ASU celebrates archaeology month with hands-on festival

Patiently digging for several minutes, Alexa Hankish, 9, discovered the jaw of what appeared to be a coyote’s skull. The great discovery didn’t stop her search for more artifacts, and while squatting with tools on hand, she found several other pieces.

Mock archaeology was one of the hands-on activities kids were able to experience during Saturday's Archaeology Festival at the ASU Deer Valley Rock Art Center. Among the activities, attendees learned about Arizona’s unique archaeology, sampled roasted agave, practiced flint knapping and went on guided hikes.

The event was part of the archaeology month celebration that takes place in Arizona to promote and inform residents of the state's archaeology.

Interpretation and programs coordinator for ASU's Deer Valley Rock Art Center Cassie Hernandez said this event helps present the work of indigenous people to the public.

“It’s a way for us to learn about our state's history, learn about the indigenous cultures that were here first, learn about the importance of archaeological preservation and then learn about this site in particular,” she said. “Learning about the past makes us better decision makers in the future.”

Parents accompanied their children through the trail, where booths with the different activities were set up.

Kids spent the most time in the station where Hankish discovered the coyote’s jaw. This station not only gave the kids a chance to play with dirt but allowed them to have fun while learning how archaeologists do some of their work.

Hernandez said participating in the hands-on activities helps attendees understand their presence in the area.

“It’s a unique opportunity for us to understand a part of our identity that we may not engage (in) everyday,” she said.

Another popular activity was the manos and metates station. There, kids were able to crush mesquite seeds into grains. An illustration showed how indigenous people made flour for different uses. Kids used manos, hand-held grinding tools, to make the powder.

The roasted agave station was called by one attendee “the party booth,” because it had the edible goods.

Ron Moses, a volunteer, explained the long process roasted agave goes through before it can be eaten.

“Normally you would wrap them in banana leaves, but we don’t have access to that so we use burlap wrap,” he said. “They are then roasted for about 40 hours.”

Moses said he and other volunteers went to reservations to handpick the agaves to roast. While a fire cooked the agaves, volunteers kept it in check to make sure no damages or problems would arise. Moses said that last year’s festival didn’t have any roasted agave to sample because of the cold winter that caused the agaves not to blossom in time.

During the festival, Mariachi Pasion, an all-female-mariachi, performed popular songs to entertain attendees in different parts of the festival.

Michael Smith, an ASU archaeology professor, also conducted a lecture, “Three Archaeology Mysteries: My Search for Aztec Families and Communities,” where he explained some of his findings in Mexico of Aztec homes and how these influenced the understanding of how common people lived during those times.

He said archaeology is important because it is the way people can learn about the distant past. Preserving archaeological sites is important because history is within those sites and educating people about it is the best way to preserve them, he added.

“Sometimes sites get destroyed, people graffiti over rock art or try to collect artifacts and that kind of thing destroys the past,” he said. “One (reason) is the public can’t see things and learn from them, secondly, archaeology scholars can’t use these to then reconstruct the past.”

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