October 2022
Native Myths and Monsters
Nightmare at the Museum of Indigenous People Oct. 17-31

This month brings a new entry to our roster of local spooky-season events, coming from a cultural perspective that’s both ancient and, for many of us, fresh.

“Nightmare at the Museum” will showcase some of the “ghost stories from North American indigenous cultures,” says production designer and docent Joshua Ballze, in a family-friendly and educational program that will also help dispel some of the “myths around certain symbolisms built early in academic archaeology” around outsider interpretations.

The largely interactive exhibit will take place in the old Pueblo meeting hall, which is purported to be haunted, “adding an additional layer of experience,” winks Ballze, adding, “We’ve had ghost-hunters here to record (paranormal) activity.”

The walk-through experience, a first for the museum, will introduce us to ancient monsters and legends of North America, including Hairy Man (aka Sasquatch), prominent in northwest Pacific traditions, shapeshifters, the story of Grandmother Spider, revered by many Southwest nations, and other mythical monsters and spirits.

Artifact reproductions from the museum’s collections will help illustrate these stories and offer the visitor glimpses into how Native Americans experience and share these stories.

The experience will also include Native perspectives on snakes, spiders and bats, illustrating regional diversity in how these animals are represented and imagined, from positive depictions of bats in the North American tradition of Mimbres pottery to stone Mesoamerican effigies with more frightful connotations, illustrating how North and Central American indigenous peoples influenced one another through both trade and culture. Replicas of fossil dinosaur tracks will lead to possible origins of some monstrous myths.

“The spookiest night will be Halloween night, so we may have some surprises,” says Ballze. “That could encourage those who visit the production early to return on Halloween to see what we’ve added.” He promises a lights-on daytime presentation for kids under five, and the tricks may come with treats.

The special exhibit is scheduled to run during museum hours October 17-31 (closed Sundays), including Halloween night, hours to be determined. Admission to the exhibit is $5, look for the haunted door.

A Real Monster

The Sabertooth Glyph is a part of the larger Pleistocene exhibit that’s due to go public in November as the museum consolidates its exhibits from prehistory, including a replica atlatl dart done by a local artist and newly acquired spearpoints and other artifacts. This is part of a larger ongoing conservation effort funded by the Yavapai Chapter of the Arizona Archaeological Society to 3D-scan and record petroglyph and pictograph sites that are at risk due to climate change and vandalism. The goal of the project is to make comprehensive records for future conservation of these sites to combat the loss of our Southwest heritage.

Fundraising is ongoing to invest $20,000-30,000 for scanning and archiving of data, leading to more replicas for exhibit and study as funding develops further. Contact MIP archaeologist Andrew Christianson for how you can help with this project.

Steven Ayres is Editor of 5enses.

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