Raven Site

Founding The Center
By Mark Harris
  |  Gorp.com

The White Mountain Archaeological Center was formed with the sole purpose of preserving Raven Site Ruins and curating the cultural material. Rather than rely on spotty and often non-existent government money, the Center's program allows anyone with an interest in archaeology to participate in the ongoing excavations and laboratory curation. Students now come from all over the world.

All the ceramics, stone tools, and other cultural material from the ruin can be seen in the museum next to the site. It is a rare opportunity to view all the cultural material from a site displayed at the same location. The cataloging and reconstruction process is enormous. Every sherd, flake of flint and bit of bone must by cleaned photographed assigned a number and analyzed, then filed away in a system which is expandable and allows for quick access. To date literally millions of artifacts have been recovered from raven site ruins. Complete or nearly complete ceramic vessels are rare. The rooms of the ruin collapse and the vessels are crushed and scattered. Occasionally when a vessel is small and protected by architectural features it will survive intact. Complete vessels do reveal information that would otherwise be lost to the archaeologist such as true vessel form and volume measurements.

According to director James Cunkle," The most significant finds are the ceramic vessels that display meaningful icons. These symbols can be read and they reveal a wealth of information about the people who created these beautiful ceramics centuries ago".

Cunkle is a rare blend of scientist, artist and adventurer -- the perfect contender for creative challenge of running the Raven Site dig. Since a boy on exploring adventures with his father, he has traveled into remote areas of the southwest and discovered the west's unspoiled natural beauty. When James was in his early teens, he would leave the east the day that school ended in June and hitchhike to the west. With a bedroll under one arm, and a suitcase swinging at his side, he crossed hundreds of miles of wilderness and discovered prehistoric caves, petroglyphs, and archaeological sites that were unrecorded. He entered Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti in 1969 and completed two years of study. In 1971, Cunkle left school and became an artist for the next ten years, creating sculptures of glass and bronze. But then adventure called and Cunkle traveled to the headwaters of the Amazon River in Columbia, where he and a team of entomologists collected insects. Along the way, Cunkle became a pilot, a scuba diver, a sky diver, a cave spelunker. And he learned to sail.

In the 1980s, James traveled to the Yucatan jungles of Mexico to record the vanishing life ways of the Maya Indians. Also during this adventure, the team explored the depths of Mayan caves and cenotes using scuba gear and metal detectors. Cunkle dreamed of making a personal contribution to the sciences and the study of humankind. Toward that end, in 1988 he graduated cum laude and received a B.A. in anthropology/ archaeology from Cleveland State University in Cleveland, Ohio.

As coordinator and director of research, Cunkle, is devoted to preserving, protecting and discovering the past through education and a hands-on exposure to field archaeology.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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