Ranger Kathryn's Arches

June 25, 2012

Keet Seel 4: ancient architects

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:32 am
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Keet Seel ruin is perched atop a ledge five stories above the canyon floor.
Only the northern part is visible in this photo.

Keet Seel is OLD; pottery shards and tree-ring dating show evidence of occupancy since 950 A.D. Those early houses are gone, but a few timbers were re-used in the subsequent village. In 1272 the ancestral Puebloans deemed this rich wet canyon suitable for a massive building project. At its height, 150 residents occupied the glorious alcove — likely from two different language groups, unable to understand each other but sharing an intimate neighborhood.

The care and artistry with which the village is laid into the rock space reflects the ancestral Puebloans’ ability to meld form and function. The alcove and its structures are inextricably unified, sandstone on sandstone, masonry on aeolian dunes, seamless. Ancient architects hung buildings on the bones of rock, suspended on slopes, fixed in place by unseen forces.

Keet Seel ruin is full of life and mystery.

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June 21, 2012

Keet Seel 3: real people

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 4:31 pm
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(continued from Keet Seel 2: arrival at the ruin)

An everyday cooking vessel sits silently in the ruin.

In every direction, my eyes land on evidence of the ancestral Puebloans’ occupancy — at times so fresh, so present, that it is as if these people just picked up and left recently.

Ancient corn cobs fill the stone depressions that may have served as part of the grinding process.

Ancient shrunken corn cobs fill stone depressions which were likely used for knocking the kernels off to be ground; I can see the womenfolk hard at their task with metates and manos. A shapely vessel adorns the top of one wall, recovered in pieces and cemented back together; I can see girls filling it with water. Down in the kiva, fiber loom anchors are attached to the floor; I hear the men gathered there, weaving blankets, talking about their latest hunting escapades.

Hollow pottery handle from a dipper or ladle adds intrigue.

A broken dipper handle, hollow, hallowed, sits upon a pile of stones; thirsty children drink from the spring. And, in one darkened room block, our camera flash reveals distinct painted handprints on the wall — intimate touch of its residents 750 years ago. Rough-hewn beam ends, ceiling timbers shaped by stone ax, project from rock walls. Pottery shards everywhere speak of the artistry and aesthetics of this culture.

 ~~ to be continued ~~

Every shard reflects the artistry of its maker. They covered the ground underfoot.

One can see the ax marks on this beam. Dendrochronologists can tell in what year it was felled by comparing it to known tree ring patterns.

Black and yellow paint highlight hands of the original residents. The yellow pigment was blown through a straw-like reed to make the negative print.

April 7, 2012

Navajo National Monument

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:26 am
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The alcoves in this deep canyon hold ancient villages. Douglas Fir and aspen populate the shaded areas -- not your typical Arizona desert trees.

Tucked away in deep canyons in the northern Arizona desert, ruined villages of ancestral Puebloans lie vacated — but not empty. After all the hubbub of our day in Antelope Canyon, Tara and I wanted to find a place to lay our heads that was quiet and restful.  Ninety minutes’ drive brought us at sunset to a small jewel of a National Monument that filled the bill. Delightedly, we found that there was no entrance fee for this lovely place.

The campground occupies a pinyoned knoll — all quiet and, much to our surprise, also free. The tent went up in minutes. Leaving the rain fly off ensured that we’d see lots of stars from our 7300-foot perch. After a cup of mint tea, we burrowed into our sleeping bags and studied all our park literature by headlamp before drifting off. I dreamed of kivas and potshards.

Friday dawned cool and clear and full of promise. The park brochure described FREE (!!!) ranger-led half-day tours to the Betatakin ruins, an exciting offer to two archaeology-oriented visitors with tons of questions. Alas… full staffing begins May 27 this year, and tours won’t be available until then. (Chapter 133 of “Budget issues create disappointment.”)

To take the sting away, we perused every incredible artifact in the visitor center’s displays and worked with the ranger to plan our return for the 17-mile overnight backpacking hike to Keet Seel. This best-preserved ruin requires permits (20/day maximum); a ranger actually lives out at the ruin site for a week straight in order to conduct guided visits. MY KIND OF TRIP.

Three short overlook hikes whetted our appetites for what will come. The ancestral people built stunning masonry villages in picturesque alcoves, which shall be thoroughly explored under our own power this summer.

February 6, 2012

Jay Canyon 4: Revelation

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:36 am
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(Continued from Jay Canyon 3: Reflect)

Halfway back to our car, in the middle of nowhere, a man’s voice hailed us from forty yards above. “Did you visit the ruin site?” he inquired. Tara and I looked at each other, wondering how much to say. Archaeological etiquette calls for much discretion in these matters.

He had monitored the site for quite a number of years and had a detailed history of it; when he heard I was a park service employee, a bond of trust was established. With a note of excitement in his voice, he asked, “Those bones in the granary — did you see them? They’re adolescent ancestral Puebloan.”

Within the granary: a teenager's bones

My mind careened back to the ribs and pelvis, which we had carelessly assumed were from a deer because that and rabbit are the only kind of bones we ever see. Instantly the niggling disconnect in my brain, the missing piece, came into sharp focus. Now I saw the acetabulum, the cup-shaped depression that holds the head of the femur. Above it, the sweeping curve of the iliac crest was unmistakable. Half of a human pelvis, all right.

The man continued his story. “Pot-hunters looted the site multiple times. Four or five bodies’ worth of bones were in a pile on the surface when I first came to the alcove decades ago. They were re-interred in the midden, but folks keep poking around and digging them up.”

After talking further and thanking him for his illumination, we made our way down to the car in utter silence. Everything had changed with one sentence. The place we had just explored was not just a food storage site or a group of houses; it was also a family cemetery.


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