers in La Plata County, whether they work for the city of Durango, the county or the Colorado Department of Transportation. Almost from the moment snow started falling on Christmas Day, they were on the job so we could travel safely to our Christmas activities. (Which in my case was work.)
City snowplow drivers even made a point of plowing Roosa Avenue and Avenida del Sol so people could get to Manna Soup Kitchen for Christmas dinner.
Kudos also go to the neighborhoods of East Third Avenue and Fassbinder Park, who not only organized and created luminaria displays for our delight on Christmas Eve, they were out in the cold, snowy weather Christmas Day cleaning up the detritus.
Thanks to all of you for your efforts.
If they didn’t get married in June – that June bride thing is not a myth – people often choose to marry during the holidays, when families will be together anyway. Here’s wishing these anniversary couples a day that is jolly and bright (no wait, that’s Christmas) – Bob and Judy Yearout, Sean and Kimberly Darnall, Dave and Lynn Mitzlaff, Peter and Judith Olson, John and Pat Mikelson, Kenny and Shannon Bassett and Tom and Ashley Geyer.
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