Unearthing new mysteries

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Unearthing new mysteries

Find near Dove Creek dates back to 900 A.D.
Bud Henderson, of Cottonwood, Ariz., hold out a piece of corrugated pottery he discovered while excavating at the Champagne Springs site on Monday.
Kay Miller, of Lakewood, Colo., displays some of the artifacts picked from her sifting screen at the Champagne Springs archaeological dig on Monday. Pieces of pottery and bone are among the most common finds at the site.
David Dove, right, principal archaeologist at the Champagne Springs site, discusses dig methodology with Jim Graceffa, president of the Verde Valley Archaeological Center, at the dig on Monday, May 28.
Diane Graceffa, Camp Verde, Ariz., takes specific notes for artifacts found in the field at the Champagne Springs archaeological dig.
Tom Hoff, Randee Fladeboe, Diane Sangster and Michael Barham each work on their own section of a Pueblo II era structure at the Champagne Springs archaeological dig on Monday.
RJ Smith, right, and Ken Kaemmerle, both of the Verde Valley Archaeological Center, wrap string around a charred roof beam to stablize it for dendrochronology testing. The testing will determine the age of the beam, and the structure.
Bud Henderson, of Cottonwood, Ariz., carefully works his way through a patch of soil in a kiva structure at the Champagne Springs dig on Monday.
Heavy sifting: volunteers big part of dig

Archaeological digs are completed a centimeter at a time, each movement orchestrated and calculated to ensure nothing is missed or damaged and the record of the dig is complete. Due to the precise nature of the activity, most digs are completed by archaeologists with years of experience in the minutiae of excavation. As there is little room for error, there is little room for amateurs.
The excavations at the Champagne Springs site south of Dove Creek have turned conventional wisdom on its head, welcoming professional and amateurs alike to sift through the fine soil of the site and piece together the history of a community.
A private dig owned, and primarily financed, by local archaeologist David Dove, the Champagne Springs site has become a field school of sorts for members of the Colorado and Arizona archaeological societies. In 2011 and again this year, Dove has offered hands-on training for armchair archaeologists at four day dig sessions.
“We have some professionals who come to the digs, but mostly we have volunteers and amateurs,” Dove said. “We have had people from Colorado and Arizona and Utah come and be part of this. It is a great opportunity for people to get a feel for what archaeology is about and how the process is completed.”
During the most recent field school at the site, held May 25-28, nearly 40 volunteers set up camp on the edge of the site and spent their days in the dirt, hoping to uncover clues to a lost history.
The majority of volunteers during the first field school of 2012 were from the Verde Valley Archaeology Center in Camp Verde, Ariz. The center is a nonprofit organization “dedicated to the care, management and use of archaeological artifacts found throughout the Verde Valley region,” according to the center’s website.
Jim Graceffa, president of the Verde Valley Center, was present at the field school last weekend and said digs of this nature are a rare opportunity for those with an avocational interest in archaeology.
“In Arizona, the chance for an experience like this are really limited because the state does not believe in excavating any more sites,” Graceffa said, while taking notes on artifacts discovered in a pit structure. “To be able to come here and excavate and be involved in a hands-on manner is a real treat and learning experience.”
Melanie Falcone, also with the Verde Valley group, said the field school was her first experience with archaeology and she was surprised at how the work changed her perspective.
“I came here with a good, healthy respect for the process and the people, but by the third day, that respect was tenfold,” Falcone said. “This is an amazing experience and you really learn about the process.”
Rather than relegating the newbies to a specific section of the dig or simply assigning them to man the sifting screens, Dove believes in training, and trusting, his volunteers.
“We teach them what they need to do and then use them to proceed in the dig,” Dove said. “They are all incredibly conscientious and here for the right reasons and they do really incredible work.”
Excavating is completed 20 centimeters, or less, at a time, with hand tools digging carefully into the soil. Every scoop of dirt is sifted and every artifact that is discovered is catalogued with precision. The goal is to create an overall picture of the site, and the community, for the archaeological record. Nothing is removed from the context in which it was found.
“We keep track of every movement, every artifact,” Dove said. “Everything is recorded and studied.”
For the amateurs among the group, it is an opportunity for hands-on learning and a chance to discover a piece of history. Nearly every inch of the dig is full of artifacts and those working the site are able to handle and examine the relics of history.
Dove has scheduled two more field schools for this year, July 6-9 and August 17-20. The schools are open to any member of the Colorado or Arizona archaeological societies.
For more information on field schools and the Champagne Springs site, visit www.fourcornersresearch.com.

Reach Kimberly Benedict at kimberlyb@cortezjournal.com.

Unearthing new mysteries

Bud Henderson, of Cottonwood, Ariz., hold out a piece of corrugated pottery he discovered while excavating at the Champagne Springs site on Monday.
Kay Miller, of Lakewood, Colo., displays some of the artifacts picked from her sifting screen at the Champagne Springs archaeological dig on Monday. Pieces of pottery and bone are among the most common finds at the site.
David Dove, right, principal archaeologist at the Champagne Springs site, discusses dig methodology with Jim Graceffa, president of the Verde Valley Archaeological Center, at the dig on Monday, May 28.
Diane Graceffa, Camp Verde, Ariz., takes specific notes for artifacts found in the field at the Champagne Springs archaeological dig.
Tom Hoff, Randee Fladeboe, Diane Sangster and Michael Barham each work on their own section of a Pueblo II era structure at the Champagne Springs archaeological dig on Monday.
RJ Smith, right, and Ken Kaemmerle, both of the Verde Valley Archaeological Center, wrap string around a charred roof beam to stablize it for dendrochronology testing. The testing will determine the age of the beam, and the structure.
Bud Henderson, of Cottonwood, Ariz., carefully works his way through a patch of soil in a kiva structure at the Champagne Springs dig on Monday.
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