Ranger Kathryn's Arches

March 25, 2012

Shards, shards, shards

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:52 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Black-on-White pottery shards at San Juan County, Utah, ruin site.
Note that some have painted rims.

Tingling with excitement, I traced the faint path toward a red rock outcrop. On all sides, evidence of ancient occupancy lay exposed. Old masonry walls, now reduced to heaps of rubble overgrown with grass, rose from the hillside in silent testimony to the ancestral Puebloans who lived here. A Rock Wren serenaded our quiet traverse, much as I envision Rock Wrens of the 13th century may have done by some other name. At my feet were pottery shards of every imaginable design; I felt like a kid in a candy shop, stooping, picking up, rubbing the dirt off, and replacing. An involuntary gasp would escape when I found a particularly bright or unusual bit, colors fresh, edges sharp. It is impossible for me to hold a piece of an old bowl and not ask myself questions about its owner.

Corrugated ware, a more durable everyday ceramic, was used for cooking. It was made by coiling thin snakes of clay, pressing them together with an antler, and polishing the inside with a smooth stone.

In my dreams, I am wandering in awe and wonder at a site and find an intact artifact. Of course, the likelihood of that happening is nil, as every one of these areas has been looted by pot-hunters. I’d settle for finding a vessel in pieces that could  be jigsaw-puzzled back together. Even that won’t happen. I was sincerely overjoyed this day to put my boot down on the ground and have to watch where I was walking; the density of shards was breathtaking. (See smallest photo.)

Untouched dense scatter of potshards with my boot for scale.

Archaeological note: I collected pieces for these photographs but released them all back to their resting places. Two were particularly dear and hard to let go, but I found special places to hide them so they wouldn’t be trampled by others who find their way to this obscure hilltop location where ancestors eked out their living 800 years ago.


  1. Finding such places can really ground you to the past. You are looking back at least 800 years into the lives of the people who lived in that very spot. It is hard to fathom that people were able to live in such a harsh environment. Great pictures and comments Ranger Kathryn.

    Comment by The Moab Hiker — March 25, 2012 @ 8:25 am | Reply

  2. I too find it hard to fathom their ability to live — not just visit — in such an arid environment. Equally amazing is their commitment to the creation of artwork. I think it’s a lesson for all of us. The desire to create is hard-wired into our souls, and we’re all a part of the ongoing Creation. [Here ends today’s sermon… 🙂 ]

    Thanks for sharing the photos, and an extra special thanks for the photos of the corrugated ware. I’d not seen that before, and found it fascinating.

    I read recently that the ruins of the kilns that have been discovered are not usually located near the lodges. Instead, they are more centrally located — that is, central to all the lodges in a given area — suggesting the firing of the pots was more of a communal activity. Is that your understanding as well? And have you run across any ruins of a kiln(s)?


    Comment by Ron Carroll — March 25, 2012 @ 8:53 am | Reply

  3. If I had seen these shards while I was still making pottery I would have found inspiration in both the design of the surface and the glazing.

    Comment by Mom — April 2, 2012 @ 9:48 pm | Reply

    • What a wonderful comment, one which wouldn’t have occurred to me since I don’t create artistic stuff. I will look at shards differently. Thanks!

      Comment by Kathryn Burke — April 2, 2012 @ 11:13 pm | Reply

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