Interpreting Native American Ruins in the Southwestern United States: Perceptions of Significance and Value in a Post-Romantic Age

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8th US/ICOMOS International Symposium “Interpreting Native American Ruins in the Southwestern United States: Perceptions of Significance and Value in a Post-Romantic Age” Mary Slater, US National Park Service, Bandelier National Monument Introduction The National Park Service (NPS) manages many structures referred to as “ruins,” from ancient Native American villages, to abandoned military forts, to Spanish Colonial Missions. This paper will focus on the preservation and interpretation of Native
  8 th US/ICOMOS International Symposium“Interpreting Native American Ruins in the Southwestern United States: Perceptions of Significance and Value in a Post-Romantic Age”Mary Slater, US National Park Service, Bandelier National MonumentIntroduction The National Park Service (NPS) manages many structures referred to as “ruins,” from ancientNative American villages, to abandoned military forts, to Spanish Colonial Missions. This paperwill focus on the preservation and interpretation of Native American ruins, and the changesbrought on by evolving and expanding perceptions of value during the past century. Today theNPS interprets and maintains thousands of Native American pueblo buildings, great houses,kivas, and other structures in the Southwestern United States, most of them constructedpredominantly of stone masonry. By the time many of the exposed excavated ruins came underthe management of the NPS, a significant amount of architectural material had been lost toweathering. Frequently, earthen plaster and mortar had washed out to reveal bare stone masonry.The main preservation philosophy of the NPS has been stabilization, where the appearance andstructural integrity of the ruin was maintained by replacing deteriorated materials, often with in-kind earthen mortar and stones. Site managers conducting ruins stabilization face the challenge of maintaining hundreds of thousands of cubic meters of ephemeral materials with limited resources.Recent developments in site conservation, generated by economic concerns and increasing tribalconsultation, have led to a more values-based management of Native American ruins. Ultimately,perceived site values determine over time how ruins are presented and interpreted, which beardirectly on a site’s authenticity. Early Archaeology and Presentation Beginning in the late 19 th century, archaeologists, explorers and treasure hunters were drawn tothe material remains of early inhabitants of the Southwest. The dry climate ensured an abundanceof artifacts visible on the surface of the ground, pointing the way to monumental stonearchitecture and countless cultural objects buried in the earth below. Wide-scale excavation wasundertaken to reveal villages or “pueblos,” containing durable cultural artifacts of stone, ceramicand bone, as well as human burials replete with valuable funerary objects. The discoveries were awatershed for social science in the United States; for the first time, dozens of Americananthropologists could establish careers without going abroad. (Indeed, the cultural wealth of theSouthwest attracted archaeologists and pot-hunters alike from the U.S. and overseas, whoseexcavation of sites for museum-quality artifacts provided the political impetus for the U.S.Antiquities Act and the establishment of many of the National Park sites in the “Four Corners”region of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona.) In addition to the availability of materialculture, Native American communities in the Southwest continued centuries-old traditionalreligious and cultural practices, and were directly accessible to anthropologists and ethnologistsseeking physical and historical data, as well as to archaeologists in need of labor to excavateancestral sites. When early social scientists returned to their universities bearing pots,arrowheads, skeletons and oral histories, they left behind hundreds of “ruins” exposed to thevagaries of rain, snow, wind and sun with little to no provision for their preservation. While sitessituated in natural alcoves such as at Mesa Verde National Park were relatively protected, sites onmesa tops and in canyons were particularly vulnerable to environmental deterioration.During the course of excavating sites over multiple seasons, many archaeologists sought topreserve these ruins to retain architectural features for research purposes and with the goal of educating visitors about the cultures that built them. Repairs and replacement of fallen stones  were undertaken to complete wall fragments and help define architectural spaces. Over time,many of these sites came under the management of the NPS, who was charged with thepreservation, presentation and interpretation of these sites. Stabilized Ruins and Authenticity Of all types of preserved and interpreted architecture, ruins present the most problems with regardto authenticity. In these static sites, authenticity is tied directly to the extent of historic fabric [1].The historic fabric of exposed ruins is compromised severely by weathering; lacking protectivebuilding systems, ruins require cyclic replacement of materials in order to maintain what isessentially a pre-determined level of deterioration. Exposed masonry in Native American sitesrequires an extreme level of intervention (maintenance cycles vary from 2-7 years) to maintainthis “ruined” appearance, especially where water-sensitive earthen materials are present.Interpreting exposed ruins requires the understanding that significant amounts of srcinal materialwill be lost and replaced with