Tsankawi

Following up on my September 7, 2022 post about our family visit to Arizona and New Mexico, specifically about hikes at Petroglyph National Monument in Albuquerque, I wanted to share another highlight: Bandolier National Monument. We learned a lot by visiting the National Park Service interpretive center and hiking through the amazing Ancestral Puebloan sites in Frijoles Canyon, including more petroglyphs, and cavates—expanded hollows in the volcanic rock that formed parts of living rooms and storage structures.

Tsankawi–an Ancestral Pueblo part of Bandolier National Monument in New Mexico.

We got up early to drive from Jemez Springs to Santa Fe, allowing for a good visit to Bandolier. As we drove through Valles Caldera—another National Park Service site with tremendous cultural significance to Walatowa, the Pueblo of Jemez—we made a note that we needed to come back to explore on foot. Impressive deposits of obsidian and volcanic tuff lined parts of the highway in this area, a testament to the volcanic activity that produced the caldera some 1.25 million years ago. Part of our reason for the earlier departure was that the parking area at Frijoles Canyon fills up early, so we wanted to make sure we got in. It was worth it, as the recent rains had many desert plants in bloom amidst the Ancestral Pueblo ruins, culturally connected to many of the modern day Pueblo communities in both New Mexico and Arizona.

The deeply inscribed trail at Tsankawi, carved and worn into the soft volcanic rock of the mesa.

The rangers at the NPS interpretive center also recommended that we visit Tsankawi, another unit of the national monument and another Ancestral Pueblo, that we would pass on our way into Santa Fe—though it’s not particularly well marked or easy to find. We are grateful for this recommendation, as the hike through this largely unreconstructed Ancestral Pueblo had some amazing features. In Tewa the name for Tsankawi means “village between two canyons at the clump of sharp, round cacti.”

Ceramic sherds and an obsidian fragment on the surface of the Ancestral Pueblo Tsankawi. The only other visitors to the Pueblo reminded us not to take anything–we bonded over this moment.

Tsankawi is situated on another volcanic mesa and requires climbing some ladders to access much of the Ancestral Pueblo. Once on the mesa, visitors find the ruins of an ancient Pueblo village, more of the cavates like those in Frijoles Canyon, petroglyphs, as well as a deeply inscribed trail that leads along the top and sides of the mesa. This feature was what really captured my attention, because it was clearly an ancient feature of the place. Following the trail, it became clear that you were literally following in the footsteps of the Ancestral Pueblo people who once lived here and whose modern descendants live nearby in places like the Pueblo of San Ildefonso.

Petroglyphs at Tsankawi.

Perhaps not surprisingly, it was sherds of jet-black pottery from Tsankawi that archaeologist Edgar Lee Hewitt asked Maria and Julian Martinez to replicate for museum exhibits early in the twentieth century. Their experiments to replicate the pottery and then their own innovations launched Maria’s career as the famous potter of San Ildefonso Pueblo and the black-on-black pottery with shiny, abstract designs still sought after today. Early in Maria’s career, Peabody Institute staff member Carl Guthe worked with her to write Pueblo Pottery Making: A Study at the Village of San Ildefonso, published in 1924 by Yale University Press. This was part of Alfred Kidder’s broader Pecos Pueblo project—based out of the Peabody Institute from 1915 to 1929—and an acknowledgment of the connections between modern Pueblo communities and their ancestors. Guthe’s research also brought several of Maria and Julian’s pieces into the museum, including a marvelous platter and a rare demonstration set with examples of each stage in the manufacture of the black-on-black pottery. Several of these pieces are on loan to the Addison Gallery of American Art for an upcoming exhibit Women and Abstraction: 1741-Now.

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