Thursday, 25 April 2013

Who are they and what do they do? Arizona Archaeological and Historical Society

Interview at the 78th Society for American Archaeology Annual Meeting

Sarah Herr, Arizona Archaeological and Historical Society (AAHS)

When and why was the AAHS founded?
The AAHS was founded in 1916 when Tucson was still a young American town with a lot of archaeology yet to be discovered. Tucson is a place with over 4,000 years of continuous history. It was a natural place for a state museum focusing on archaeology, and this was founded in 1893, starting in small basements of buildings a on the campus of The University of Arizona. Over the years it accumulated a variety of Native American artefacts but remained underfunded so wealthy local businessmen set out to support the museum by establishing the society. The AAHS in a non-profit, volunteer organization that has remained affiliated with the Arizona State Museum throughout its almost 100 year history. In 1935, Father Victor Stoner a local and highly revered priest started the journal KIVA as a means to get the eminent Byron Cummings, director of the museum, to publish his research. That didn’t work particularly well, but the journal caught on and has become the most widely-known aspect of the society.
What are the main objectives of the AAHS as an organisation?
The AAHS is a binary organisation with a membership that is both avocational and professional. Examples of its goals to serve these audiences include:
Working with and teaching a local contingent of active members who are volunteers, about the archaeology and history of the region through lectures on ‘hot topics’ and field trips,

Supporting the work of professional archaeologists in the region through publishing the latest research on the region in the peer-reviewed journal KIVA

Helping students of archaeology with scholarships to attend field schools and national conferences such as the Society for American Archaeology annual meetings.

How does the importance of discoveries made in these regions compare to other regions in North America?
Arizona is part of the society’s name but our focus extends to the neighbouring states of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah and the northern Mexican of Sonora and Chihuahua.
The Greater Southwest is a unique place as there was a substantial Native American population and although they too were displaced and moved to reservations by the government they were not sent across the country but continue to live somewhat adjacent to their ancestral lands. Therefore there’s a long history in the region from 12,000 years ago to today. It’s not easy to trace back that far but the people are very connected to their past. Archaeologists in the region can use science and ethnography to collect information that we hope is of interest to descendant communities, about the histories and journeys of their ancestors.
It is also a semi-arid region where the archaeology is very well preserved. Arizona is where tree ring dating was developed, and sometimes archaeologists can date a site to a single year or season, so we can talk about archaeology in single human generations not just “eras” or “phases” as with other regions around the world. It is also known as the ‘laboratory of American archaeology’ as it is the best place to try out new methods and test theories, because we can talk about change more readily than is possible elsewhere.

Another reason that archaeology here is important is that Arizona shares a border with Mexico. On the other side of the international border, laws change about how you can practice archaeology and funding for projects becoming restricted. Most project funding stops at the US border. Traditional peoples and the archaeology don’t change over this line. Organisations like the AAHS provide the opportunity to learn more about Mexican archaeology and therefore the bigger picture of North American archaeology.
What is the single most important archaeological discovery made in these regions?
There are a lot of possible answers to these questions! I have two answers – it can be argued that significant discoveries have been made in Arizona in every century. This includes mammoth finds that reveal the human/animal relationships of the Paleoindians in the late Pleistocene era up to the history of Hopi and Zuni communities.

A couple of years ago the first canal-fed field systems were discovered in the region. This shed light on how agriculture, which started in Central America, moved  to North America in to the Tucson basin. You can see the canals coming from the river, where they dammed and even individual planting holes where corn, amongst other crops, was grown. This site has the potential to tell us about  knowledge farmers had as they moved into new environments.
We also have the ability to look at how important movement is to Native peoples. The Southwestern USA is a newly occupied place compared to Europe and the Old World. Paleoindians came to the New World more than 12,000 years ago and spread rapidly across the America from Alaska to the south American.  Later, people who spoke Athabaskan, the ancestors of the Navajo and the Apache peoples, have a different set of movements. The histories recalled by Native American groups in the Southwest are filled with stories of their travels and the places that recall their history. Their journeys can be charted through the landscapes rock art, and archaeological sites which are their “footprints.” The movement of peoples is a hot topic in archaeology and the archaeology of the Southwestern USA is no longer static, as we can match histories, stories and songs to the region from over half the continent.
What are the future plans of the AAHS?
The AAHS is approaching its 100th birthday in 2016. the all-volunteer Board is looking towards modernizing its services to membership with a better communication through an updated and improved website, making the monthly newsletter attractive to wider audiences, and making Kiva more available as publication practices transition from paper to electronic.

No comments:

Post a Comment