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A fantastic place to hang out for 5,000 years

November 27, 2017

Renovated Deer Valley Petroglyph Preserve, administered by ASU, offers modern visitors a glimpse into the ancient past and its people

Out on the far northwestern edge of the Valley, where the pavement turns to sand, is a place people have been visiting for 5,000 years.

Fifty centuries ago visitors chiseled images into rocks stained with desert varnish: ladders, centipedes, figures with big crazy hands, abstract geometric designs, a pair of deer standing nose to nose — in all, 1,571 petroglyphs on 579 boulders.

Now, instead of yucca sandals and turkey-feather kilts, visitors wear rubber flip-flops and yoga pants, but they still come for the same reason: “It’s been a fantastic place to hang out for 5,000 years,” said Arizona State University archaeologist Emily Fioccoprile.

It’s the Deer Valley Petroglyph Preserve, owned and administered by ASU’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change, and it recently reopened after a long renovation.

Video by Ken Fagan/ASU Now

“We’re really here to preserve and interpret the site at the same time, and make those connections between the past and the present,” said assistant director Karen Lloyd D’Onofrio. “When we get here first thing in the morning and the Gambel quail are running around because it’s so quiet and you see the birds and the hawks before we disturb their peace, it’s just very calming. It’s a great way to learn more about the history of the Valley and realize we’re connected in multiple ways.”

Three cultures chipped petroglyphs into the boulders at the 47-acre site: the Archaic, the Hohokam and the Patayan. The “5,000 years” number is a ballpark figure; it could be more or less than that.

To put that in some sort of perspective, it helps to take a look around the world at what else was going on then. The first Egyptian kings to rule over a unified country assumed power. Stonehenge was under construction. On some small Alaskan islands mammoths still lived. Yoga was invented. Wheels were in use on carts in Europe. Writing appeared.

At least some people lived at the Deer Valley site in the Hohokam period. There was at least one pithouse. It was a seasonal place to live; Skunk Creek didn’t flow year-round. Residents worked; there’s evidence of stone tools and pottery.

“We don’t know why the Hohokam stopped here,” Lloyd D’Onofrio said. “We can only speculate. ... It may have been a quarry of some type or a place where people stopped over for a few days on the way to somewhere else.”

About 30,000 to 40,000 people lived in the Valley roughly 25 miles south — about the distance people who walked everywhere could cover in a day.

“I would think it would be a good day’s walk,” Lloyd D’Onofrio said.

The biggest image is about 3 feet tall. The inspiration for the preserve’s logo, the two deer nose to nose, are dubbed the kissing deer. The question on the tip of everyone’s tongue when petroglyphs are viewed is, “What do they mean?” They are so ancient that interpretation is impossible, said Fioccoprile, a postdoctoral research associate with the Center for Archaeology and Society.

“We know it’s part of a suite of symbols people would have recognized,” she said.

Petroglyphs are an investment in the landscape. You don’t just wander up and scratch something in. You have to climb high. Most of the petroglyphs are not at ground level where you see them. And they’re not easy to create. Desert varnish doesn’t yield as easily as sandstone.

“We know that people are making a choice,” Fioccoprile said. “I don’t feel I know what they mean, personally. ... That’s not for us as archaeologists to interpret. There are many Native descendent communities who have stories about what these landscapes meant to their ancestors. ...

“We have to look at what they mean as a collection. ... We know this place was special to many, many people over generations; otherwise, they wouldn’t have come back.”

Fioccoprile is doing a one-year project looking at the landscapes of the preserve and thinking about why it would have been connected to the wider Phoenix basin through time, from when the first people arrived on the site to now.

“How people’s connections to the landscape have stayed the same, and how they’ve changed through time,” she said. “Making petroglyphs was a major draw for people to come in, and we know this happened from the Archaic period — so very, very ancient — all the way up until the historic period,” Fioccoprile said. “It seems this is a landscape of multiple uses. ... I would say that Deer Valley definitely is still alive. ... By visiting we do create the next chapter.”

Deer Valley Petroglyph Preserve

What: An archaeology museum and 47-acre Sonoran Desert preserve, and home to the largest concentration of Native American petroglyphs in the Phoenix area.

When: 9 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays. Last admission to trail at 3:45 p.m. Closed Dec. 24–26 and Dec. 30–Jan. 1.

Where: 3711 W. Deer Valley Road, Glendale.

Admission: $3–$7; free for ASU students and children younger than 6. Every third Saturday of the month is free admission for all.

