Santa Fe, October, 1999
We’re back a week from Santa Fe, and we both want to go back there, because it’s such a civilized town. The oldest capital in North America, and surely the nicest. Deb’s producer calls it the New York of the Southwest. It’s almost perfect, the old West without cowboy hats.
We rented a car in Albuquerque after trying to get on a tiny Beechcraft from Denver to Sante Fe. They oversold the plane (only 16 could fly in the 20 seater because of the altitude) and kicked us off. Too bad, it would have been a fun trip THROUGH the Rockies instead of over them.
The drive to Santa Fe ended up in darkness and we promptly got lost (because, as Will Rogers said, “the streets in Santa Fe were laid out by a drunk on a mule”) and missed registration for the “Clovis And Beyond” archaeological conference. I asked a foul-mouthed old reprobate in the Hilton lobby if he knew where the organizers were staying, and he turned out to be the legendary Scotty McNeish, founder of the archaeology departments at University of Calgary AND University of Edmonton, the man who had pinpointed the very valleys where wheat and corn had originally come from, and was doing the same thing for rice, the man who had hard evidence of human habitation at the 50,000 BP level at Pendejo Cave in New Mexico, the one man I wanted to meet and sign up as a talking head for our TV documentary (about which, more later).
The rest of the conference was like that. Every leading archaeologist and anthropologist I had been reading and quoting for years was there, and I met all of them, and made friends with a bunch. Sort of like a locker room pass to the all-star game if you’re a hockey fan. Archies seem to share a pendant for suspenders, a lack of personal hygiene and wierd pipes. I’m not kidding.
There ARE the telegenic ones, like Tom Dillehay, the excavator of the controversial dig at Monte Verde in Chile which, with its proven dates of 15,000 radio carbon corrected years BP, has killed the Clovis First theory forever. He has been vilified and excoriated in the profession for ten years, and he was cool as a cucumber in a black suit and black shirt (no collar or tie) and little black sunglasses. His presentation was a model of controlled fury as he flayed Dr. Stuart Feidel, who had just accused him in the popular press of faking artifacts, calling Feidel a liar and a sore loser. Rounds of applause. Heady stuff for an academic conference. I was afraid someone might die with a Clovis point through the neck. There were lots of them around (the largest collection ever assembled in one place and quite priceless).
I got my photo taken with Kennewick Man (or at least a cast of his skull and the infamous “Patrick Stewart” reconstruction of it) and Jim Chatters, the man who discovered him. I met Dennis Stanford of the Smithsonian, the one guy who’s been saying all along that Eastern North America has been visited by boat from Europe for thousands of years.
This is quite important, actually, because the cut-off date for NAGPRA (The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act), the date beyond which any human remains automatically have to be turned over to the nearest Indian band for burial, is arbitrarily set at 1492, Columbus’ visit, because, officially, there was no European contact prior to that (Vikings and L’Anse aux Meadows notwithstanding) and therefore, any bones dated earlier were, by definition, Indian. If conclusive proof that continuous contact from Europe were found, that the Indians are not the ONLY possible descendants of any paleohuman skeleton, then NAGPRA falls apart, and Kennewick Man (and Wizard’s Beach Man and Spirit Cave Man, and three other paleoskeletons which haven’t been reburied yet) can be properly studied. Based on the limited information available, the consensus is that K-Man’s most closely related to the Polynesians, with a tiny bit of European in him to make him bad.
I met Kennewick Man’s lawyer, Alan Schneider, and gave him some pointers on doing opinion polling of the American public on NAGPRA. He hadn’t thought of that, and asked me to be K-Man’s polling consultant. A huge honour to be a member of K-Man’s plaintiff team (ex-officio, pro bono, so what), and he’s certainly my oldest client, at 9,400 (+/- 140) years of age.
I also got a picture of the 8 plaintiffs (all the leading archies and anthies in North America) gathered in the same place for the first time. Look for it on the johncorbett.com web site, along with flintknappers and Clovis points.
