Message #385:

From: AzTeC SW Archaeology SIG

To:   Matthias Giessler

Subject: Jello History in Calabacillas Arroyo

Date: Sat, 06 Dec 1997 08:31:15 -0700

In the basement of a bland government building, Michael Wallace and his
assistants are crafting everything from dinosaur bones to Jell-O boxes out
of clay.  It's all part of an innovative project designed to turn the walls
of the Calabacillas Arroyo, on Albuquerque's west side, into a history
lesson. The 22-year-old section of the arroyo needs to be rebuilt to handle
future growth, but the Albuquerque Metropolitan Arroyo Flood Control
Authority isn't planning to put in standard concrete levees.  Instead, the
agency has hired Wallace to make it look like water has cut a deep channel
through the layers of Albuquerque's history. The walls will be made of
several hues of tinted shotcrete, a sprayed-on concrete. The bottom portion
will be covered with a mixture of native soil and cement.  Because the
Calabacillas Arroyo is one of the region's main aquifer recharge windows,
the bottom of the channel will remain unlined to allow storm water to seep
down into the ground.  But embedded in the walls of the channel will be
fossils from the Mesozoic Era, which began about 230 million years ago, to
the present -- what Wallace calls "anacroliths" or rocks out of time. "I
thought if a real fossil can tell part of the story of Earth's history,
then I could make fake fossils to tell the story of human history," he
said. "I thought it would be great public art because you're using a
geological metaphor for history." A walking path will run along the north
side of the arroyo. The wall of the arroyo will begin with the bones of a
20-foot-tall Pentaceratops, a five-horned dinosaur unique to New Mexico,
and a tyrannosaurus Rex. Across the arroyo will be a section on the early
Cenozoic Era when large mammals such as mastodons, camels and saber-toothed
tigers roamed the Southwest. Part of that section, which is being designed
by Wallace's collaborator, Mike Certo, will focus on the evolution of the
rhinoceros. "It's a little-known fact that rhinos were quite prevalent in
North America and the Southwest," Wallace said. In fact, rhinos got their
start here millions of years ago, said Spencer Lucas, curator of
paleontology and geology at the New Mexico Natural History Museum. "Rhinos
actually originated in North America," he said. "We have this rich fossil
record of the rhinoceros in New Mexico." Lucas, who is lending his
scientific expertise to the project, said it has lots of value as an
educational tool. "I'm really happy that someone's willing to do more than
just put in blank concrete there," he said. "In Albuquerque when you look
out the window, you see a tremendous amount of geological history and I'm
not sure people are aware of that." The Jell-O box comes in further along
the arroyo. Spies at Los Alamos National Laboratory once used the placement
of a Jell-O box to signal each other when there was new information
available, said Jim Wadell, historian at the National Atomic Museum at
Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque.  People may not recognize the
Jell-O box as part of New Mexico's role in the history of the atom, but
that's OK, Wallace said. "Part of what I'm aiming for from an artistic
standpoint is that some of these things are going to be obvious and some of
them are going to be not so obvious," he said. " I want people to be
puzzled and stimulated to learn more." Eventually, he hopes to get funding
for a guidebook for the project. 
In between the prehistoric and modern sections are segments on the
pre-Columbian, Spanish Colonial, Territorial, World War II and post World
War II eras. Wallace is even leaving a blank "future layer" near the river.
To get all the artifacts he'll need, Wallace has drawn three museums and
five elementary schools into the project. 
Mark O'Gawa's fourth- and fifth-grade class at Comanche Elementary School
picked "toys and wheels through the ages" for its theme. "We wanted to try
to do something the kids are directly involved with," O'Gawa said.  The
class will focus on the wheels of skateboards, roller blades and old
steel-wheeled roller skates. Carrie McGill's Zia Elementary School class
will choose artifacts that tell the story of trade in New Mexico.
"Hopefully, by the end of this year I should have about 100 objects from
these kids made in clay and ready for me to cast in concrete," Wallace
said.  Larry Blair, AMAFCA's outgoing executive engineer, said he hopes the
project will help Albuquerque to make more of its rich geologic history.
"If we could pick up on that theme for Albuquerque as a whole, I thought it
could be interesting," he said. Blair hopes AMAFCA's project also will
convince others that it's easy to include the shapes, forms and colors of
the region's natural geology into major structures such as bridges and
roadways. Although the design presents some engineering challenges, Blair
is confident contractors will be able to make it work. Construction should
begin early next year. The entire project is expected to cost about $1.79
million, including about $128,000 for the art. Adding the artistic features
increased the cost of the project 7 percent to 8 percent.  

AP-WS-12-05-97 1510EST EDITOR NOTES With AP Photo