Details: 623-582-8007,

ASU professor takes opera from the classroom to the world stage

November 27, 2017

A recent work composed by Arizona State University School of Music Professor of Practice Daniel Bernard Roumain is changing the possibilities of what opera is and can be. His critically acclaimed opera, “We Shall Not Be Moved,” is a rare piece in the operatic world — a multi-disciplinary work created by artists of color that addresses race relations in America.

“We Shall Not Be Moved” debuted on Sept. 16 at the Wilma Theater in Philadelphia with sold-out performances. The opera then moved to the Apollo Theater in New York on Oct. 6, and will be performed in Amsterdam and London in the coming months. A U.S. tour is being planned for the 2018–2019 season. Daniel Bernard Roumain Daniel Bernard Roumain of ASU's School of Music is bringing opera to the mainstream. Download Full Image

Roumain said the foundation for “We Shall Not Be Moved” originated in a Philadelphia classroom in 2012. Opera Philadelphia invited him to join their organization as a teaching artist to assist Philadelphia-area public schools, which launched a partnership between Roumain, Opera Philadelphia and Art Sanctuary, a non-profit Philadelphia organization.

“Because those classroom visits were so successful, and because I had started writing some arias and some other things for the visits, it became apparent to them and to myself that we should have a larger collaboration,” Roumain said. “I was asked to put a creative team together and was commissioned to compose an opera for them.”  

He said his librettist Marc Bamuthi Joseph came up with the idea of an opera based on an incident that happened at a Philadelphia row house in 1985 involving local law enforcement and the Philadelphia-based multi-cultural liberation organization known as MOVE.  An altercation resulted in a standoff between MOVE and the police. The house was fired upon and bombed, which resulted in a fire and the destruction of dozens of homes. Five children died in the fire, a tragedy that still haunts the city of Philadelphia. Roumain said he and Joseph used the Philadelphia incident as a catalyst for telling a completely original story involving five runaway children who decided to continue their learning in the abandoned house presumed to be the home of the MOVE organization — and from the ghosts of those five children who died there.

Roumain said the genre of music in the air in the 1970s and 1980s — Philadelphia-based funk, soul — had some degree of influence on his work. 

“Like any city, we have diverse people and music that follows them — that actually represents them,” Roumain said. “As a composer, what I was trying to do was to really set the tone and respond to Marc’s brilliant libretto.”

The opera has been called “not just the future of opera, but … the past, present and future of African-American cultural expression, too” by Kamilah Forbes, the Apollo Theatre’s executive producer.

New York Times chief musical critic, Anthony Tommasini, said, “Mr. Roumain skillfully folds gospel, funk, jazz and contemporary classical idioms into the score. In a post-performance conversation with the audience, he said he hopes the piece ‘changes the notion’ of what an opera can be. It does.”

Roumain believes the opera is something that can be translated back into an ASU classroom and the Herberger Online experience to positively impact and influence students’ lives.

Roumain said that in his current classes, “Leadership in the Creative Industries” and “The Communicating Artist,” his students have been discussing the opera and the events surrounding the work. He has also produced videos and other content about the creation of the opera and the collaborative effort.

“For me the ASU educational experience is always evolving and alive, and I want to create an array of both classroom and online offerings for our ASU faculty, students and community — I’m simply creating work in different places that always ends up back within the ASU family,” he said. 

Roumain said when he thinks about his work, education in its entirety, and the world of educators in articulating what a 21st-century education should be, he asks himself: “What are the tools and what skill-sets are required? How should ASU students be thinking about their work here that launches them into a different non-academic arena if that is their choosing? Where do their careers already exist? Where do their futures lie?”

Roumain said he really has no clear idea of the context of his own work, but as a black Haitian-American composer, it was instilled in him by his mother and father to be responsible as a human being, partner, husband and parent to two young sons.

“Whether or not you have children, you most likely live somewhere where there are children around you and they are your children,” Roumain said. “I’m the type of artist that thinks not about what I could do next, but what I should do next — that attitude, that sense of responsibility and that need to affect change for a common good. These are ideals that I think emanate from ASU’s President Michael Crow, are upheld by Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts Dean Steven J. Tepper, and are exemplified and personified by the School of Music Director Heather Landes.”     

Roumain hopes to bring “We Shall Not Be Moved” home to ASU. He said he thinks the work has solicited change and has given hope and promise to not only the work of composers within the operatic field, but to the work of artists in other areas.

“In as much as 'We Shall Not Be Moved' has its controversies, what I hope it truly ignites is a conversation that is not confrontational and that provides an opportunity for us to share, exchange and grow,” Roumain said.

Lynne MacDonald

communications specialist, School of Music