Arts & Culture » Book Feature

Playing in the Dirt

Julian Dodge Hayden—septic-tank contractor and amateur archaeologist—tells his own story

by

comment

Name a well-known archaeological site in Arizona, and odds are that Julian Dodge Hayden turned the dirt there—even though he had no university credentials and seems to have held a deep skepticism of academia throughout his long life.

He was nonetheless a friend and colleague of the leading lights of desert of archeology; he published widely; and he developed theories—many of them born in his favorite haunt, northern Mexico's Sierra Pinacate—about the deep age of human settlement in the New World. Those ideas were considered absurd by many in his day, but have since been vindicated. And he did this while working as a septic-tank contractor for his daily bread, hitting the Pinacate on the weekends and camping out in his old International Travelall. If there is such a thing as rugged individualism, Hayden surely lived it.

Hayden was born in Montana in 1911, the son of a Harvard-educated archaeologist, Irwin Hayden, who worked under F.W. Putnam and was "destined to take over the Peabody Museum." The elder Hayden was "a bit thorny," though, and had a falling out with the establishment and headed west. Many years later, Irwin got back into the field and took his son Julian along. A tall, powerfully built pin-up in his youth, Julian felt most comfortable down in the trenches, digging and sifting, his calloused hands deep in the trash and left-behinds of ancient cultures.

Despite his Republican leanings, in the 1930s, he worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps as a crew leader, and during World War II, he helped build Yuma Airfield. He was a self-taught silversmith, creating museum-quality jewelry and more, decorated with ancient characters and symbols he'd encountered on digs. He worked with John Wetherill at Keet Seel, the state's largest cliff-dwelling. And he even met Frank Lloyd Wright, who was building Taliesin West in 1934 while Hayden and Emil Haury were excavating Snaketown nearby. During this meeting, Haury invited Wright to visit the dig, and Wright, according to Hayden's memory of the event, said something typically controversial and haughty.

"Wright drew himself up, looked down his nose at Dr. Haury, and said, 'Dr. Haury, when you can prove to me that archeology has ever contributed one whit to the welfare of humanity, I'll come over.'"

Considering his vast experience and intellect, it's not surprising that Hayden's patio, attached to the adobe house he built (of course) with his own hands, eventually became a kind of salon for Tucson's archeology community. In the 1990s, when Hayden was in his 80s, Bill Broyles and Diane Boyer decided that they would record this rare man for posterity, and the result is this fascinating, beautiful book, an oral history of Hayden's life, told by the great man himself, in his own unique voice. Hayden died in 1998.

The authors describe the birth of their project in an afterword: "As we each came to know him, we saw more of the human inside, the introspective, self-taught silversmith, the patron of many a hard-working but down-on-his luck peon, the foreman and owner who labored side-by-side with his trench crews, the blue-collar scientist who jousted with ivory-tower academics but slipped money and encouragement to struggling students. And the stories he could tell of days gone by, of people worth knowing, of life as a maverick amateur archaeologist ... why, they could fill a book!"

And indeed they did fill a book, and it is a book that anyone with an interest in the archeology and anthropology of the Southwest should read. Even if your prior knowledge of the field is just above introductory (as mine is), the editors have included a helpful "People and Places" chapter that identifies all of the famous people and places that Hayden mentions in his charming monologue.

Toward the end of his tales, Hayden, while not necessarily agreeing with Wright's simplistic views on the worth of archaeological pursuits, takes a typically pragmatic position in response to the question: What is the importance of archaeology to society?

"I've remarked more than once that archaeology never put a dime in a peon's pocket, which is another way of saying that we are on the fringe of what is necessary. In hard times, archeology goes down the drain. And in good times, when people have some wheat in the storehouse and a few shekels somewhere, there's money to spare," he says. "If you can't make a living at it, play at it. That's what I do."

Add a comment