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Anasazi exhibit reveals ancient artisans

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PROVO — When the women of the Virgin Anasazi world sat down to paint a cooking pot, they didn't randomly choose the design that decorated the bowl. There was symmetry and thought behind the detail.

Some were made with a "spirit line" whose pattern allowed the spirit of the bowl to escape.

One is an extremely rare "killed bowl" with a hole deliberately knocked into it so it could be buried with someone who had died.

Others have interesting reverse images (the picture made by the white space between painted places) and stencil images that duplicate the cliffs and desert formations around them at the time. Some have interlocking elements.

"It shows extreme talent. The designs are highly deliberative," said Marti Allen, the director of the Museum of Peoples and Cultures.

The pieces make up an exhibit at the museum that took Cynthia Young and Samantha Bonser, Brigham Young University archaeology and anthropology majors, two semesters to pull together from pieces Lanny Talbot found on his property in Kanab in 1986.

"According to Mr. Talbot, it all came from one site, but it may have been from many sites," said Allen. "It's been here for years, and it wasn't excavated by trained people. That's where we got the name for the exhibition, actually. The students literally had to reconstruct the artifacts from fragments."

A team of students are also working on creating a catalog of the artifacts that can be shared among scholars and those who are studying the ancestral Pueblo people.

"Scholars all over the Western United States are waiting for this," Allen said.

In the meantime, the public can see the fruits of student labor in the museum in pots and bowls recreated out of dozens of broken bits, works put together like puzzles after they've been cleaned in sand and painstakingly set into the right place.

"One millimeter off and it's all wrong," Allen said. "It's really pretty challenging."

The pottery makes up the lion's share of artifacts on display but there are also drawers full of gaming pieces, bone awls and spindle whorls.

"One thing we have is a lot of pottery," said Young, who said there is much more stored in the museum than included in the display.

The pots chosen for display are all clay but some are Whiteware and some are Redware which were imported or sold to others. There are heavy, corrugated cooking pots and everyday, lighter, serving and mixing bowls. There are even some bowls that appear to have been misshapen in the fire or by time itself — "warped bowls" — bowls Allen believes were deliberately fashioned or molded to allow easy pouring or function for a specific purpose.

"They obviously knew how to make a perfect round bowl. They had to decide they wanted one shaped differently. The odd shaping had to happen before firing," she said.

Most were made on a "puki" or a sort of half bowl that served as a mold or shaping base.

Visitors can visit the Anasazi world by "hafting" or attaching an arrowhead to a shaft to create a weapon, coloring a reverse stencil or coiling a pot by rolling rope around a finished piece. They can put together a rock art flannel board story.

Allen suggests visitors plan to spend at least an hour in the exhibit. A walk-through really doesn't do the exhibition justice.

If you go . . .

What: "Rise Up from Fragments" exhibition

Where: Museum of Peoples and Cultures, 700 N. 100 East

When: Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. through 2006

How much: Free although donations are appreciated

Phone: (To schedule tours for groups) 422-0020

E-mail: haddoc@desnews.com