Message #17:
From: AzTeC SW Archaeology SIG
To:   "'Matthias Giessler'" 
Subject: For Every Hour in the Field, There are 10 Hours of Lab Work and Writing
Date: Sat, 04 Jan 1997 22:18:35 -0700
Encoding: MIME-Version: 1.0

Archeological dig attracts variety of people
ANOTHER SHOVELFUL of dirt lands on the sifting screen and Kent Lang gets
to work. It's late morning and the sun is already baking the crew
working just above the Santa Clara River outside St. George, Utah.
Scattered around the low, treeless mesa, about a dozen men and women
gig, sift and measure in areas carefully marked off with stakes and
string. Lang runs his hands back and forth through the dirt and gravel,
picking out the larger rocks and discarding them. Gradually the smaller
bits fall through the screen, leaving an assortment of pebbles and
possible artifacts. A visitor joins in. But the gravel, dusted in the
rust-colored earth of southern Utah, all looks the same to him. "I see
three pieces that you just passed over," says Lang, a grizzle-bearded,
51-year-old student in the archaeology field school offered by the
Desert Research Institute and UNLV. Where? Lang just gives a mischievous
grin -- and a few hints. Look for three things, he says: uniform
thickness, a curving shape and smooth surfaces. A small rock seems to
fit the description, but it's rough on both sides, flunking the feel
test. Another piece, the size of a thumbnail, looks promising: It's
relatively thin, seems to curve, and (hey now!) is  smooth on the
inside. Lang nods in approval, licks his finger and cleans the inside of
the concave fragment. He holds it up in the bright sunlight. The shard
is bisected with the black band that characterizes the pottery of the
Anasazi, the "ancient ones" who flourished for  centuries in the
Southwest only to disappear about 800 years ago. Just like that, you're
hooked. You've just found a bit of a pot that's been buried for close to
a millennium and you want to find more. The pottery shard goes into a
labeled paper bag. The workers peel back the earth in 20-centimeter
layers, and new sets of bags are brought out for each one. Later this
year, back in the Desert Research  Institute labs in Las Vegas, the
contents will be analyzed. Eventually, the artifacts will end up at
Southern Utah University. But right now the search is the thing, as the
students, volunteers and teachers uncover what was once the sleeping
quarters, kitchen and food pantry for three to five 11th-century
families. "It's extremely interesting," says Lang, who's newly retired
from the auto parts business and taking the field school for credit.
"It's just like looking at the past." Mary Ann Cooke shovels another
pile of potential treasure onto Lang's screen. "That's exciting," she
says, "to see something for the first time in a very long time." Cooke,
a fiftysomething secretary for a Salt Lake City accounting firm, isn't
enrolled in the field school. She was down in St. George to visit her
parents when she heard
about the dig. She visited the site and decided to extend her stay a
week to help out. Volunteers Sharon and Tom Campbell tell a similar
story. The two Lebanon, Ore., teachers were up in Jackpot, Nev., on
their vacation when they read about the field school. It sounded like
fun, so they took a detour to come dig in the dirt. Jim Starr, a
74-year-old St. George-area resident, is also a volunteer. But as a 
member of the Utah Statewide Archeological Society, he's an old hand at
such digs. Why does he keep coming out to paw at the dirt in the hot
sun? "Don't know," he says, sitting back from his chore of scraping dirt
with a trowel from an ancient foundation of sandstone slabs. "My wife
thinks I'm nuts." The retired firefighter ruminates for a minute. "It's
the excitement of not knowing what you're going to find, of finding
something a thousand years old. "You get to see how they lived, what
they ate, how they made their arrowheads." Whatever the reasons,
archaeologists Paul Buck and Alan Simmons are glad for the help. There
is so much to do, they say during a break under a blue plastic tarp
they've strung up for shade. Time is running out. And not just for this
six-week field school. Once, there were close to  1,000 Anasazi sites in
Washington County along the Virgin and Santa Clara rivers, Buck says.
Now, after years of "looting and development," only about 50 to 100
remain. This site, thankfully, isn't slated for the bulldozer right
away, so the field school should be able to return next summer. What
have they learned so far? Everybody always asks that, Buck says with a
smile. "Most of what we learn comes from the lab work and the writing.
And for every hour in the field, there are 10 hours of lab work and
writing." There'll be plenty of time to piece it all together later.
Buck stands up and heads back out into the sun. Right now the clock is
running and it's time to get back to the task at hand: digging broken
bits of prehistory out of the desert.

by Ken McCall ,
Las Vegas SUN columnist
Las Vegas SUN archives