A Recollection from the Arroyo Hondo Project, Ann Palkovich, January 2016
My introduction to Southwestern archaeology came in the summer of 1972. After three summers of excavation experience in the Midwest, I was eager to explore archaeology more broadly and was curious about the American Southwest. That led me to apply to be a crew member for the Arroyo Hondo Archaeological Project. Though I had visited New Mexico as a kid, the desert landscape with its expansive sky and Puebloan ruins were all new to me.
It was the first day on the project that summer, and everyone on the crew was eager to get started. Grabbing shovels, we given a brief tour of the site and then shown the area that had been the focus of the previous season’s excavations. A series of rooms had been excavated and then partly backfilled to protect each room’s floor features. In order for the field supervisors to quickly assess our skills, we were asked to jump down into a room and begin clearing out the fill. No problem; I’d never seen an adobe room before but moving backfill was an easy task.
We each picked a room and set to work. Bob Powers was in a room to my left and Kit Causey was in a room to my right. Bob was a slender, wiry guy with inexhaustible energy. If someone hadn’t asked him to stop, he would have dug all the way to China. Kit had no previous field experience but was eager and very hard working. In a few minutes, they were working like madmen, dirt way flying in all directions.
At that point in my career, I’d only had experience digging Midwestern windblown loessic soils. Loess cuts like butter with a shovel and forms small clumps so one quickly becomes attuned to soil density. To be efficient as we dug, I’d learned to keep these dirt clumps together on my shovel. Then, if one flicks their wrist just right at the top of their swing, the dirt on the shovel stays together and hits the screen as one neat clod.
Besides never having seen an adobe room before, the sandy soil at Arroyo Hondo immediately presented it own challenges. Sandy soil just slumps, so excavations always look messy and the sand tends to spray off the end of your shovel as you dig. After a few minutes I found that, if I were careful, even this sand would loosely stay together if I flicked the shovel a certain way, tossing the sand up first in one smooth motion. Standing in the room, roughly eye level to the ground and reassured, I proceeded to create a neat pile of dirt. I’ve always enjoyed excavating, and keeping up with the guys – more or less—was no problem. As we worked away for a few minutes, I realized mine was the only neat pile of dirt. All the guys were working hard, but dirt was indeed flying everywhere. No matter, I felt I was holding my own. Later I would learn that I was the first woman Dr. Schwartz had ever hired for an excavation crew. This was not just an assessment of my excavation skills, this was really a test to see if I even knew how to use a shovel.
Then as I was about to toss my next shovelful of dirt, two boots appeared at eye level astride my neat pile of dirt. “Well”, I thought, “That’s fine if someone wants to stand that close, I’ll just keep shoveling”. And so I continued to shovel, each load of sand hitting the same precise spot. Three or four shovel loads later, I finally stopped and looked up. It was Doug Schwartz, observing silently as I worked. He smiled and walked away. It’s hard to know what he was thinking, but for me that initiation to Southwestern archaeology was a beginning. It led me to a career focused on bioarchaeology. It also was the beginning of my enduring relationship with Doug Schwartz as a professional mentor and a friend.