I also stood at the next urinal to Murray Gell-Mann (we were all wearing big name tags), Nobel Prizewinner for theoretical physics, and the colleague of Neils Bohr, Richard Feynman and Robert Oppenheim, who coined the word “Quark” from “Finnegan’s Wake” (proving, contrary to popular opinion, that at least one human being has actually read the book) and who described the architecture of subatomic particles as the “eightfold way”. I didn’t know who he was at the time, or I would have washed my hands and said hello.
The consensus at the end of the conference was this:
The very first Americans were probably Polynesian/Australian, who sailed to Central/South America in Canoes about 40,000 years ago. They settled South America and were the ancestors of the South and Central American Indians, including the Maya and the Inca. They moved into central and eastern North America, where they met…
The next wave of migrants and bred with them. These new Americans came from stone age Europe in skin boats along the ice shelf around the North Atlantic arch about 20,000 years ago. They introduced the southerners to big game and long, sharp stone points, as the southerners hadn’t encountered megafauna in South America, and didn’t need big spears. Together, they killed all the mammoth. The blended descendants of these Americans (ancestors to the eastern, woodland and Mikmak indians) met…
The next big wave of wetbacks, who came from central Asia across the Bering land bridge (and along the coast) about 12,000 years ago. This group learned about long stone spear points from the easterners and settled the west, killing all the Bison Antiquus. They became what we know as the Clovis culture, and the ancestors of most of the western Indians. They weren’t the first humans here, and they probably weren’t even the third or fourth group to arrive.
Thus, the original inhabitants of the new World came from all over, just like they do now, starting 50,000 years ago, and each wave made life miserable for the wave before, which puts the history of the last four hundred years in North America in a new perspective.
This is more or less the TV Documentary my friend Barry and I want to make. We also want to cover Phoenicians, Romans, ancient Chinese, Vikings, Celts, you get the picture. We have cautious interest from the History Channel, and Prince Edward’s company, Ardent, is sniffing at it. Barry has two Gemini awards and part of an Emmy, so he has the creds, and I’ll provide the Keds (research and writing).
Deb and I stayed at a Garrett’s Desert Inn (straight out of “The Misfits”) just across the creek from the Plaza, right on the Old Santa Fe Trail, and our bathroom window looked out on the backyard of the oldest residential house in America (circa 1350 AD). It was cheap ‘n’ cheerful, but no Inn of the Anasazi, so we’d mosey on up the Santa Fe Trail into the old part of town every night and curl up in leather armchairs in front of the fire at the Inn at Loretto, a spectacular adobe skyscraper (3 stories) and dam’ fine hotel.
We spent one festive night there drinking with our new friends, George Gill and Sharon Long. George is the Former Chair of Anthropology at University of Wyoming and is also Wyoming’s Forensic Anthropologist. He’s also a good friend of Thor Heyerdahl’s and says Heyerdahl’s going to finally be vindicated if he lives long enough (Thor’s 84), because it turns out the Inca (or their predecessors) DID sail from South America in reed canoes and settle parts of the South Pacific, just like in Kon Tiki. This is kind of a reverse migration, after the South Pacific islanders settled the South American mainland. He says he’ll set us up with Thor in the Canary Islands for the documentary (he’s one of our key must-get interviews, hang in there, Thor!). Also, George tells us, like all physical anthropologists, he’s keenly interested in Bigfoot, and suspects the famous Patterson film is genuine. It’s something to do with the way the big fella moves, you see. He says he’s even more open to the idea now that they’re uncovering specimens of Gigantopithecus in China. Apparently the Northwest coastal forest is just the place to hide if you’re an early man. George is one of the eight Kennewick Man plaintiffs. As forensic anthropologist for the state, he often uses…
Sharon Long to do facial reconstructions on skulls. She’s the best and most intuitive at this in the world, and you’ve seen her reconstructions of Spirit Cave Man, Wizard’s Beach Man, Lucy, the soldier from Jamestown, the sailor from La Salle’s ship in Texas, etc, in magazines and newspapers. George has tested her by giving her the skulls of murder victims and then only showing her the photo of the person after she’s done. She’s always right, not only how they look, but their expressions. She reconstructed three skulls on Easter island so meticulously, their descendants, three hundred years removed, recognized their lineage, which was later confirmed through oral records. She did NOT do the Kennewick Man reconstruction, which is why it looks so much like a Scottish actor (“The ears are in the wrong place, and the nose is WAY too big”).
