By John Fryar
Written in Rock, a conservation and cultural exchange project, has brought together people from Azerbaijan; Hopi and the Pueblos of Acoma, Laguna, and Santo Domingo ; and the Smithsonian. Abo, New Mexico, March 2013. Photo 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
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
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.
Listening to a guide at Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico, March 2013. Photo by John Fryar.
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
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
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.
Hiking the Tsankawi in New Mexico, March 2013. Photo by John Fryar.
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.
"Graduation Day" for participants of the conservation and cultural exchange project Written in Rock. Photo by John Fryar.
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.