Written In Rock: Reflections on Our Time in New Mexico
By John Fryar
I am an enrolled tribal member of the Pueblo of Acoma in New Mexico and a retired criminal investigator. For many years I’ve specialized in and dedicated myself to the protection and preservation of archaeological sites, Native American burials and human remains, items of cultural patrimony, and other artifacts left by our ancestors.
Earlier this spring a group of people from Azerbaijan made their first trip to the United States to visit the Pueblo communities of New Mexico, which like their own communities, have a unique relationship with the ancient rock carvings of their country. These lasting footprints of our ancestors are better known among conservationists as petroglyphs. The Azerbaijani participants in Written in Rock included Elvin Abdullayev, Diana Farajova, Humay Mammadzada, Namil Mammadov, Nurana Shahbazova, and Novruz Pashayev. Here they met with their counterparts Ann Brierty of Laguna, Lorraine Caté of Santo Domingo, Lee Francis of Laguna, Harold Joseph of Hopi, Jonathan Sims of Acoma, and me. In addition meeting in New Mexico were Malahat Farajova, director, and Rehman Abdullayev, staff member, of the Gobustan National Preserve, Azerbaijan; Larry Loendorf and Laurie White, of the non-profit organization Sacred Sites; and Claire Eckert, of the Smithsonian's Office of Policy and Analysis, and Carolyn McClellan, of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian.
The focus of the Written in Rock program is to bring people together in a cultural exchange program geared towards the protection and preservation of petroglyphs (rock art). As with the Pueblo participants’ trip to Azerbaijan in October 2012, this week was a whirlwind of activity.
Our first meeting was at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center where Marth Becktell, museum director, gave us a brief overview of the cultural center, the museum, and the exhibits. We were provided with a tour of the exhibit 100 years of State and Federal Policy: The Impact on Pueblo Nations. The tour was led by Written in Rock Pueblo participants Lee Francis and Jonathan Simms who were involved with the creation of the exhibit, and Lorraine Caté, who was recently hired as an educational coordinator at the cultural center. The exhibit was a wonderful learning experience for everyone, and the in-depth commentary and knowledge of the Pueblo guides regarding the displays was powerful. It created a greater understanding of how government policies have impacted and shaped the Pueblo world today.We had another brief tour of the exhibit A:shiwi A:wan Ulohnanne: The Zuni World, a Zuni Map Art Exhibition, which features a Zuni map-painting that depicts the Colorado Plateau as a cultural and sacred landscape. The exhibit is intended to open the mind to a world where all things are living. We finished our visit with a tour of the permanent exhibit titled, Our Land, Our Culture, Our Story, which provides a brief historical overview of the Pueblo world, along with a contemporary exhibit of original artwork and craftsmanship from each of the 19 Pueblos of New Mexico. We had experienced a similar exhibit at the Azerbaijan State Carpet Museum, where we were shown examples of weaving techniques and materials from various older time periods and the newer contemporary patterns exhibited in Azerbaijani rugs and carpets.
We concluded the day with a trip to the Petroglyph National Monument, which is located within Albuquerque's city limits and illustrates the impact that an urban environment can have upon a cultural landscape. We discussed the delicate balance of trying to preserve and protect these ancient markings and sacred areas from the encroachment of today’s urban dwellers. Sometimes the attention paid to an area, such as the Petroglyph Monument, has unintended consequences, such as being loved too much by overuse. This is in stark contrast to the petroglyphs we saw at Gobustan, which aren't threatened by the encroachment of urban sprawl (yet).
The following day would find us experiencing places such as Gran Quivira and Abo, research sites within the Salinas National Monument. We were provided a tour of Gran Quivira where we learned of the Spanish Colonial quest for dominance over the original inhabitants of the area. Today the Spanish mission still stands tall over the rubble mounds of the original pueblo. At Abo, we experienced rock paintings that for many members of the group were very spiritual. The majority of these drawings and paintings were associated with salt. Unbeknownst to most members of the group prior to viewing the paintings, there are areas a relatively short distance away where salt was traditionally gathered. Unfortunately, these salt lakes are now located on private land and are inaccessible for gathering salt. In Azerbaijan we had also learned of salt gathering and trade routes. In 2010 archaeologists published research showing that the Duzdagi salt deposits, located in the Araxes Valley in Azerbaijan, hold the oldest known salt mine in the world. Intensive salt production was carried out at this site at least as early as 3500 B.C.
