“This is wonderful,” said 68-year-old camper Philip Davis, while sorting a tray of pottery sherds at a table with his fellow campers.
Davis is one of just 14 adults participating in the week-long day camp for adults, which is in its 13th year at the University of Arizona. The camp, which began Monday and runs through Friday, teaches community members about archaeology through hands-on experience that also helps the museum manage its collections.
“The Arizona State Museum has a lot of collections, and we needed help, so we decided to turn it into an educational opportunity,” said camp director Patrick Lyons, the museum’s associate director and head of collections.
Each summer, the camp has a different theme. This year, campers are working with pottery recovered from Point of Pines, an approximately 800-room pueblo in southeastern Arizona that was excavated during the 1950s by then-museum director Emil W. Haury and the UA Field School. More than 700 whole vessels were recovered from the site, as well as hundreds of thousands of pottery sherds.
Throughout the week, campers have been keeping busy with a variety of tasks, including measuring whole pots, sorting pottery sherds, recording information about the pieces and electronically scanning catalog cards from the original excavation. Their work ultimately will help make the Point of Pines collection, which dates back to about 1300-1400 AD, more accessible for use by researchers and the general public, Lyons said. With improved documentation, researchers will be able to better answer questions related to immigration in the Point of Pines area, how the pueblo compares to other large pueblos in the Arizona mountains and more, he said.
Participants in the camp get a behind-the-scenes look at the museum’s pottery vault, which the general public rarely gets to see.
“The time you spend in the pottery vault actually touching these pots, it’s just amazing,” said Sue Finkenberg, 68, a retired lawyer who is participating in the camp for the second time. “You learn so much, and it’s hands on.”
Suzanne Vukobratovich, 55, praised the camp for reaching out to adults. Although she works as a medical technologist for The University of Arizona Cancer Center, she has a master’s degree in archaeology and uses the summer camp to delve into that passion.
“It’s is a tremendous learning experience,” she said.
Campers pay a $340 registration fee ($300 for museum members), which goes toward Arizona State Museum research. The popular camp fills up fast and is limited to a small number of people to ensure meaningful one-on-one interaction between campers and museum curators, said Darlene Lizarraga, the museum’s marketing coordinator.
Lizarraga called the camp a win-win for the museum and the community.
“There’s the interested public out there with so many questions about what archaeology is and how it’s done,” she said. “And on our side, there’s so much work to be done.”