Updated: Nov 25
The Verde Valley Archaeology Center not only functions as a museum, but is dedicated to providing a space for expanding education while fostering connection and collaboration.
Part of the Center’s core mission is to educate and create awareness of the Indigenous Peoples of the Verde Valley, as well as stewardship and conservation.
“As a cultural institution, it's a responsibility of ours to promote all forms of learning,” said Monica Buckle, Executive Director, adding that they cover a large range of educational components.
Besides the physical exhibits of the museum, VVAC puts on lectures, classes, workshops, hikes and events, as well as partnering with other institutions for symposiums and conferences. The Center enables volunteers to work in the museum’s lab categorizing artifacts as well as out in the field, doing field survey work for both the center and different National Forests. The Center also has a children's adventure room, serving even our youngest visitors.
“There became a need to expand our education component because people were wanting to have more enrichment with their lives,” said Buckle. “We want to be able to create that as an organization and cement us as a learning center and a resource.”
By providing this educational component, VVAC strives to be a community anchor that allows anyone with an interest in archaeology and Native American culture to expand their skill sets. They are currently in the midst of starting recurring student workshops and programs.
“Museums really serve as a community anchor," said Buckle. “We're not there yet with VVAC, but that's what myself and the board are aspiring to achieve,” adding that funding is a necessary part of this.
VVAC works with Northern Arizona University’s Road Scholar Program, a program that specializes in educational travel for older adults. Tours of the museum are included as part of some of their offerings. In addition, Executive Director Emeritus Ken Zoll, is a Road Scholar presenter on the ancient history of the Verde Valley for their "Best of Sedona" program.
The Center is also working on our library which is part of the Yavapai County Library Network. The VVAC library specializes in archaeological. anthropological, and Native American books and journals. The collection covers an array of topics, including out of print and first edition copies.
A major grant, received from the Institute for Museum and Library Services, is funding the digitization of a segment of the Center's extensive prehistoric textile collection. The information from the ongoing Dyck Textile Digital Imaging project will be available online in the near future, which will be free and accessible to the general public.
VVAC collaborates with other organizations, such as the Arizona Archaeological Council. As part of their 2023 Annual Conference, the Center hosted a luncheon and a series of educational opportunities, including a Central Arizona ceramic identification workshop taught by Northern Arizona University's Dr. Kelley Hays-Gilpin. Dr. Hays-Gil[pin is the Curator of Anthropology for the Museum of Northern Arizona and a professor of anthropology at Northern Arizona University. Her class centered around identifying potsherds, where they were made and when. She broke down classification by form and function or by using traditional typology. “One of the great things about teaching anthropology is there’s something in anthropology for everybody,” said Hays-Gilpin.
After lecturing on the different pottery types found in Central Arizona, Hays-Gilpin had the students look at examples of potsherds and determine the technique used to make them, providing a tactile, hands-on learning experience.
Many of the artifacts at VVAC are from the Sinagua, or Hisatsinom, people, primarily from the Dyck Cliff Dwelling Site. Hays-Gilpin shared that pottery created in the Sinagua tradition is made of iron-rich clay, formed through a paddle and anvil technique, with a smoothed to polished surface and are rarely painted.
Also held in conjunction with the Arizona Archaeological Conference at VVAC was a talk on grant writing and a field trip to the Crane Petroglyph Heritage Site at the Historic V Bar V Ranch.
Dr. Jim Graceffa of VVAC has been instrumental in furthering the center's educational programming, hosting pottery identification classes since the center’s inception. Graceffa, a dentist by trade, moved to Arizona and fell into a drastic career change with archaeology.
He has been teaching pottery analysis classes for around 12 years while leading the field survey work for the Center. The class is usually taught once a year and is very hands-on, giving attendees a better understanding of what the piece of pottery is and whether it was made locally or not.
The field survey work is done either through the Coconino National Forest or the Prescott National Forest. If there’s a site that the Forest Service wants to know more about and it hasn’t been recorded, the center then records the site and puts it into a database. Those who do this have to take a survey class that Graceffa also teaches.
“We train everybody s you don't have to know anything,” said Graceffa. “That's the best thing about the center. You know nothing about archaeology, but you're interested and you’d like to learn something? Well, there's all different kinds of aspects for you to learn, from being a docent to working out in the field. There are tons of opportunities for everybody.”
“It's important for people that are interested in archaeology to know all different aspects of it,” continued Graceffa. “The more you know, the more questions that you're raising in your mind, but there are more answers for you too. It completes the whole experience of an archaeology center from the displays, to the laboratory to the field work. We have so much to offer.”
A large part of the educational component of the Center is done through the efforts of volunteers, such as the docents who provide free guided tours.
“We want to make sure we give visitors something different and that they walk away feeling like they've learned something,” said Buckle. “Most importantly, they leave thinking about the objects on display, about the cultures that are being discussed and represented here in the museum space. Through learning and education, that's how understanding, tolerance and compassion comes into play. It's one of the best means to expose people to human relations.”
“Ken Zoll, Director Emeritus, is still so generous with his time and his knowledge to do special workshops for our members,” added Buckle. “What's so wonderful about Ken is he inspires so many people and gets them excited about archaeology and archaeoastronomy.” When not busy writing books, Zoll hosts workshops and classes at the Center.