The Archaeological Field School in the 1990s:
What is the role of the archaeological field school in the 1990s? How does it contribute to training archaeologists for conducting research in the multifaceted settings we now find ourselves in? Can an archaeological field school conduct research, provide training in field and lab techniques, and interact with the many different publics interested in our work?
When I first took over the directorship of the University of Arizona's Archaeological Field School in 1992, I had a chance to think about these questions in the design of my own field program. Over the past four years, I have had several positive experiences in aspects of both research and training that have involved working together with Native American groups, their employees, advisory groups, and tribal members. Some of these experiences were formalized from the outset of the project, some were fortuitous, and still others were planned and carried out after our project had been well underway. Each of these experiences has brought home the fact that research, teaching, and collaboration are not separate tracks, but necessary components for field schools in the 1990s.
My interest in the archaeology of prehistoric Western Pueblos led me to choose the Sitgreaves National Forest in east-central Arizona as the location for my field project. It was an area that had not seen much excavation in the past 50 years, yet was surrounded by areas that had been well studied -- including the Grasshopper area to the south, where the University of Arizona had conducted a field school for 30 years, and the Homol'ovi pueblos to the north, where the Arizona State Museum, also of the University of Arizona, continues to work.
Our research design includes the study of the changing social, economic, and political organization of prehistoric pueblos in the Silver Creek area, a tributary of the Little Colorado River. Three sites spanning the period of about A.D. 1100 to 1400 are being excavated. The earliest site was constructed within 100 years of a major migration into the area and has a circular masonry great kiva similar to great kivas found at Chaco outliers. The latest site, a 200-room pueblo known as the Bailey Ruin, was also occupied after an archaeologically recognizable migration into the area from the Colorado Plateau dating to the late 1200s. Our research is currently being funded by the University of Arizona, the National Science Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, and the U.S. Forest Service.
The U.S. Forest Service has been very supportive of the project and has worked hard to help us with the logistics of setting up a field camp at a former ranger station and arranging for special use permits. Although the excavations and camp are on Forest Service land, the project area falls within the traditional use areas of four southwestern tribes: Hopi, Zuni, White Mountain Apache, and Navajo. Before our ARPA permit could be issued, each one of these tribes was consulted by the Forest Service archaeologist. Our research design was submitted to each of the tribes, and we received constructive comments back from their representatives.
Explicit from the outset was our intention to avoid the excavation of human remains. If burials are encountered, our policy is to stop excavations in that unit and leave the remains in situ along with all of the associated artifacts. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed at the beginning of the project by a representative of each tribe, the Arizona State Historic Preservation Office, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. A formal procedure for review and research dissemination was set up in the memorandum: we submit our annual field report to the U.S. Forest Service archaeologist each fall, who then sends it out for review to each of the tribes.
Although formalized from the beginning of the project, the process of the review of our annual reports through the stipulations of the MOU has brought only indirect interaction over the past three years. As the Forest Service is the agency responsible for the administration of the permit, feedback has been filtered through the federal agency. In the past two years we have gotten very few comments back from the tribes. While this is an advantage for bureaucratic reasons, it is not satisfying as a collaborative experience. Instead, we have looked to other avenues of communication to supplement the one now legally required by our permit to provide us with more direct interactions.
One alternative is to present the results of our research in the context of meetings of tribal cultural advisory committees. Of the four tribes that signed the MOU, only one of them has a regularly scheduled meeting of their cultural advisors that is open to researchers to present their work and to receive feedback -- the Hopi Tribe. However, we were fortunate in having scheduled a trip to Hopi in the spring of 1995 that coincided with a joint meeting between the cultural advisory committees of both the Hopi and Zuni tribes. I discussed our research goals and described our future plans with the representatives of both tribes. From my perspective, the most important result of this meeting was that the cultural advisors got visual images of the sites we are working at and, more importantly, personal contacts were made and/or renewed. I already knew several of the Zuni tribal representatives from five years of employment at the Zuni Archaeology Program. This gave former colleagues a chance to see me in my new role, that of the university professor. I extended invitations to the tribal representatives to visit the project in the field the following summer.
The second alternative we have turned to is to have members of the cultural advisory committees of their respective tribes visit us in the field to discuss our research. The goal of these visits has been to promote a discussion of common interests in the research we are conducting in the area. Migration, ritual integration, aggregation, and changes in craft and subsistence production are major topics in our research design. These topics are also of great interest to the Native American groups in the Southwest.
