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Monday, June 24, 2024

The Verde Valley Archaeology Center Makes Ancient Discovery

Sedona and the Verde Valley are rich in ancient history of the Indigenous people. Conflicting stories of the actual names of the tribes have become a discussion amongst curators, archeologists and the tribes themselves. The Hopi people prefer the term, “Hisatsinom,” meaning “ancient people,” to describe their ancestors who lived within the Sedona and Verde Valley areas.

Archeologists have used the term “Sinagua” — coined in 1939 by archaeologist Harold S. Colton, founder of the Museum of Northern Arizona, from the Spanish word “sin” meaning “without” and “agua” meaning “water,” referring to the name originally given by Spanish explorers to the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff, the “Sierra Sin Agua.”

Colton has described the Verde Valley as “an archaeologist’s paradise” because of the presence of numerous archaeological sites located along the Verde River and its tributaries.

On March 18 and 19, the Verde Valley Archaeology Center celebrated its official grand opening. Executive Director Ken Zoll spearheaded the entire project from its inception; the vision for the Verde Valley Archaeology Center was more than 10 years in the making. But finally, through perseverance, it has come to fruition. Unbeknownst to him and his wife, Nancy, the new building on Finnie Flat Road in Camp Verde was named in their honor.

The Verde Valley Archaeology Center will contain artifacts depicting the ancient Verde Valley family life that has been revealed through the Paul Dyck Collection. It’s one of the largest collections, totaling 50,000 artifacts that were found on Dyck’s ranch located in Rimrock. Dyck, an artist, purchased the 312-acre ranch in 1938. However, it wasn’t until 1962, that the dwellings were excavated, and artifacts were recovered by Dr. Charles Rozaire, assistant curator at the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles. Rozaire was an experienced archaeologist with a Ph.D. in Anthropology from UCLA.

One would think that the artifacts belonged to Dyck because he owned the property. However, Zoll corrected that assumption by saying, “See, there’s where you start off with the fallacy right there, ‘owned by Paul Dyck.’ That was a Hopi ancestral family site prior to Dyck owning it. As far as the Hopi are concerned, their spirits are still there. So, they still occupy that site,” Zoll stated. “Therefore, there’s no such thing as ownership of something like that. And  the big thing right now in archaeology is when you give talks, you usually start with what’s called a ‘land acknowledgment statement.’ And although I’ll say, ‘this is from the Paul Dyck dwelling, but recognize that, he was simply a caretaker, for the people who lived there, and a protector of their site, and this has been used to further our understanding and knowledge of their ancestors.’ And so, you acknowledge all of this. It’s very offensive [to the Hopi] if you don’t do that.”

From 1962 to 1972, the excavation took place under Rozaire’s guidance. Even though the excavations were completed in 1972, a detailed report was never written until the Verde Valley Archaeology Center received the collection from the Paul Dyck Foundation in 2015. As a result, a 701-page report was published in 2020, documenting 420 figures and 100 tables of data, accounting for 50,000 pieces of artifacts. A condensed version of the data was the focus of a book, “Ancient Verde Valley Family Life, The Sinagua at the Dyck Cliff Dwelling.”

With the acquisition of the Paul Dyck Collection, several exhibit rooms at Verde Valley Archaeology Center have been allocated to tell the rare story of the family life of the ancient people. Among the different rooms throughout the center, the stories, artifacts, art and history will be told through a variety of exhibits.

Hisatsinom Painting

Within the center, a room dedicated to the Hisatsinom (Sinagua), contains a floor-to-ceiling painting depicting the story of how four clans or family groups of the tribes emerged from within the Grand Canyon and their subsequent departure. The mural was created by Hopi artist Filmer Keyanyama who stated: “My lineage is descended from the Hopi Tribe of the Southwest. Much of my work depicts and chronicles the Hopi way of life, what I feel and know is very important and sacred to me. We Hopi are of the few Native American people that cling to our old way of life and its ceremonies. As a child growing up on Hopi, I too learned through our initiations the ceremonies that our ancestors passed on to us. The usage of symbols and what I call, Katsina colors, is crucial to my work. My influences come from what I know of Hopi history and what are my own interpretations of Hopi history fueled by my own personal feelings. I am constantly striving to learn and develop new techniques and ideas to use in my paintings, digital art, sculpture and much more. Some of my other works have to do with my personal experiences of growing up between American culture and my Native culture. I focus on trying to depict the spirituality of what Hopi means to me, The People of Peace. My goal is to educate non-Hopi on who we are, and to continue to grow spiritually and professionally as an artist.”


Several pieces of pottery [Ollas] are on display dating back to A.D. 700-1425. Ollas (oy-yah) is a Spanish word meaning “large pot.” The ancient Sinagua of the Verde Valley used these large vessels primarily for the storage of corn, beans and water.  Many of these large pots have been found in caves and buried in pueblos. “But these at Verde Valley Archaeology Center are basically community water vessels, for the most part, sometimes they were storage vessels, but they are big pots, and the Hopi did not move them when they would migrate, they’re just too big to carry,” Zoll said.  “So, when they would move to another place, they would just make some more. And that’s why we have a lot of them in the ruins.”

