Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Centuries on the Colorado Plateau

We were taking a tour of Underground Seattle about a year ago, and the comedian tour guide, during the "warm up" for the tour, asked, "Is there anyone here from Europe?" Seeing a few hands go up, he quickly responded, "Great. You'll be happy to know that we have buildings here over 100 years old."

That was funny, yet upon reflection we felt some discomfort--our sense of history may be a bit ethnocentric.

One component of our eight-month time on the road has been our education about the Native American peoples. The most recent setting in which to continue this education was the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff. The Museum's award-winning permanent anthropology exhibit, "Native Peoples of the Colorado Plateau," documents 12,000 years of occupation in the region.

The Colorado Plateau encompasses the Four Corners country of southern Utah, southwestern Colorado, northwestern New Mexico, and northern Arizona. It was here that the Anasazi ("Ancient Ones"), thought to be ancestors of the modern Pueblo Indians, inhabited from about A.D. 200 to A.D. 1300, leaving a heavy accumulation of house remains (like this mug, jar, and pot) and debris.

The pottery of the Anasazi can be classified into periods depending on the colors, shapes, and designs. Some other examples of the pottery of the Colorado Plateau are shown here.

Pottery was functional; it was not formed as a work of art. So, this piece was either a ceremonial object or served some purpose in the care for a bird.

In another exhibit, a Hopi kiva, or sacred chamber, is decorated with a modern mural recreating ancient stories of emergence and traditional Hopi life. A kiva is a large, usually subterranean chamber used as an assembly room in religious rites and as a men's dormitory. It is commonly lighted and entered from an opening in the roof.

Often the paintings in the kiva are prepared for a special celebration. One display in the Museum showed how the paintings can be "peeled off." One kiva had 100 layers of paintings that were removed in this fashion.

Another display showed Hopi Katsina dolls that were carved in the 1940s. These dolls appear in certain ceremonies. They have the power to bring rain, exercise control over the weather, help in many of the everyday activities of the villagers, punish offenders of ceremonial or social laws, and, in general, to function as messengers between the spiritual domain and mortals.

An item of more recent origin is this 9' x 12' Navajo rug woven in 1968.

In the Geology Exhibit area, we found this "volcano bomb" (below). It was believed to have come from Flagstaff's beautiful San Francisco Peaks, now a large, dormant volcano. Such a "bomb" is formed when molten material is thrown into the air by explosions and becomes partially solidified before falling to the ground. The result of this brief period in the air is the aerodynamic shape shown.

Finally, a highlight of this gallery is a life-size skeletal model of Dilophosaurus, a 20-foot long, carnivorous dinosaur found in northern Arizona. Dilophosaurus lived about 201 to 189 million years ago, during the early Jurassic period.

Our education continues.

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