Ranger Kathryn's Arches

April 2, 2011

In which Kathryn finds a metate

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:33 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

This metate is about 15" x 22".

“A needle in a haystack,” I told myself. “How can I ever locate this artifact based on a six-month-old general description from visitors?”

A couple had come to the desk last September to report that they had found a grinding stone, or metate (meh-TAH-tay) in one of the less-traveled sections of the park. They showed me photos they had taken, and I assured them it was indeed what they thought it was, probably at least 800 years old, of ancestral Puebloan origin. I got their contact info, gave them the park archeologist’s email, and hoped for the best. I returned to Minnesota before I had a chance to get out there and look for it for myself.

It was just sitting on the sandstone in the open.

Today was supposed to be the most glorious spring weather yet, and it was my day off. I wanted to go metate-hunting. Based on the vague directions I had scribbled, it could be anywhere along hundreds of feet of rock, hundreds of feet wide, among junipers and pinyons. I had a mental image of the expansive area, and a general gut feeling to go on, but I knew it was a slim chance — even if the metate were still out there.

The crisp 46-degree air invigorated my lungs and my steps. An hour or so of solo sunrise hiking brought me to the vicinity, and I began slowly making some passes up and down, back and forth, just to see what I could see. I was also practicing identifying bird songs, so any time I heard one I’d stop and ID it with binoculars. A perfect spring morning.

My contemplation rock is in the background. A comfortable perch for a couple hours' pondering.

I put my back to the low morning sun, walked up a bench of sandstone, and almost tripped over this ancient artifact. Staring was all I could do for several minutes; I eventually marked it on my GPS and photographed it from every angle, including background landmarks so the archeologist can see it in situ. And then I sat down on a rock nearby.

I stayed on my rock for maybe two hours. I studied the metate plus everything around me — every landmark, every living thing, every noise in the soundscape, every smell. I wanted context. I tried to imagine the women and girls who ground seeds at this metate, and wondered whether they had wonderful girlfriends like I did, and what they made for their breakfasts, and whether their hearts were open to love, and what their names were.

Seven individuals walked by in that time, on an established trail but oblivious to the treasure just out of their sight. What a gift I had stumbled upon.


  1. I’m enthralled! Kathryn… now you must take me!? 🙂

    Comment by Tara Beresh — April 2, 2011 @ 9:47 am | Reply

    • I will.

      Comment by Kathryn Burke — April 2, 2011 @ 3:34 pm | Reply

  2. Sounds like a blessing from God–to find that. How cool:)

    Comment by Kathy Lewis — April 2, 2011 @ 10:28 am | Reply

    • God was unquestionably involved. I love to put my heart in listening mode and see what happens.

      Comment by Kathryn Burke — April 2, 2011 @ 3:37 pm | Reply

  3. K,
    Couple of questions . . .
    What are the inclusions in the sandstone? Mollusks?
    The metate seems to be ‘away from’ any pueblo. Was it too large to move so they took their corn to it or has it been displaced over the centuries?

    Comment by leroque — April 2, 2011 @ 10:33 am | Reply

    • I’ll ask the archeologist about the circular marks, but they are NOT fossiliferous. The Fremont people of this region were leaving their hunter-gatherer roots and settling into corn horticulture by 700 A.D. or so, so a metate or several were present at each living site. Pit houses, not masonry cliff dwellings, accommodated extended family groups. Sometimes the metates are just ground into a large boulder or sandstone shelf; I’ll ask about whether they carried them with them when they found it necessary to move.

      Comment by Kathryn Burke — April 2, 2011 @ 3:43 pm | Reply

      • This one was not used for corn. It would have been used for grass seeds, pinyon or other materials. Hard to date. Could be earlier or later the Puebloan or could be from the contemporary

        Comment by Lee Ferguson — April 2, 2011 @ 11:40 pm

      • THANK YOU, Encyclopedia Lee!! I need you to be my Cultural Artifact Fact Checker before I publish erroneous material. That’s what I love about you. You know everything. Or at least where to FIND the rare fact you don’t already know.

        Comment by Kathryn Burke — April 3, 2011 @ 9:32 am

  4. You found it where previous people saw it and left it. How probable is it that everyone would leave it,? Are the people who would be in that area so “with it” that they know to protect what they see by leaving it alone? Do you sometimes feel the urge to take it to a safe place?

    Comment by Mom — April 2, 2011 @ 11:41 am | Reply

    • These are Qs I shall ask the archeologist, Mom. Horrible stories circulate in the southwest about greedy artifact hunters who stop at nothing to collect rare pieces. Many things HAVE had to be moved to museums in order to protect them. It is hard to find intact artifacts of any kind in the field; potsherds, yes, pots, no. Extremely unscrupulous people have stolen unfathomable quantities of artifacts from public lands over the last 120 years.

      Comment by Kathryn Burke — April 2, 2011 @ 3:47 pm | Reply

  5. Kathryn,
    I love where you take me as you hike, explore, risk and revel in God’s creation! Thanks so much for adding pictures. It’s easy to “be there” and enjoy it all from here!

    Comment by Chichi — April 2, 2011 @ 3:41 pm | Reply

    • Glad you’re along, Chichi!

      Comment by Kathryn Burke — April 2, 2011 @ 3:47 pm | Reply

  6. if the Puebloians would have known how easy it is to just go and purchase flour at the local mercantile, they may well still be with us…..

    Comment by john — April 3, 2011 @ 6:40 am | Reply

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