I wrote a grant proposal to the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research that specifically asked for funding to support travel by members of the tribal cultural advisory groups to our field project. This research design explicitly does not assume that oral histories will provide a direct match to the archaeological record. Instead, we emphasize thematic parallels with archaeological interpretations that we can use to construct a dialog about forms of integration following migration that are of interest to archaeologists and non-archaeologists alike. We received our grant last summer and arranged for visits on the part of representatives of two of the four tribes who regularly review our reports: Zuni and White Mountain Apache tribes. This coming summer we hope to have representatives from the other two tribes' cultural advisory committees.
Last summer's visits by the White Mountain Apache and Zuni cultural advisory teams were very positive experiences for the tribal representatives, as well as the students and staff of the field school. At the outset of each visit, we stressed that any information gained through the visits would be reviewed before use in our research. An outline of topics of interest to us was given to each group.
The styles of interaction for each of the groups was very different. The Zuni used their visit to educate themselves about ancestral sites in the area. They pointed out the similarity of the great kiva we were testing to Village of the Great Kivas on the Zuni Reservation. This visit was tape-recorded and photo-documented by both parties. They were clearly using the visit to educate themselves about their ancestral sites as much as we were learning from them.
The White Mountain Apache group was also keenly interested in the archaeological sites, but for other reasons. They made it clear that the sites we were investigating were not their ancestral sites, but that the area in general was one that they had used for centuries. They described hunting, plant collecting, and other resource procurement in the area, giving us a window into recent environmental changes. We looked at an historic saw mill that many Apache people had worked in and discussed trails that led from the reservation to Anglo communities along the Little Colorado River. Because the White Mountain Apache were starting their own heritage center, they regarded the visit as a model for how members could conduct future trips to research sites. Their visit was publicized in The Fort Apache Scout, the White Mountain Apache tribal newspaper, in the context of new directions for their small museum and related activities of their advisory council.
These visits have had several important outcomes. First, they have demonstrated a willingness on the part of both the tribes and the university to establish a dialogue about common themes of interest. Second, the visits have shown the enrolled field school students how actively interested the tribes are in the archaeology of the area -- whether descendants of the prehistoric Western Pueblos, as in the case of the Zuni, or as more recent occupants of the same area, as in the case of the White Mountain Apache. Most of our students are not from the Southwest, and while a few have participated in constructing NAGPRA inventories in their respective home institutions, most have not had an active role in describing their activities to tribal members.
One of our enrolled students last summer was a tribal member from the Gila River Community, a southern Arizona tribe. She was able to see how other tribes were organized in providing archaeological input. The advisory team members, in turn, expressed an interest in having members of their own tribes participate in the field school.
One of the comments that I have heard from tribal representatives in the past is: What does archaeology do for us? The visitors we had last summer expressed a sincere interest in our work, but I know we could be doing more and doing it more effectively. Every year adds another dimension to collaboration. In the future we need several fully supported Native American students at the field school each year. Indeed, this might be a role for field schools in North America in years to come. We have been very fortunate to have two Native American students. One was recommended to us through academic channels, an undergraduate from the University of Pennsylvania who is now in graduate school at Harvard University. The other is the woman from Gila River Community, who is a full-time employee of her tribe's cultural resources program. Both of these students received full funding to attend the field school through scholarships in their home institutions. Funding for both of these students was key in allowing them the flexibility to attend the field school.
My strategy has been to maximize the diversity of students enrolled and to expose the students to issues through the visits described above as well as guest lectures by American Indian scholars and nontribal members employed by tribes in cultural and historic preservation. The feedback I have gotten from the tribes has been very positive. However, they would not have been able to participate in these visits without funding. As budgets are continually being slashed, it is more and more difficult for the tribes to fund their own travel. The funding we supplied was not major, but it made a difference in whether a tribal vehicle could be taken and whether the representatives could afford to miss a day of work.
After this stage of the project is completed, we will be working on a final interpretive report. The information we learned from our brief visits will have to be supplemented with more in-depth interviews. To the extent that we are able to publish the results, we will be able to integrate the varying types of information -- environmental, historical, and social -- into a narrative of the archaeology of Silver Creek that we hope will be of interest to all who have provided input.
Barbara J. Mills is at the University of Arizona.