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Stone jar

Ancestral Pueblo stone jar
ca. AD 1000
Pueblo Bonito, Chaco Canyon, New Mexico
Sandstone, pigment
20 x 13 cm
Collected by George H. Pepper

For the A:shiwi (Zuni) people, Pueblo Bonito is important for playing an innermost role in our emergence and migration story. Different groups of people who emerged from the underworlds had a destiny and a purpose regarding their migration. For the A:shiwi, it was about finding the middle place at the time of emergence. In terms of how people came into that particular area, since the creation of time our people have identified certain terrain—arroyos, buttes, plateaus, and mountains and how they connect to generate significant trails. People marked monuments in line with the sun or with points in the night sky. Within the vast valley in all directions, even on the sheer walls of the mountains, they made different types of inscriptions. To this day our songs talk about thunder beings or the four-footed animals that link and identify trails leading from Zuni to the Chaco area and to Pueblo Bonito (Innodekwe) in particular.

The richness of the spiritual life people had there still remains within our culture. The circular room blocks served as kivas, or ceremonial chambers, some probably for medicine societies, rain priest societies, or other men’s society groups. The men who earned the right to keep the rituals were the backbone of the villages. I keep reflecting on the emergence and the migration. A lot of those people carried sacred bundles to continue building on the creation. The ceremonial chambers were where everything the people brought up from the underworlds was refined. Otherwise, the practice of the societies and the songs that exist today in Zuni would no longer be here. When the people left Chaco, they carried everything they could on their journey. That is how all these different sites are connected to the heart of the Pueblo of Zuni. Our ceremonialism and spirituality connect to these places.

The creation of this vessel was very significant to a certain membership of people. The vessel must have had a designated caretaker who had the honor to find the right soft stone to create it and apply the design. The design represents the thunder beings and their relation to the formation of clouds. The lifelines painted with red hematite connect the different directions and the journeys of the different groups of people. The vessel was probably used for making some type of medicinal powder, or as a way of containing something for ceremonial use. The pigments used in the design are azurite, which is the blue, and red hematite, probably mixed with another clay to make sure the design held the stone’s surface. The black portion is also clay. We use quite an abundance of that black clay pigment for our prayer sticks and some for body paint.

It is evident that there was prayer and spiritual process put into this vessel. It was probably kept in a cool area. It must have had some form of traditional curation away from a lot of light to have kept its color. Sensitive and significant objects were always kept inside another confinement; maybe this vessel was kept in a larger pottery jar with a lid, or maybe a special box was made for it. Somebody put a lot of care into it as it still remains pristine and delicate.

People probably carried this vessel from one place to another until eventually it ended at Pueblo Bonito. Some kind of event must have occurred for it to be left behind. After I came back from the museum, I put more thought to it. That was my conclusion, the more I studied the work applied to the vessel and the kind of pigments used on it, especially the black pigment, which is really very significant in Pueblo country. The vessel is a special gift. It must have had someone to take care of it, as is practiced to this day in the heart of the A:shiwi people.

—Arden Kucate, tribal councilman, Pueblo of Zuni

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