There is an archaeologist in southeastern Utah. "He listens and he studies. He pores over the artifacts that come into the museum where he works. When no one is around, he pulls out his glasses, slips on his white cotton gloves, and carefully turns the objects over and over as though some wisdom might speak to him from a sandal or basket or cradle board."
Williams, Terry Tempest, Coyote's Canyon, Peregrine Smith Books, Salt Lake City, 1984. P.48.
Somewhere buried in a box in our storage room is a small collection of pot shards I picked up as a child on a trip through the Four Corners area with my family. When I found them, I was filled with wonder at their beauty. I thought about and identified with the women (I surmised) who had made them, marveled at the quality of the lines and the strength of the design. I imagined myself sitting next to her, learning. I remember seeing hundreds of shards of great variety littering the ground, and I picked up some and put them in my pocket. I felt at the time that I had a certain entitlement to them; I had found them, and besides, if I didn't pick them up, someone else would. Today I regret having collected them.
I can't remember exactly where we visited or when I was there. My collection has long since lost its immediacy and charisma for me. The individual shards are still beautiful, but their connection to their site, and the precise places where they were found is long forgotten. The important information they once told about time periods, types of ceramics found within specific areas at a site, potential trade between sites, the density and variety of the scatter, clay sources, and information exchanged through design; all is lost.
The connections of artifacts to their sites and the reconnections of any bits of information back to the artifacts long since removed from their sites is vital. Retracing the source and original location of artifacts which was, the focus of the Wetherill-Grand Gulch Project, contributes to the understanding of the variations between prehistoric communities. Perhaps most important, we see our own connections with the past . We may then kindle a new respect for the landscape and for its people, past, present, and future.
It is the stories, the links that keep the artifacts alive. Information such as notes, family recollections, photos, diaries, maps connecting an artifact back to the site where it originally was found, all may be as important as the artifact itself. These artifacts, now of diminished value to archaeologists, tucked away in a box or displayed as family heirlooms, have history which should be preserved and recorded for future generations. Who found them? What were the circumstances? Where exactly were they found; in what associations? Record these stories before they are forgotten.
The only precise connections, however, are made when all artifacts, including potsherds and lithics, are left exactly where they were found- not "visitor-arranged" collections on "museum rocks", at sites. It may be too late for my shards in their box downstairs, but by using topographic maps, and questioning my parents about our travels, perhaps they can help me reconnect one or two of these to their place of origin. Long ago, however, I destroyed a portion of the information archaeologists might have used for piecing together an accurate picture.
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