George headed off for Paris (by way of an eight hour drive to Denver) the night the conference ended, with his sweety, a MUCH younger (George is about 60) and very attractive woman called Denise. George and I were trying to convince her Wyoming WAS a nice place to live, even in winter (which I suspect is a bit of an issue between them). Some archaeologists DO get the pretty girl, just like Harrison Ford, if they watch the personal hygiene, like George. As a result, we haven’t heard from George yet, but Sharon writes every day. Barry and I want to do a whole segment on her rebuilding a face, because she does it all by instinct, feeling the emotions of the person through their facial structure. She’s a Wyoming native, Cherokee, had a tough life, broke her back a few years ago, and trained herself as a physical anthropologist as an adult. George says she’s one of the best professionals in the country. She’s been in Smithsonian, National Geographic, Discover, Newsweek, US News & World Report and about 6 TV documentaries.
I also got to meet Doug Owsley, Director of Anthropology and Archaeology at the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian. This man is DEFINITELY the Capo di Tutti Capi in the bone ‘n stone business in North America, a big hero of mine, and another of the Kennewick Plaintiffs. He was so tickled at the offer of my consulting services, and at some new information I gave him on the “Jackatars”, the ancient Basque/Mikmak inbreds of Newfoundland, he said “Come on down to DC, and I’ll show you the back rooms at the Smithsonian. We’ll get a couple of skeletons out and throw them on the table!”. For me, this would be like getting the key to the giant warehouse in the last scene of Raider’s of the Lost Ark. Every kid’s dream (if he dreams of being an archaeologist).
No, Harriet, we didn’t eat at Geronimo (looked kinda twee and full of too many rich tanned women with too much turquoise jewellery when we passed), but we did most of our eatin’ where Pete Domenici and the Governor do, at the Plaza Restaurant (Since 1928) on the Plaza. The waitresses know you by name, you sit at the counter for the best service, when you order Huevos Rancheros with red AND green chili they shout “hot eggs for Christmas” and the bulletin board has the congressman’s, the two senators’, the Governor’s and Bill Clinton’s direct phone numbers posted. We also ate at The Shed, where le tout Santa Fe lunches, and at Café Pascal, where they serve a pozolé I’d walk the Santa Fe Trail for. One night we ate at the Cowgirl Hall of Fame, where we had adequate Texas BBQ and a waiter who quoted Mao at us.
Other obligatory grockle-stops included the Palacio de los Gobernadors, built in 1609 (which makes the Pilgrims look like pikers, Elizabeth the First was just warm in her grave) and where Lew Wallace wrote Ben Hur and complained of the bugs falling out of the straw ceiling, the Chapel of Loretto with it’s miraculous free-standing circular staircase (which ain’t so miraculous, I’ve got the photos to prove it), the mission church of San Miguel, built by Mexican indians around the time Shakespeare died and the oldest consecrated and still-used house of worship in North America and, my favourite, a simple Y-junction up a hill south of town with two street signs: Old Santa Fe Trail and Old Pecos Trail.
