JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald
The words “quick” and “archaeology,” a field where professionals have been known to work with toothpicks and tweezers, rarely occur in the same sentence. Unless, that is, when “Time Team America,” the popular PBS series, is arriving to explore a local historical mystery with the clock running at 72 hours.
“It’s certainly been different with a television crew,” said Kristin Kuckelman, senior research archaeologist at Crow Canyon Archaeological Center west of Cortez, which hosted the film crew last week.
“Their focus is authenticity, though, which makes all the difference for us,” Kuckelman said.
Shooting an episode that will air in summer 2013, the crew of 11 from Oregon Public Broadcasting, which produces the show, were at both the Dillard site at Indian Camp Ranch, settled in the seventh century, and the center. The series is based on the premise of helping answer one key question at an archaeological dig.
The question at the Basketmaker III-era Dillard site? “Was this concentrated settlement a hotbed of innovation that propelled this culture?”
The latest in modern geophysics technology is a key piece Time Team brings to the table, including a magnetic gradiometer as well as ground and airborne light detection and ranging to survey the subsurface. Using the tools, scientists discovered several new features at the site, which already boasts the only known Great Kiva from the period in the area.
“They identified at least 12 new structures in a different area,” said Shanna Diederichs, the supervisory archaeologist on the three-year Basketmaker Communities Project: Early Pueblo Society in the Mesa Verde Region. “One thing we’re seeing from the ground radar is that pithouses are spaced out across the landscape, all pretty close together, which is really odd. We don’t have any pithouses overlapping and they seem to be oriented together, which means they were probably contemporaneous.”
That might mean the settlement was as much as four times larger than originally estimated.
Kuckelman made one of the big finds Wednesday – a partial mortar. Manos and metates, stones held in both hands to grind corn on another stone with a trough carved through the center, are frequently found tools in the area.
“I’ve been doing archaeology in this area since 1977,” she said, “and this is the first time I’ve seen a mortar from this time period, much less dug one up.”
Show archaeologists Allan Maca and Chelsea Rose asked Kuckelman how she would rate the find.
“Definitely a 10,” she said.
While they thought finding the other half of the mortar and perhaps the pestle would rate an 11, Kuckelman said the half would tell them almost everything they need to know. “It probably wasn’t use to grind pigments, because there’s no discoloration. It might have been for medicines.”
The discoveries may just be beginning.
“We’re leaving them with a lot of work,” said archaeologist Joe Watkins, who is in his second season with the show. “We’ve identified a lot of places to dig.”
A whirlwind tour
“We’re only here for three, three-and-a-half days for an hour show,” said series producer Bruce Barrow. “We have two camera crews and collect lots and lots of footage, so it’s incredibly hectic.”
Along with the filming came a separate field school, with about 40 middle and high school students from Colorado and New Mexico staying at Crow Canyon. The students got real-life archaeological experience at the dig and visited Mesa Verde National Park. Blogs and webcam footage from the school are also part of the Time Team coverage.
Almost all of the archaeological center’s staff members were involved in the Time Team America visit one way or another.
“Practically our whole staff is digging at the Indian Camp site, even people who usually are writing reports,” said Joyce Alexander, the center’s communications specialist.
“They established in the grant proposal that over 6 million people will view it on televison and another 6 million will view it on the Web,” said Shirley Powell, Crow Canyon’s vice president of programs. “We’re hoping people will see how interesting the area is and how interesting archaeology is, so they’ll come visit Crow Canyon and the surrounding region.”
Dave Wells, with the Four Corners Film Office, is still working on the estimated value of the Time Team production to our area, including money spent on production as well as the tourism promotional benefits.
“There are a lot of models to calculate that number,” he said. “But whatever the number is, it’s multiples more than we’re putting in.”
Barrow wouldn’t release the production budget.
“But we’re PBS,” he said. “We’re definitely on a shoestring budget.”