modern materials. While replacing mortar does not render a ruininauthentic, using inappropriate materials or techniques negatively impacts a site’s authenticity.The NPS legacy in the 20 th century includes successes and failures as it has grappled with thechallenges posed by caring for ruins. Evolving Standards of Site Conservation and Presentation Subsequent to the passing of the U.S. Antiquities Act in 1906, many Southwestern NativeAmerican ruins came under the protection of the NPS in the form of National Monuments. By theearly 1930s, the Southwestern Monuments included about 25 parks in Utah, Colorado, NewMexico and Arizona, 19 of which were established for the protection of ruins. From thebeginning, every site approached ruins stabilization according to its own parameters, includingthe availability of funds, the choice of stabilization materials, and the availability of skilledworkers. The type of stabilization material often depended on what had been used in the past byarchaeologists who excavated the site; some site managers (especially on sites that had not beenpreviously stabilized) relied on traditional earthen mortars, while others amended soils withPortland cement to increase the durability of the treatments. By the 1940s, many site managershad turned to replacing lost or deteriorated mortar with soils mixed with Portland cement as theyrealized that parks lacked the manpower to keep up with the frequent maintenance cyclesdemanded by unamended soil.Soil cement, as it came to be known, has several drawbacks: the strong grey color of Portlandcement requires the addition of colorants to mortar, which can fade or discolor under the intenseultraviolet radiation prevalent in the Southwest. Unstable colorants can turn grey, pink or purple,which clashes with the subtler tones of srcinal materials. Soil cements can also be physically andchemically incompatible with srcinal masonry, causing accelerated weathering of stonesstemming from the higher compressive strength, differing thermal conductivity, lower moisturepermeability, and high soluble salts content of the amended mortar. The success of soil cementdepended on the physical characteristics of the srcinal masonry, the type of soil used (which wasdifferent at each site), the ratio of cement to soil, and the severity of environmental factors actingupon it. Success or failure was largely determined by trial and error.As the ephemeral nature of earthen architecture challenged park managers’ abilities to preserve it,and as the disadvantages of soil cement came to be widely recognized, different solutions weresought by parks to improve the durability of treatments on ruins, particularly adobe structures.Stabilization and preservation strategies expanded from repointing or relaying masonry wallswith earthen and amended mortars to include capping walls with adobe or concrete, plasteringwalls with a sacrificial coating of amended or unamended earth, applying silicone-basedwaterproofing to wall faces, and building shelters over individual buildings and entire sites, to  mention a few. From the 1940s to the 1990s, field and laboratory tests were undertaken to studysoil amendments including Portland cement, petroleum distillates, bitumen, polyurethane resins,silicone resins, calcium aluminate cement, organic consolidants and waterproofing agents, andacrylic resin polymer solutions [2]. While some materials fared better than others, no universalanswer has been identified to improve the durability of treatments. Still, parks have been able tofind their own solutions customized to their particular staffing, climates, srcinal masonrymaterials, and resources for stabilization materials. The complexity of soil as a stabilizationmaterial demands specialized approaches to amendments for each type of soil used. Some parkshave invested time in developing more durable soil mortars that require no amendment; however,these mortars are generally used at sites with natural protections such as alcoves, or at a smallerscale where site managers can keep up with the shorter maintenance cycle.Another important factor in ruins stabilization has been the availability of skilled workers. Earlypark managers sought out Native Americans who continued traditional masonry practices andwere therefore familiar with the architecture of these ruins. The skill of these workers and thesoundness of their masonry techniques helped ensure that stabilization work was harmonious withthe srcinal materials, and Navajo and Puebloan masons established life-long careers conductingruins stabilization in some parks. As these workers aged, younger workers were not necessarilytaking their place, resulting in a crisis of attrition. By the early 1990s, park managers faced anenormous backlog of stabilization work coupled with the imminent retirement of most of theirworkforce. Amidst this crisis, site managers from several parks initiated a grassroots movementknown as the Vanishing Treasures (VT) Program. The VT Program has a two-fold objective: torecruit permanent workers mentored by skilled veterans to address backlog stabilization, and todevelop appropriate site conservation methods that shift the focus from emergency stabilization toa sustainable long-term approach to managing these sites. Underlying the VT Program is therealization that the NPS will never have the resources needed to stabilize all of its ruins inperpetuity, and that site stabilization must be justified within a framework of cultural, interpretiveand scientific values. Once these values have been identified and evaluated, alternatives tostabilization are often deemed appropriate. Alternative Conservation Treatments The practice of site reburial or backfilling has