Frederick Lange lifted a broken pot that someone left in the corner of a room eight centuries ago and beneath it, apparently hidden there for safekeeping, he found something that made the back of his neck tingle.
Professional archeologists like Lange, curator of anthropology at the University of Colorado Museum here, do not write of tingling necks in their papers and reports on digs.
Nothing about Lange's excitement will be found in the recent book he co-wrote, "Yellow Jacket, A Four Corners Anasazi Ceremonial Center."
But there, in remote southwestern Colorado, while kneeling recently in the corner of that room and peering under the broken pot, the back of his neck definitely tingled.
Stone for Polishing
"It was a quartz pebble," he said. "One of the most beautiful polished quartz pebbles that they used for polishing the outsides of the pottery they made. It was just sitting there under the pot and it was so smooth you could just close your eyes and think about all the times somebody had used that stone. Polishing the pot. Smoothing the pot. Around and around."
Lange's hand made the circles as he told his tale in hushed tones. His eyes closed.
"You could hold that rock in your hand and almost stop and wonder whether it was your hand that was holding it," he said.
A Project Since 1954
Lange has worked the last two years at the Yellow Jacket archeological site, but it has been a continuing university project since 1954. The centuries-old home of the Anasazi Indians is not far from the better-known Mesa Verde National Park and is surrounded by other important archeological sites.
The region reeks of Indian mystery; the atmosphere is charged with a presence that cannot be defined in scientific journals, Lange said, but it can be felt.
"We don't see ghosts and stuff, but there is a certain sense of the special nature of the area," he said. "We go out to the site at night occasionally and just sit there and try to soak it up."
Kivas Generate Excitement
Lange calls Yellow Jacket "one of the most scenic and exciting archeological areas in all of North America," and said much of the excitement is generated by a "tremendous number" of kivas, or ceremonial structures. There is a great kiva, five intermediate-sized kivas and 124 small kivas.
"We just don't know why all these kivas are at this one site," Lange said. "It's a unique feature in southwestern Colorado. If you go down to contemporary Rio Grande Valley pueblos, there will be two, three--a small number of kivas."
He said another architectural surprise at the site has been "the tremendous number of tunnels that you find, tunnels running from the kivas into the surface rooms, tunnels from kiva to kiva, they're just all over the place."
Played Important Part
Archeologists speculate that the tunnels played an important part in the programs and rituals conducted in the kivas.
By using the secret tunnel network, "magical events could be made to appear to occur and voices could come out and this sort of thing," Lange said.