What Travel Writers Say

Digging up the past

© By Mike Keenan
  Look what I found Stephen Spielberg and Harrison Ford have stimulated more interest in archeology through the Indiana Jones' movies than the average museum, even those with a visiting King Tut exhibit. Four miles northwest of the town of Cortez (off Hwy 491) in spectacular southwestern Colorado, there's an opportunity literally to dig up the dirt on someone, which requires a trowel and a whisk. The Crow Canyon Archaeological Center is a 170-acre research site, dedicated to understanding, teaching, and preserving the rich history of the ancestral Pueblo Indians (also called the Anasazi) who inhabited the scenic canyons and mesas of the Mesa Verde region over 700 years ago.
     Apparently, American history did not begin in 1492. With one of the densest concentrations of well-preserved archaeological sites in the world, the Center attracts ample numbers of archaeologists and volunteers alike. Students live in Navajo hogans, the informal dress code consisting of a modest pair of jeans. On view are the dazzling 13,000-foot peaks of the La Plata Mountains, and because this is a learn-by-doing environment, imagine the thrill of suddenly unearthing a thousand-year-old artifact!
     Since 1983, hundreds of would-be archeologists of all ages and nationalities have arrived to work here beside bona fide archaeologists and anthropologists excavating an average of 75,000 artifacts per year. The Goodman Point Pueblo, an ancient Pueblo village inhabited during the late 1200s is a recent excavation that has entered its second phase of digs.
     Why the interest in digging up the past? Joyce Alexander, Communications Specialist, tells me, "I've talked to people who come back here year after year. Of course the scenery and the landscape are a big draw, but I think most of all, the sense of discovery and the feeling of connecting to ancient cultures in a very personal way-that's what brings them back."
     In the Excavation Program, you work side-by-side with professional archaeologists, excavating at the current site and assisting in artifact analyses that are vital to the reconstruction of ancient life ways. An Archaeology Lab Program helps make one aware that for every day in the field, an archeologist requires four more in the lab. Fees for each program average $1,300.
     Mark Varien, Program VP claims that "More than any other area of study, archaeology examines the full scope of what it means to be human. Students put their own lives and their own culture in the context of the larger human experience. When they do this they come to appreciate, understand, and value cultural diversity, but they also come to realize that despite our cultural differences there is even more that we share as human beings."
     Summer camps for teens are designed to engage young people in the study of the past through hands-on activities, lively discussions, and unique field trips. A high school week-long camp involves excavation of an actual archaeological site and work with ancient Pueblo artifacts in the lab. Fees range from $1,175 to $1,300. There's a middle school camp for younger students. Fees range from $1,175 to: $1,300.
     School Group Programs offer experiential learning for grades 4-12. Students may participate in Pueblo games, learn how to weave textiles and excavate a real or simulated archaeological site. Programs vary in length from one to five days; the number and types of activities offered depend upon grade level, program length, and group size. Fees range from $117 to $700.
     The Archaeology Day Tour program is a one-day adventure that provides participants with a basic understanding of ancestral Pueblo history, making visits to local museums and archaeological sites much more rewarding. Nearby archaeological attractions include Mesa Verde National Park, the Anasazi Heritage Center, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, Hovensweep National Monument, and Aztec Ruins National Monument. Costs are: Adults (ages 18+): $50 and Children (ages 10 to 17): $25.

Analysis in the field  Back at the lab  Generations share discovery  Happy diggers 

     Mark Varien adds, "One of our favorite programs at Crow Canyon is Family Week. These programs attract grandparents, parents, and children-or a niece and nephew and their favorite aunt or uncle. It is so rewarding to work with these families who love one another and who have chosen to spend a week with us at Crow Canyon to learn about the human past."
     Further afield, Crow Canyon offers educational trips that highlight Pueblo cultures in the American Southwest including Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado and international trips involve sites such as Bolivia and Peru, (Tiwanaku, Cuzco, Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca), Syria and Jordan, and Lebanon and Chiapas, Mexico.
     And, if you eventually tire of getting your hands dirty and sweeping away ancient debris, you can sign up for a series of lectures in December's Distinguished Lecturers series. Check the website for more details on tuition, lodging, meals, etc., as well as transportation.
     Just think, some day roughly two thousand years from now, a couple of archeology students stumble upon our remains. What will they make of the iPhone? By then, it will seem archaic. People will have discovered how to transmit thoughts merely by using newly developed regions of the brain. Our "culture" will seem so passé then, but perfect for archeologists.

Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.

Photo Credits
Courtesy: Crow Canyon Archaeological Center

If you go
Crow Canyon Archaeological Center
as seen on
Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, 23390 Road K, Cortez, CO 81321, 800-422-8975 or 970-565-8975, www.crowcanyon.org
Colorado Tourism: http://www.colorado.com/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crow_Canyon_Archeological_District
Wikitravel: http://wikitravel.org/en/Mesa_Verde_National_Park

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