As for shopping, we stayed away from katchina dolls, dreamcatchers, storytellers, tin cut-outs and other tourist tat. We DID however, buy museum-quality black-glazed pottery from the pueblo of Santa Clara, signed by Billy Cain, great-grandson of Maria Martinez (who first threw the blackware at the turn of the century), and a very collectible artist in his own right. We also bought another blackware pot, very small but beautiful, from Yellowbird, a prizewinning potter at the pueblo of San Ildefonso, first visited by Coronado in the 1540s. Yellowbird (José Ignacio) sold it to us from his front door, just on the plaza of the pueblo, where the kiva faces the church. Yellowbird is also a great-grandson of Maria Martinez, but so is every other well-known Indian potter. It’s an hereditary thing, I guess. Deborah also cut a swath through J. Crew, of course. Our problem now is that we need to build a whitewashed plaster niche nice enough to display the pots.
On Sunday, after the conference ended (Deb was thoroughly sick of archaeologists, Clovis points, flintknappers, skulls and DNA profiles) we visited the sacred Indian (and Catholic) shrine at Chimayo, where the earth you scoop from a small hole in the floor of the sacristy (once a natural spring) is said to have miraculous curative powers (I filled a film canister. I’ll add it to my emergency Y2K supplies, just in case of injuries).
The story of the founding of the shrine is one of those classic tales, so prevalent in pagan Britain, of the new religion co-opting the holy places of the old. The Indians had venerated the spot since the 13th century, when a magic light was seen glowing from the spring. A Spanish Peniente (self-flagellating) friar dug at the spot 300 years later and uncovered a miraculous crucifix. Three times the parishioners tried to carry the crucifix in a procession to the church in the nearby mission of Santa Cruz (on the old Camino Real, now just a laneway hidden in ancient overhanging apple trees), and three times the crucifix returned to Chimayo in the night. Eventually they built the shrine around it, and the interior is covered with beautiful, primitive, highly coloured Indian folk-art reredos (rood screens) from the eighteenth century. The sacristy with the miraculous hole in the floor is also decorated with crutches, oxygen tanks, catheters, braces and heart-rending little post-it notes to the virgin of Guadeloupe to protect Indian military sons and daughters in the Gulf, Bosnia, and Kosovo.
After paying our respects to the Goddess (all shrines consecrated to the virgin are goddess-worship places) at Chimayo,we drove up into the Sangré de Cristo mountains the back way, on the old High Road to Taos. High is not quite descriptive enough; the road is a narrow little two-lane blacktop that straddles the very crest of a ridge cutting high into the mountains, and two hundred mile views fall down precipitiously on both sides of the narrow shoulder. We could see into Utah and Arizona. In some places, the road creeps at 10 miles an hour through tiny villages where the single lane gets just wide enough for a burro, and oncoming traffic has to wait. In places like this (and in the pueblos) the pick-up trucks are bigger than the adobe houses their drivers live in.
We didn’t get all the way to Taos (just as well, sounds like a new age, misty-tinkle ski-bum slum, disappointing in the same way Banff is after the first sniff), but we did get to the village of Truchas, under Truchas Peak, 11,300 feet, where Robert Redford filmed “Milagro Beanfield War”. I’ve never seen a scruffier place with more magisterial views. Outside the door of the ramshackle little tin-roofed adobe church, the ground literally fell away for a mile into the valley of the Rio Grande below and into Arizona beyond. It was like being in a town perched on the lip of the Grand Canyon; the residents (mostly potters, crypto-hippies and volunteer firemen) must have permanent vertigo.
New Mexico really is a special place. It’s mystical in a very down-to-earth way, it’s an archaeologist’s heaven, even the newest subdivisions are all built of adobe, with big round logs sticking out of the roof lines and it’s so CLEAN. Clean air, clean views, clean landscape, clean streets, clean plazas. We saw the old Indian ladies out early, sweeping the Plaza in Santa Fe with long corn brooms, an example of municipal maintenance and civic pride that probably hasn’t changed much in 400 years.
My favourite photo is of Deborah at the old hitching post on the edge of the Plaza which marks the terminus of the Old Santa Fe Trail, a spot where Kit Carson, Jim Bridger and a host of others tied up their mounts, and a spot where I will too. Whew!