Paul Dyck Permanent Gallery

Included in this gallery is an easel that Dyck used in 1940 for painting as well as a few original paints and paintbrushes. Other items include boots, a vest and a rifle scabbard made by the sister of a Sioux Indian chief. A few of Dyck’s paintings will also be on display in the room. Paul Dyck was an iconic American painter who embodied a trailblazing spirit. Through his art, he captured the essence of the American West. Dyck has an affinity for the natural environment and a kindred connection to Native Americans. He devoted much of his life ensuring the continuity of Native American culture, peoples and communities.  Dyck lived with several Plains Indian tribes and was the adopted son of the Sioux warrior, One Elk and was also the adopted son of the Blackfeet artist, Lone Wolf.

Rotating Art Gallery

The rotating art gallery currently features a retrospective from the Paul Dyck’s work. Verde Valley Archaeology Center has been collecting paintings from the Tucson Museum of Art, Phoenix Museum of Art and the Scottsdale Museum of the West, all of which will be on loan for a year. These include: “Tipi Horses,” Collection of the Tucson Museum of Art and “River of Life,” Collection of the Paul Dyck Foundation Research Institution of American Indian Culture. Several private collectors from Sedona and Scottsdale loaned their paintings for the exhibit as well.  

Yavapai Apache Nation

This room contains a diorama of wickiup — huts consisting of an oval frame covered with brushwood or grass and used by the Native Americans as a shelter. In addition, there are a few artifacts on loan from the Yavapai Apache Nation — a maquette of the monument, “Exodus,” is on display. The 10-foot monument sits in front of the Yavapai Apache Nation’s cultural center located near the Cliff Castle Casino in Camp Verde. The sculpture depicts the “Trail of Tears,” where the Native Americans were forced out of their land and had to relocate 180 miles away. 

Paul Dyck Artifact Collection

Three rooms at Verde Valley Archaeology Center are dedicated to the Paul Dyck Collection of artifacts that were found in the cliff dwelling and had been untouched for 800 years. It’s considered the most complete picture of a family’s life at that time, from the 11th to the 13th century. Botanical seeds discovered in the dwelling will be displayed, along with other artifacts such as textiles, pottery, arrows and gourd rattles.

 Communities Along Beaver Creek

The Verde Valley is rich in ancestral discoveries. The Dyck Cliff Dwelling was more than likely connected to other community sites along Beaver Creek. According to a new publication about “Ancient Verde Valley Family Life,” “These communities probably had communal ceremonial facilities, such as community rooms or plazas or kin groups that have maintained their own ceremonial structures.” It is recorded that the inhabitants at the Dyck dwelling may have contributed to ceremonies that took place in some of the large pueblos in the area, where a multitude of ballcourts were found at Watter’s Ranch in Lake Montezuma and Sacred Mountain. More than 200 ballcourts have been found in Arizona. Shortly after A.D. 600, the Verde Valley attracted the “Hohokam,” who planted crops in the bottom lands and built their houses on the adjacent terraces so that they could overlook their fields. The ballcourts are an oval-shaped courts which bear a close similarity to the ballcourts of Mexico. Archeologists believe that there is some connection to the tribe’s ceremonial rites. Seven ballcourts have been located with 7.5 miles of the Dyck Cliff Dwelling, with the closest one about 2.5 miles upstream on Beaver Creek. 

The most interesting stories are those about the ancestral history Zoll discovered during his tenure at Verde Valley Archaeology Center including solar calendars, cliff dwellings, pit houses, sacred sites and a possible ancient birthing center. The continuous revelations of solar calendars in the area and around the southwest, depicting the winter and spring solstices, as well as rock art, is what Zoll has been noted for. “People often ask, ‘How did you get into this?’ And I’ll say, during my career, I was a Chief Information Officer. I very simply went from the high tech of the 21st century, to the high tech of the 11th century,” Zoll said. “A lot of times, I’ve given these talks, and I’ll have people almost always — at least one, if not more, will come up to me afterwards saying, ‘I had no idea these people [Indigenous people] were that smart.’ That is really gratifying to me, that I’m showing that they’re real people. That’s why I love those three exhibits [Paul Dyck Cliff Dwelling artifacts] that we’re doing at Verde Valley Archaeology Center on Domestic Life, Diet and Subsistence and Textiles. It’s showing how a family lived here. And they’re not that much different than us.” 


The Verde Valley Archeology Center is located at 460 Finnie Flat Road, Camp Verde, Arizona. Make sure to check it out if you’re in town.

Visit www.verdevalleyarchaeology.org for more information.



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