What better way to get a sense of what it was like for the ancestral Pueblo Indians to live and work in the Mesa Verde region hundreds of years ago than to try out the kinds of tools they used in everyday life? When students at Crow Canyon feel the spring of a spear from an atlatl or test their patience starting a fire using a fireboard and spindle stick, they come to appreciate the skill, ingenuity, and sophistication of the people who lived in the region more than 700 years ago.
|Paul Ermigiotti splits a piece of wood in preparation for creating a fireboard. |
Certainly experiential activities are the best way to get a feel for ancient Pueblo life, but the tools that people used in earlier times must somehow be recreated for students to try out during Crow Canyon education programs. Fortunately, two Crow Canyon educators, Paul Ermigiotti and Becky Hammond, are skilled in creating simulations of ancient tools, pottery, blankets, and toys. Using materials such as oak, cottonwood, leather scraps, willow branches, feathers, yucca leaves, and imitation sinew, Becky and Paul create a variety of tools and toys for students to try out firsthand.
"Looking at a picture of an object is OK," Paul said. "But actually holding and using the object makes the whole experience more real." Paul creates many of the objects used in Crow Canyon lessons, such as pottery, atlatls and spears, bone and stone tools, feather and rabbit blankets, game equipment, and looms. Paul is an accomplished potter, specializing in ancient Pueblo black-on-white pottery replication using local materials and techniques believed to have been used by ancient potters. Except for some studio classes taken just after completing his anthropology degree at Penn State, Paul is self-taught.
Becky Hammond contributes her talents to the creation of pottery and the spinning tops and other toys students enjoy as they learn about Pueblo games at Crow Canyon’s Pueblo Learning Center. "I like the connection of using the types of things that were used in the past," she says. In a recent workshop for Hopi educators, she taught participants how to make the spinning tops. One of the educators in the workshop was thrilled—she remembered playing with them as a child.
Becky is a graduate of the Institute of American Indian Arts, where she studied traditional pottery under Otellie Loloma and Manuelita Lavoto, both respected artists and American Indian arts educators. Becky is also an accomplished beadworker and has shown her work at local and regional galleries.
|Paul finishes a kiva jar that will be used|
during Crow Canyon's simulated
Several more staff members have also contributed to the tool-making effort. Members of Crow Canyon’s research and education department joined with volunteers this month to create fireboards and spindle sticks in a group session.
Both Paul and Becky agree that calling the objects they create "replicas" may be a little misleading. "They’re simulations of things, interpreted through our eyes, and based on what we’ve learned about them through academic publications and seeing them in museums," Paul said. "They're clouded through our vision." And, of course, some of the tools have to be modified for student use, such as including blunt rubber tips on spears!
A recent grant from the State Historical Fund, a program of History Colorado, the Colorado Historical Society, supported this project. Thanks to their generosity— and Becky's and Paul's skill and hard work—Crow Canyon students have the unique opportunity to get a "hands-on" connection to the past and an appreciation for the challenges of daily life hundreds of years ago.
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Come to Crow Canyon for a school group program or teen camp to discover what life was like for the ancestral Pueblo Indians who lived in the Mesa Verde region more than 700 years ago. Throw a spear with an atlatl, start a fire without matches—all our experiental learning activities will capture the imagination of students and engage them in the study of the past. Call 800.422.8975, ext. 146, for more information.