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Ancient art lives at Chimney Rock

Archaeological authenticity is always the goal of Gregory Wood, world-renowned ancient pottery techniques expert and recipient of the National Park Service Award of Interpretive Excellence. That is why he hand builds pottery, using only tools and technology available in prehistoric times.

The Ancient Culture Through Pottery workshop, taught by Wood, was held outdoors at Chimney Rock Archaeological Area. Participants diligently made reconstructions of Pueblo III, Mesa Verde black on white, pottery mugs. The three-day workshop, July 31-Aug. 2, held at a living archeological sight of the ancestral Pueblo people, had every student immersed in history. They hand burnished, painted with yucca brushes, and trench kiln fired, striving to emulate the techniques of the ancestral Puebloans.

“I’m all about the process.” said Wood.

The students worked at picnic tables in the shade, racing against time as the dry Colorado air sucked the moisture from their pots. First they built a base for their mug from a golfball size ball of clay, and then flattened it like a pancake. Then they scored the pancake of clay and joined it with a clay doughnut shape. Next, the students pinched and willed walls into form. Then they smoothed the hardening pot and began the tricky process of joining the handle.

Each student had a well-formed soft grey mug, regardless of previous skill or experience. They cheerfully worked along side each other, sharing occasional advice, as they all moved as a group toward the next step.

The workshop was made up of men and woman of all ages, some taking it for two college credits, and some taking it for the fourth time, for personal enrichment. “I just enjoy it; Greg, and his knowledge,” said longtime participant Colin Fallat, of Santa Barbara, Calif.

Gregory’s tool chest contains only tools that would have been available in ancient times, such as yucca, bone, gourde scrapers, and locally available plant based paint. He hand gathers available fuel. Even the clay that Gregory chose for the workshop, Dakota Sandstone, was appropriately abundant in the fourth century to ancestral Puebloans.

“Lewis Shale deposits found near here might have been what (the ancient people of Chimney Rock) used,” said Gregory, “but we didn’t have time to dig the clay.”

Wood said he is able to achieve such outstanding results only, “by trial and error,” much in the same way prehistoric peoples learned these techniques. Wood is sought after by scientists and art collectors alike because of his years of scientific research and a passion for accuracy. He has recently been asked to join Stanford University’s archeological team, in Catalhoyuk, Turkey, in order to recreate the ancient pottery that was made there 8,000 years ago.

Wood hosts several workshops a year, as well as recreating beautiful ancestral Puebloan pottery using only ancient techniques. To view Wood’s work or sign up for one of his workshops, visit www.ancientarts.org.