Ranger Kathryn's Arches

October 6, 2012

Claw.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:23 am
Tags: , , ,

 

“Come and see what we walked right by.” Chris, eagle-eyed co-explorer, beckoned me to the edge of the high alcove. I had just lain down on a flat boulder to gaze at the sandstone ceiling and the rock art, but it was clear that his discovery was worth interrupting my reverie.

In a canyon near Moab.

There, right on the approach, was a deeply incised petroglyph. A single claw stood alone, stark in its simplicity, its beauty evincing an ancient artist’s skill.

We had been too distracted by the more obvious — the massive recess in the Navajo sandstone, the multi-colored artwork spanning several millennia, the grinding grooves in the boulders, curious carved holes, a water seep. Occasional flakes of chert sparkled in the sunlight, remnants of the tool-making process. The site was clearly occupied for a long, long time, by more than a few people. I could almost hear children’s laughter, women grinding seeds or corn, men sharpening their axes.

And then… the claw. Some man long ago selected that boulder and sat down with his tools, abrading the pad to a good quarter-inch depth, adding the toes, finishing with those imposing super-claws. Was he saying that he was part of a clan associated with this animal? Was it evidence of a hunt that fed his people well? Was it a No Trespassing sign? I’ll never know.

The lesson at hand: don’t be so distracted by the flashy that you miss the subtle.

 

June 25, 2012

Keet Seel 4: ancient architects

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:32 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

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.

June 21, 2012

Keet Seel 3: real people

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 4:31 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

(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.

February 13, 2012

Non-conforming artists

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:00 am
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Throughout time, artists who flaunt traditional approaches have been both reviled and praised. I wonder if that has always been the case? Would a millennium have changed human behavior?

On a recent hike in search of petroglyphs in the Moab area, my findings led me to ask such questions. The first panel shows a classic rendering of an abundant animal in Utah rock art, the bighorn sheep. Notice their short thick necks, graceful parenthesis-shaped horns, solid pecked bodies and characteristic single-file arrangement. I especially like the cloven-hoof detail, which can be seen better if you click to enlarge.

 Utah petroglyphs showing bighorns

Only a few feet away, on another part of the boulder, stood this artwork. Based on its deeply curved horns, it’s obviously a bighorn ram, but how many differences can you pick out from the previous glyphs? Whose neck is that? What is the shape inside its torso? Is it supposed to have feet? Was this artist having fun, expressing his uniqueness, or faithfully recording his observations?

Please leave your comments. Have fun with this. It’s okay to speculate…

Does this artist march to the beat of a different drummer?

February 6, 2012

Jay Canyon 4: Revelation

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:36 am
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

(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.


February 5, 2012

Jay Canyon 3: Reflect

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 10:24 am
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Kathryn. Granary. (photo: T Baresh)

(Continued from Jay Canyon 2: Explore)

Lunch comes out of the backpack: cheese and crackers, apple, sunflower seeds, mixed nuts, chocolate-covered edamame. On a flat boulder that looked perfect for ancestral corn-husking or sunbathing, we munch and hydrate and ponder.

Something somewhere in the back of my mind is not right. A detail picked up by my brain is not jibing with all the data, but it flits away again and is gone. We listen to a raven croaking, examine the areas where desert varnish is thick and dark from constant wetting, get down on our knees to look into storage cists dug in the rocky floor, study the partially-burned logs that may provide a clue as to the fate of this dwelling site.

Having found fingerprints in the granary mortar that fit our own digits precisely, we sense an intimate connection to its builder(s). I rest my left thumb on a forebear’s impression in the dried mud; it is my own. Centuries dissolve with a smile.

~~ To Be Continued ~~ at this post

February 3, 2012

Jay Canyon 1: Approach

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:46 am
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Sinuous canyons lead to exciting discoveries. Grand County, Utah.

The snow was stopping, so we layered up and drove south of town along the Colorado River. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse: Tara was taking me to a ruin site she had visited, promising me a granary photo op as my reward.

Feathered spies — pinyon jays — laughed overhead, flashes of bright blue enlivening the otherwise muted desert palette. They are the town criers, alerting the world to our presence. We don’t mind. Nobody else is out here today.

We made our way up ledges, around cliffs, across the mesa bench and up sandy washes until we arrived at an alcove whose neighborhood was graced with an abundance of large trees and huge dead trunks. In our habitat, this is an indicator of reliable water supply; two major pour-offs and a seep/hanging garden corroborated this hunch. One majestic cottonwood, a species found only where its feet can be perennially wet, stood as undeniable confirmation.

Up, up we climbed. My heart beats faster, and my senses get sharper, approaching a ruin site; it is always more than meets the eye. A small thickly-mortared granary was perched prominently on a van-sized boulder.  Letting my imagination go where it would, it went, predictably, to the people who had built this structure perhaps 800 years ago.

I drew near with awe and curiosity and delight.

~~ To be continued ~~ at this post

Blog at WordPress.com.