Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The last three days have been awe-inspiring! We've hiked throughout Mesa Verde National Park. Although the high desert mesa populated with sagebrush, scrabble Pinyon Pines and Juniper, is compelling, the history here that we can walk through, touch, and come to understand is complex and very rich. First I learned that Anasazi is not quite the correct term to use. Ancient Puebloan peoples is far more accurate, since many different cultural groups have lived in this four-state area (Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona), stretching into northern Mexico, and connected by trade. The Ancestral Puebloans moved into Mesa Verde about 600-900 AD and lived here until about 1300, with many changes in architecture and lifestyle. And then they simply left Mesa Verde.

This history is so complex, I don't know where to begin. We did start with the Classic period Cliff Palace (c. 1190-1280), admired the stone masonry in this complex of 150 rooms and 23 kivas tucked under a sandstone cliff. We climbed down a 8 foot ladder into a kiva, a ceremonial underground room reconstructed for tourists to explore, complete with wooden roof. Above the kiva, its wooden roof covered over with adobe, the pueblo village life would have gone on. At the museum in the park, some of the artifacts recovered included this kiva jar, purpose unknown; I can only admire the pure lines of this beautiful piece.

I'd like to buy a book that explains the symbols and styles of these very diverse forms of pottery and basketry (actually baskets were woven before the Puebloan peoples learned how to make pottery), but I'm not sure yet which book is most "true" to what we are seeing. Perhaps this next story will tell why.

I had picked up a book on petroglyphs earlier, one written by an author well steeped in Western tradition, who explained that raised hands meant prayer. But, yesterday we hiked a 2.8 mile Pictograph Point trail, so named for the petroglyph wall that awaits after a somewhat ardous climb up rock steps and following sliprock ledges overlooking the canyon far below. We actually did climb a portion using toe holds, although these were far easier than the toeholes that appear on the two level Tower House (see photo to the left). When we reached the wall of petroglyphs, a maze of symbols greeted us. I could pick out figures with hands raised and could make some assumptions. Then I read the Petroglyph Trail Guide to find an explanation of a portion of the wall provided by four Hopi men from northwestern Arizona, back in 1942.

The line of petroglyphs they translated shows the emergence of the people from the earth (Grand Canyon) to the end of their migration, with kachinas helping them as the different clans (Eagle, Parrot, Mountain Sheep, Horned Toad) were formed. Here's a picture of the Kachina instructing the people.

I'll keep looking for a good book on how to "read" the pottery and the petroglyphs (Ha, an excuse to hit the library and used book stores). Tomorrow morning, we head south to Chaco Canyon, over a 16-mile gravel/dirt road, to further explore the Puebloan culture. Make it a good week! Beth

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