By Tamara Jager Stewart
This is an article excerpt from the Spring 2021 edition of American Archaeology Magazine. Become a member of The Archaeological Conservancy for your complimentary subscription.
Perched above Beaver Creek and the fertile Verde Valley in central Arizona, the Dyck Cliff Dwelling has sat quietly tucked away on private land for centuries. This tiny habitation site, which dates between A.D. 1150 and 1300, consisted of nine rooms and likely housed about thirty members of the southern Sinagua culture. It has been protected by artist and rancher Paul Dyck and his family for nearly half a century.
A mural from Awotovi, an archaeological site on the Hopi Reservation in Arizona, shows a corn maiden wearing a tie-dyed garment. A number of tie-dyed garments have been recovered from the Dyck Cliff Dwelling. | Credit: Keith Greiner
These finishing needles (top four) and finishing battens were used to make textiles found at Dyck. | Credit: Todd Bostwick
This is one of over thirty agave needles with fibers still attached that were found at the site. | Credit: Todd Bostwick
A fragment of a Dyck cotton textile with oblique interlacing. | Credit: Todd Bostwick
Dyck bought the 312-acre property containing the dwellings in 1938, operating a ranch there and later spending his days painting in the two-story studio residence he built in the 1960s. Concerned about the deteriorating condition of the cliff dwelling and its vulnerability to vandalism as the area became more developed, Dyck invited Charles Rozaire, assistant curator at the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles, to professionally excavate the site. In 1962, Rozaire, who had extensive excavation experience and specialized in prehistoric basketry and weaving, began his excavations of the cliff dwelling. Over the next ten years, he and his team recovered some 50,000 artifacts that included a well-preserved collection of textiles.
The dry rock shelters and natural alcoves of the arid Southwest protect fragile artifacts made of cloth and wood from damaging ultraviolet light, temperature fluctuations, rainfall, mold, mildew, fungus, and other sources of deterioration, enabling some of them to remain more or less intact for centuries. Despite that, “rampant looting of rockshelter sites over the last century and a half undoubtedly destroyed most textiles, or ripped them from context without records to link them to any useful data,” said Kelley Hays-Gilpin of the Museum of Northern Arizona, in Flagstaff. “We simply don’t have that many assemblages of ancient textiles that were excavated scientifically. The information about context, provenience, and association makes the Dyck collection important as much as its remarkable state of preservation.”