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Experimental archaeology is used to help us understand the cost of an activity. Understanding how much time or raw material is necessary to build a granary, basket or ceramic pot can help us understand why ancient people made the choices they did.
In an archaeology seminar in Spring 2006, several graduate students proposed a study of prehistoric technology based on ideas from foraging theory, behavioral ecology, and the Tech Investment Model (Bright et al. 2002). This study involved experimental archaeology that tests the costs and benefits of varying levels of investment in several technologies: granaries, nets, snares, and digging technology. Several of these experiments have commenced in Range Creek with the help of field school students. Since recent archaeological work in the canyon began in the summer of 2002, some of the most striking features have been the variety of storage structures and rock art left behind by the native inhabitants. No location appears to have been out of the question for the construction of granaries out of stone, mud, and wood and the rock art of the canyon features numerous images painted in tones of red and yellow. Beyond their construction and aesthetic qualities, we began to ask questions about the amount of time and effort required to construct or create such impressive works. While it is easy to discuss such topics around camp at the end of the day it is quite another to actually recreate the process. Near the end of the 2006 field season, this is exactly what happened.
Building & Using a Granary
Next, building material had to be collected. Using the ranch truck, hundreds of pounds of rock and dirt loaded into the bed and dropped off at the building site. When construction began, the area under the boulder was cleared and leveled, then a layer of juniper bark, followed by a layer of rock and then mud were laid down to form the foundation. The granary was constructed on top of this and allowed to dry. After it was dried, cracks that had appeared were patched, allowed to dry again and then the granary was loaded with dried field corn (still on the cob) the capstone was placed and the entire structure was sealed and left for the winter.
Rock Art Experiments
With these experiments and others like them, we hope to answer or address several questions important to the archaeology of the canyon. These include requirements of time, materials, and manpower for construction and how those requirements might change as a result of more challenging locations; the techniques involved with native construction practices; and how effective were our experiments in terms of accomplishing their required tasks. Was the corn protected, from animals and weather over the course of the winter and how long will the rock art last in a completely exposed environment? Updates to these experiments will be posted as spring arrives and researchers are able to once again access the canyon and check on their condition.