Our trip to Acoma was surely a cultural experience for our Azerbaijan guests. Here we visited Acoma Pueblo, purported to be the oldest continually inhabited village in the United States. (Of course our Hopi brother would respectfully disagree. <Smile.>) Acoma is located in west central New Mexico on a mesa 365 feet above the valley floor. The name Acoma is from the Acoma and Spanish word acoma, or acú, which means "the place that always was" or "People of the White Rock."
In 1598, during the Spanish conquest of what is now the southwestern United States, Juan de Oñate took revenge on Acoma for the killing of his nephew and 11 of his men. Oñate burned most of the village and killed more than 600 people and imprisoned approximately 500 others. The prisoners were forced into slavery, and men over 25 years old had their right foot amputated. Today holes in the cemetery wall on the south side can still be seen. These holes were placed in the wall for the Acoma slaves who were taken south into what is now Mexico and did not return.
While at Acoma we were treated by the family of Jonathan Simms to a traditional Pueblo feast. This consisted in part of roast lamb, lamb stew, roast squash, squash stew, homemade tamales, red and green chilis, oven bread, and Indian tea. Interestingly, the meal was somewhat similar to the meal we were provided when we visited the sheep herders’ camp in Azerbaijan. Both were such treats! It was great to see our Azerbaijan brothers and sisters enjoying chili from the Southwest. During this meal our Azerbaijan guests provided everyone with a sampling of dried fruits and nuts in an arrangement of candles and newly planted grass. They had brought these gifts to share with us as a celebration of Novruz, the Azerbaijan spring holiday that takes place in March of each year. This was a true blending of cultures by the sharing of food and traditions from different parts of the world.
Our last day in the field found us at Tsankawi, part of the Bandelier National Monument, near Los Alamos, New Mexico. We walked trails that were cut and worn deep into the rock by their continued use from ancient times. We climbed wooden ladders to the top of the mesa, where we could stand and witness the beauty of the surrounding area and cultural landscape. We watched as the pollen from the juniper trees would “pop” in the breeze, making it appear like a puff of smoke rising from the valley floor. We watched as the crows and a hawk watched us from above. This was a spiritual place to many within the group.
Our hike on the loop trail through the Ancestral Pueblo site provided an opportunity for our Azerbaijan guests to see what a plaza looks like in ruins. The previous day we had been able to show them a plaza at Acoma still in use today. They could visualize what Tsankawi might have looked like had the buildings still been standing at this ancient place. We were able to show them many examples of pottery shards and pieces of broken arrowheads and stone tools that were still on site. They were able to witness sacred areas and participate in prayers and the offering of corn meal at this place. We also witnessed the many examples of rock writings, some telling of migration, some of settlement, and some of spirituality. For many of us, the day could have all been spent at this place.
As in Azerbaijan, we had an opportunity to make a presentation as a group. This time it was at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. Pueblo participant Lorraine Caté, who is also student at the school, made the arrangements for the presentation. We had a warm reception from students and staff, and the presentation provided our Azerbaijan colleagues an opportunity to showcase their country and Pueblo participants a chance to reflect on the Written in Rock program.
We ended the week with a wonderful presentation by Nancy Olson, a rock art specialist, who had recorded petroglyphs over much of Pajarito Mesa, in the area where Tsankawi is located. Over many years she has compiled drawings and documentation that will benefit researchers for years to come.
We spent the rest of our time together talking about the future and what we wish to accomplish with the knowledge we all gained from the Written in Rock project. All participants greatly benefited from the program because of this knowledge, the cultural aspects of the project, and our greater understanding of the similarities and differences of our respective cultures.
Written in Rock is a partnership of the Gobustan Preserve, the Smithsonian Office of Policy and Analysis, and the National Museum of the American Indian, and is funded by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the American Alliance of Museums.