There is much in my natal state of Maryland that is not archaeologically permanent. I imagine it’s in part because of the weather which decomposes materials in short order, in terms of generations and eras. Surely, though, the tramp of human history obliterates most of that which came before in the course of plowing, logging, scraping, building, paving and all the development inflicted on the land. During my growing-up years, I never heard of, let alone saw, stuff like arrowheads and pottery bits just lying around on the ground. Read about it, sure, but never heard-tell that it was a common phenomenon.
It’s a different story here in the southwest, where the weather plus the expansive and uncluttered landscape contribute to preserving history by way of what is left on the ground.
When I hike in the forest, I find myself poking under trees, around boulders and on flat spots that have good views to see what has been left behind by those who were here before me. Even better when I’m with friends for whom this is natal country and whose eyes are accustomed to picking out the smallest fragments of people long past.
There is both a timelessness and a time-bound nature to the left-behind. Rarely, though, is there an explanation for the leaving. I often find myself standing, pondering, wondering who left this and why, and when? Miners explored this area, looking for gold, silver, copper, turquoise. They left mining claim markers and tin cans stripped of labels. It not uncommon to find metal sheets, purpose unknown but shot full of holes by bullets and rust. But then again, these artifacts could have been left by hunters in past years.
Older still, evidence of the first people to live in these mountains. The Apache were here and long before them, the Mogollon people and their ancestors, the Archaic. All left their legacies. If you know where to look, and how, you find pottery sherds, arrow heads and spear tips and sometimes the chipping and scraping stones that made them. Grinding holes in granite boulders and slabs, where grain for eating was prepared.
I pick up a sherd or stone and feel the energy of the user of these bits. I admire the artistry and skill of the maker, the painted sherds with black and white or red on white lines and geometrics; the pottery pieces that still show the coils that created them; the lips and holes that were integral to the function of the pots and bowls. But don’t take them. Ethics require that those ancient relics be left as they were. Pick them up, admire them, and then put them right back on the ground. This is where they belong. Not my pocket, not my shelf. Here, where they were before me.