Ar­chae­ol­o­gist C. Dean Wil­son

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - AR­CHAE­OL­O­GIST C. DEAN WIL­SON Dean Wil­son with boxes of pot­sherds, photo Olivia Har­low/The New Mex­i­can

Show C. Dean Wil­son an an­cient In­dian pot and he will not pause be­fore telling you about its form, ma­te­ri­als, age, and the dis­tinc­tive de­tails of the type.

“See how fine those coils are,” he says of a Mo­gol­lon piece on a shelf at the Cen­ter for New Mex­ico Ar­chae­ol­ogy, the home of the Mu­seum of New Mex­ico’s Of­fice of Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Stud­ies. “That’s be­cause the clays out there are in­cred­i­bly plas­tic. It’s not nec­es­sar­ily suited to paint­ing, but it’s per­fect for this tex­tured pot­tery.”

In 2016, Wil­son re­tired af­ter more than a quar­ter cen­tury with OAS. He was the di­rec­tor of its Ceram­ics Anal­y­sis Lab­o­ra­tory and still works there as a re­search con­sul­tant. Be­fore he left, Wil­son, with the help of OAS di­rec­tor Eric Blin­man, built a vast and easy-to-use web­site, the Pot­tery Ty­pol­ogy Project, lo­cated at ceram­ics.nmar­chae­ol­ogy.org. “I con­tinue to main­tain the web­site,” Wil­son said. “Eric some­times refers to it as ‘Dean’s brain.’ ”

He also has a con­sul­tant busi­ness in ceram­ics anal­y­sis. His ar­chae­ol­ogy li­brary fills vir­tu­ally ev­ery room of his house, and one bed­room is now a lab­o­ra­tory.

His story be­gins with a boy­hood spent in West Texas. “My dad was an engi­neer in the oil fields. I also grew up over­seas, on Su­ma­tra is­land, where they were start­ing to drill oil,” he said. “We were in a pretty iso­lated area. There was no tele­vi­sion, so our en­ter­tain­ment was to ride around and look for tigers at night.”

He went on to study at Eastern New Mex­ico Uni­ver­sity and to pur­sue his mas­ter’s de­gree with fo­cused work at Salmon Pue­blo. The An­ces­tral Pue­bloan site near Farm­ing­ton was ex­ca­vated ex­ten­sively by his the­sis ad­vi­sor, ar­chae­ol­o­gist Cyn­thia Ir­win-Wil­liams. Wil­son col­lected clay and sub­mit­ted them to re­fir­ing analy­ses to try to es­tab­lish their char­ac­ter and source lo­ca­tions. He soon be­came more in­ter­ested in the larger pic­ture of what he was study­ing. “At that time, cul­tural ecol­ogy was a big thing and a sub-branch was ce­ramic ecol­ogy. The whole idea is look­ing at how the en­vi­ron­ment around us, and the re­sources, af­fect ma­te­rial cul­ture and the way cul­tures de­velop.

“Ceram­ics was a per­fect av­enue to look at this,” he said. “The pot­tery it­self is the hu­man as­pect of cul­tural de­vel­op­ment, with chang­ing styles that show both hu­man in­spi­ra­tion and in­ter­ac­tion with all of the peo­ple around you. Other as­pects of ar­chae­ol­ogy, like ex­ca­va­tions, are in­ter­est­ing, but I sort of have the tem­per­a­ment and the in­ter­est of a spe­cial­ist and I re­ally get wrapped up in th­ese sorts of is­sues. Ce­ramic ecol­ogy was a good di­rec­tion. Per­son­ally, the big­gest is­sue for me is the en­vi­ron­ment, and how peo­ple in­ter­act with the land­scape.”

Af­ter col­lege, he started work­ing on the Dolores Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Project in south­west­ern Colorado. This was an­other ru­ins site dat­ing back to what is to­day called An­ces­tral Pue­bloan times (about A.D. 500-900), although Wil­son still prefers the old “Anasazi” name for the cul­ture.

He spoke of the flat-topped, lay­ered land­scape forms in the Four Cor­ners area. Many of those, he said, are shale lay­ers that pro­duce ex­tra­or­di­nary clay. “The in­ter­est­ing thing is that a lot of th­ese fine shale clays were de­posited in ar­eas where there weren’t a lot of min­eral im­pu­ri­ties, so they’re white and they fire into th­ese white pots. Then you go south of the Colorado Plateau to the Mo­gol­lon tra­di­tion and you have some dif­fer­ences that are prob­a­bly cul­tural, but they’re also adapt­ing to the com­pletely dif­fer­ent land­scape. All those Cre­ta­ceous clays are cov­ered by vol­canic de­posits, so you have the Mo­gol­lon Brown Ware. If you look at the top­soil, it’s a brown­ish clay that’s re­ally plas­tic, but it’s hard to make a white ware be­cause there’s so much iron in the clay.”

Wil­son’s grow­ing ex­per­tise ran up against a new learn­ing curve when he moved to the Of­fice of Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Stud­ies in 1989. Sud­denly, he was work­ing on projects all over the state, ex­am­in­ing ma­te­ri­als from all pe­ri­ods. His un­der­stand­ing of land­scape-re­lated fac­tors in ceram­ics anal­y­sis grew in sync with his ex­panded re­search realm.

“We live in a del­i­cate en­vi­ron­ment,” he said. “The South­west has al­ways been at the edge of where peo­ple can farm. So of­ten, what you’ll see is ev­i­dence that peo­ple were there, then they were gone for a hun­dred years or so, then they were back again. Sites dat­ing in the A.D. 600s com­monly also have sites dat­ing in the Chaco pe­riod a few cen­turies ear­lier.

“In the South­west, the peo­ple we’re study­ing are still here, and they have th­ese very dis­tinct and fas­ci­nat­ing artis­tic tra­di­tions that are both re­mark­able to study and are sort of artis­tic rev­o­lu­tions in them­selves.” — Paul Wei­de­man

“In the South­west, the peo­ple we’re study­ing are still here, and they have th­ese very dis­tinct and fas­ci­nat­ing artis­tic tra­di­tions that are both re­mark­able to study and are sort of artis­tic rev­o­lu­tions in them­selves.”

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