become increasingly common, and it, too, isevolving from an expedient practice of simply replacing excavation fill back into the site into adeliberate methodology using customized fills and retention materials (such as natural andsynthetic granular materials and erosion control fabrics) that are appropriate to the site’senvironment and the preservation objectives [3]. In the NPS, the decision to rebury sites orportions of them is driven by an evaluation of the site preservation requirements weighed againstthe long-term cost of stabilization and the relative interpretive value of the site. Where reburialwill potentially remove portions or entire sites from direct access by visitors and scholars, otherstrategies such as partial reburial and detailed documentation allow for continued interpretationand research.Increasingly, intensive site documentation is being used as a research and preservation tool.Documentation is always the first step in implementing site treatment such as reburial, but now itis accepted as a treatment in and of itself, not only to gain understanding of a site, but also incases where material integrity is valued over modification and repair, or where treatments areunlikely to be successful. Recent advancements in site recording methods, including infrared laserscanning and 3-D modeling, have resulted in highly detailed and accurate site data that can beused for many purposes, including management, research, deterioration modeling and monitoring,as well as interpretation. High-tech visual representations have the greatest potential forinterpretive and educational applications, as they can take the viewer through a spatially  unrestricted “fly-by” journey around, into and through a site. Not only do these virtual journeysmake the sites and their information accessible to all, but it also helps shift the risks of tourism-related damage away from the sites.As the presentation of sites changes with alternative treatments such as reburial anddocumentation, interpretation of the sites must also change. Over the past century, trends in siteinterpretation in the NPS have mirrored site presentation, from the “golden age” of archaeology,to the advent of the American historic preservation movement, to the beginnings of NativeAmerican influence over site management. Interpretation In the early days of the NPS, excavated Native American ruins were regarded primarily asattractions and exhibits for the edification and enjoyment of park visitors. The interpretiveemphasis was on the architectural form and the occupational and/or building chronologycommunicated by the structures. Some parks even featured reconstructions of excavated sites,such as the massive Great Kiva at Aztec Ruins National Monument. In the museums built next tothese ruins, the recovered objects on display, supplemented by graphic cultural timelines derivedfrom ceramic, lithic, and tree-ring analysis, told the story. Plaster models and museum dioramasoften depicted the ruins, or were reconstructions of what the structure may have looked like at thetime of occupation. In other words, the NPS was interpreting the science of archaeology.This is appropriate, considering that the ruin as it is presented was created by archaeology [4].The stabilized ruin does not mean to evoke a village under construction, nor does it represent thearchitecture at the moment of “discovery” by Euro-Americans, but rather, architecture in anadvanced state of degradation brought on by weathering and not insignificantly, destructiveexcavation. The ruin is articulated and presented through selective repair and small-scalereconstruction; the result is not inauthentic, but it is certainly contrived. The loss of earthenarchitectural finishes resulting from exposure emphasizes forms and patterns of masonry whichwould not have been visible in the completed structure, or even during excavation. At ChacoCulture National Historical Park, for example, the various masonry styles visible in the walls areactively interpreted as indicators of different building campaigns, and are classified into distinctbuilding periods. Like pot sherds, Chacoan masonry styles are given temporal and spatialclassifications; masonry patterns revealed by weathering can identify contemporaneous buildingcampaigns, and are used to help establish cultural connections to near and distant ruins thatexhibit identical patterning.The formal and tangible interpretive emphasis was often enhanced with a sense of mystery; thatthe inhabitants simply vanished, a perception that added to the romantic nature of ruins. In fact,Native American communities living nearby are often direct descendants of the builders. It isonly recently that the connection between Ancestral Puebloan peoples, formerly known as the“Anasazi,” and contemporary Native American pueblos has been communicated to the public.Increased visibility and influence of indigenous peoples have led to a more realistic, less romanticview of Native Americans and their history. In hindsight, we can see that incomplete scholarshipor erroneous information is detrimental to a site’s authenticity.Site management interventions in the form of conservation treatments add layers to theinterpretation of sites. Whether NPS staff is stabilizing masonry or backfilling rooms, thequestion must be answered: “Why are they doing that?” As ruins came to be maintained bystabilization, and with the prevalence of site reburial as a conservation treatment, the NPSbroadened its interpretive scope from archaeology to include historic preservation. Ruins becameanother type of historic structure in the pantheon of American heritage, and their treatment a
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