About a month after I joined Cochise College in 2009, I found myself in a small room at the Douglas Campus poring over the handiwork on a collection of primitive, painted pottery. This, of course, was during the time when I was studying up on the organization and familiarizing myself with all of its opportunities, challenges, perks and quirks.
The collection came to be housed at Cochise College in the 1960s and 1970s when students participated in excavation and survey programs and earned credits that fulfilled degree requirements at the state universities. Later, when those credits were accepted only as electives, the program diminished in popularity, but the items they unearthed remained as an educational resource for future generations.
At least seven major excavations, collecting ceramics, stone, human and other bone, and assorted other materials, spanned the county during the program’s active years. In addition, the college was the recipient of collections provided by families in Cochise County and northern Mexico, as well as a 1974 U.S. Customs donation of artifacts seized at the border. Some of the items are both aesthetically beautiful and culturally representative.
On April 9, the college will add archaeology to the list of “As” it celebrates at the Douglas Campus (the list also includes art, athletics, aviation and agriculture) with the debut of the first installment of “The Prehistoric Peoples of Cochise County,” a permanent exhibit of the artifacts unearthed decades ago by archaeology classes.
Rebecca Orozco, a faculty member in history, organized the collection when she served as director of the college’s Center for Southwest Studies (now the Center for Lifelong Learning). The project is dear to her heart, having grown up rubbing elbows with local history and archaeology experts and participating in those early excavations as a student. The exhibit, which includes an artist’s renderings of scenes from daily Native American life, puts the pieces into context and directly ties them to local culture; because of her ties to the program and background in archaeology and anthropology, Becky also is able to provide a unique perspective during informational reviews of the collection.
As the custodian of these items, it is our responsibility to do our best to preserve them and to make them accessible to scholars, faculty and the public at large. In order to do this in the absence of a demand at the university level for community college archaeology students, Cochise has elected to seek alternative resources, such as private contributions or grants, to help with the cost of preservation and display. A gift from Cochise College alumni John and Rosaline Pintek funded the initial installation in the Douglas Campus Administration Building, and once we identify additional resources, we envision expanding the exhibits to other college campuses and centers.
“The Prehistoric Peoples of Cochise County” project has been years – decades, even – in the making. Buried for centuries, some of the items will again see the light of day, and Cochise College will continue to work to maximize this educational resource by connecting these valuable historical materials with the financial means to help with preservation, public access, research and study.
J.D. Rottweiler is president of Cochise College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about “The Prehistoric Peoples of Cochise County” event or the collection, contact Rebecca Orozco at email@example.com or (520) 417-4772.