Up on top of a sage covered ridge northwest of Cortez, archaeologist Caitlin Sommers peered into a deep hole.
“This is the beginning of our story,” Sommers said.
Our story begins at the Dillard site, which is being excavated by Crow Canyon on the Indian Camp Ranch subdivision. The story, which has been pieced together over three years of excavation, tells a tale that began 1,500 years ago 5 feet down inside a great kiva. The kiva, which measures 33 feet across and 5 feet deep, is the oldest great kiva in the northern Mesa Verde region.
“This is when people decided to go full-blown agriculture,” Sommers said. “This right here is our story. We are still an agrarian society today.”
The Dillard site tends to get archaeologists very excited because it is a Basketmaker III site, a period during which ancestral Pueblo people made a shift from hunting and gathering to agriculture. Large communities started to form, and pottery was introduced.
“This site is part of a larger, global archaeological dialogue,” Sommers said.
Because of its significance, Time Team America, a PBS television show hosted by Justine Shapiro, arrived on scene to do their own research with their own (sometimes quite expensive) equipment and researchers.
The team descended onto the Dillard site about two years ago, and the show will finally air on Tuesday, Aug. 26 at 8 p.m. on Rocky Mountain PBS (check your local listings for exact time).
Nobody is quite as excited to see the show finally air as Jane Dillard, owner of the land.
Dillard, 82, fell in love with archaeology in 1987 after going on an excursion put on by Crow Canyon. She bought the land she lives on today, knowing that under the soil was a story of people long ago. That story will be told to an estimated 13 million people across the nation starting Tuesday night. The hourlong show features a lot of local images that many will enjoy seeing.
“All and all, I thought it was really well done,” said Dillard, who got to watch a screening copy of the show.
“Unfortunately, there is such a lag between the filming and the presentation, so many things have been discovered since,” Dillard said of the ongoing excavation.
Dillard let the crew from Time Team America set up in her basement during shooting. The premise of the show is to solve a mystery with their archaeology experts and equipment in three days. The team travels across the country. This season, the team also sets out to a Folsom bison kill in Oklahoma and a Civil War prison in Georgia.
“All and all, I thought it was a great experience. The group from Oregon Public Broadcasting were tremendous,” Dillard said.
During the filming, an additional 40 people were on Dillard’s land.
“It was extremely intense, I don’t know how these people do this on a day-to-day basis,” she said.
Mostly, Dillard is just happy that the show will finally air.
“People kept asking me, ‘When is it going to run?,’” she said.
Because of the underground sensing equipment that belonged to the show, the team was able to identify pit houses to the north of the great kiva.
“No one had any idea that those pit houses were to the north,” she said. “Time Team brought a whole new dimension to Crow Canyon’s exploration.”
The site itself isn’t something that would readily be recognized by the untrained eye. For an area famous for its massive, stone-built cliff dwellings, a Basketmaker III site has little to see. On a Basketmaker III site, archaeologists get excited about a change in the color of dirt, a rock that looks like it was worn down by a human hand and sand in an area otherwise surrounded by clay dirt. The people in the Basketmaker III period lived in homes made out of mud and wood, little remains of them today. But trained archaeologists can piece together the story.
In all, about 16 pit house structures are thought to have surrounded the great kiva on the Dillard site.
“Time Team America helped us understand that there was a village here,” Sommers said. “I’m standing on the floor of the main structure. This would have been their mud room.”
Sommers said she was pleased with the show because it showed the science behind archeology.
“Archaeology gets sensationalized in Hollywood,” she said. “They showed the process. Archaeology is a legitimate scientific field. This is not treasure hunting. The day and the life of an archaeologist is not Tomb Raider.”
In fact, the dig has yielded enough data to fill a text book, but very few whole pottery vessels.
“If you think about it, these people moved and took with them all the stuff they wanted. We have to piece together their story with what they left behind,” Sommers said.
Sommers plans to watch the show Tuesday with her family. Amanda Hernandez, who was on the site Wednesday, exposing holes that once held support beams for the pit house, said she sees herself a few times in the show in the background.
She is excited to watch the show again, with the rest of the nation, on Tuesday.
“It was so much fun to meet Justine,” Hernandez said.
Dillard is happy to see local archaeology, the very same archaeology that drew her to the area nearly 30 years ago, make it onto such a large national stage. The show can also be viewed on the website, pbs.org/time-team/home, after it airs. The show is titled “The Lost Pueblo Village.”
“It really is a tremendous opportunity, for academics archaeologists and the general public,” Dillard said.
On Tuesday night, Dillard will watch the show most likely from her home, she encourages others to watch it too.
“Everyone will learn something from watching it.”