Thursday, January 21, 2010

Cedar Mesa Pot Shards-Edge of the Cedars Museum

Hikers in the Cedar Mesa area will often come across pottery shards near the many ruins sites. The Edge of the Cedars State Park museum in Blanding, Utah has a large collection of pottery with interpretive information explaining what is known about the manufacture and styles of pottery pieces that have been found. The presentation here emphasizes the basic colors of gray, white and red.

Grayware pottery gets its color from being fired in a low oxygen atmosphere. The most common were jars, with bowls and effigies being rare. The first Grayware, made from 500-700 AD, were made by building up coils and scraping the surface smooth. Many pieces resembled the dried gourds that were used as containers previously.
Later Grayware showed more indented corrugated patterns with the rims of pots became more flaring. Whiteware started about the same time as Grayware. These vessels were painted with a thin white clay wash called a slip, and then painted with black or left white. The early works were deep bowls with a design toward the bottom of the bowl.
Southeast Utah was a center for the production of San Juan Redware from 725 to 1050 AD. After 1050 the center for Redware shifted toward the Kayenta area and the newer styles were imported into southeast Utah. The Redwares were made from similar clays as the Whitewares, with the red color forming as the material was fired in a more oxidizing atmosphere. Abajo Red on Orange was the earliest of the San Juan Redwares.

Bluff Red on Orange was first discovered near the town of Bluff and was widely traded through the Four Corners area. The Deadman’s Black on Red added a polished dark red coating and was also widely traded. There is a good display of representative styles from around the Four Corners. The Chaco, Mesa Verde, and Kayenta styles are shown along with explanations of the differences. Along the trails we only see fragments but with this introduction we can at least make some guesses.

There is a large enclosed display of dozens of pots with a computer display in front. The computer allows the visitor to select a specific pot from the collection and view the details of that pot, such as style and date and in some cases where it was found. Near the main entrance of the museum is a display of discovery stories. Occasionally, a hiker will find a large intact artifact and these stories are told next to the object itself.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Edge of the Cedars Pueblo in Winter

The pueblo ruins site at Edge of the Cedars State Park in Blanding in southeast Utah is easy to access in winter despite heavy snow.

This is a site that appears to have had three lives. The first occupation lasted from 825 to 950 and the second from 1050 to 1125. In the early 1200s there was some remodeling with the site thought to be vacant during the intervals in between.

Then as now there were advantages to this location including the fine views of the nearby Abajo Mountains. The Edge refers to the biological boundary between the sagebrush fields and the Pinon Pine and Juniper forests. The trail here is short and visitors have to pass though the museum to get to the ruins site.
The excavated sections of the site show part of the Great House. About 17 rooms and two kivas are visible. There is an unexcavated Great Kiva on the south side, appearing as a circular depression.

The abutment joints of walls show that the site was remodeled over a period of time. The stones used in building the site are a mix of flat tabular sandstone that had to be carried a long distance and more local chunky rocks. In the chunky layers, small chinking stones were used.

The west kiva has been reconstructed and can be entered by climbing down a short ladder. During the winter, with deep snow on the ground, these deeper structures would have offered shelter from the cold. The fireplace and air circulation features aren’t found in the regular room blocks.

This pueblo site is exposed to the elements while many of the other sites to visit in the Cedar Mesa region are sheltered in alcoves. Other open sites in the area are the Mule Canyon site west along Utah Scenic By Way 95, and the Bluff Great House site near the town of Bluff.

There is also a sculpture near the ruins site that replicates some of the archaeoastronomy sites in the southwest. In some locations, spears of light hit spirals or other symbols on the significant days of the solar year. One site that I know of in the region is the panel near the Holly Ruins Group in Hovenweep National Monument. Chaco Canyon is also a site where ancient sky gazers were active.