Written by Eddie Hughes, Fresno State Magazine Editor
As a few dozen anthropology students and members of several local Native American tribes circled around a camp site at a remote location in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, John Pryor broke into song. But don’t be fooled by the professor’s courage — he’s not a singer, he’s just an archaeologist with a meaningful way of doing things.
The song he shared was his way of showing respect for the culture he’s devoted the past 21 years of his career to discovering more about. Pryor, himself, is not Native American. But as he has embarked on a “new archaeology” — one that blends Western science and Native American heart — he has built relationships within several Central Valley tribes and demonstrated a passion for preserving their history.
For two weeks each summer, Pryor and a select group of alumni supervise a diverse class of more than 20 Fresno State students at an archaeology field school in the village site of Pal-lah-tci. The site, a short drive from the mountain town of Oakhurst, is known as “Grandad.” The plot of land is owned by Ed Appling Jr. of the Southern Sierra Miwuk Nation and Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians. And each summer, the students are visited by members of many different local tribes.
“The site itself is something special. It was a village site, a place with people,” says Erin Renn, a 2010 Fresno State archaeology graduate who has returned to Grandad numerous times to help supervise students. “Once a year, Dr. Pryor brings people back to it, and, for those willing to feel it, the site comes alive and thanks you for being there.”
On this particular day, as the two-week field school is wrapping up, several Natives share songs and stories of their own before it’s Pryor’s turn. Pryor sings one of many traveling songs — intended to send loved ones home safe and make sure the spirits don’t follow them. It’s a song Pryor sings toward the end of field school each year, and one he learned from his friend Razzel Dazzel, who is also part of the circle this day.
“Just because I have these Native American perspectives doesn’t make me Indian,” Pryor says. “But I honor their traditions by honoring their beliefs.”
Read the full story in the Fresno State Magazine