PRESCOTT, Ariz. -- The Sharlot Hall Museum has opened the first phase of a new permanent exhibit in its Lawler building that will trace this region's history from pre-human times to Prescott's territorial capital days.
``In a way, this is the first time any exhibit has synthesized the history of our region,'' said Exhibit Curator Sandy Lynch, the museum's curator of anthropology. Archaeologists from the Prescott, Coconino and Tonto national forests as well as the Museum of Northern Arizona helped her knit the story together.
Where the museum's library and archives once occupied the east side of the Lawler building, the newly opened exhibit tells the story of early humans in the Central Highlands. It spans from 14,500 to 2,000 years ago, before humans built permanent settlements.
``It's just the beginning of a series of expansions over 8-10 years,'' Museum Director John Langellier said of the new exhibit.
The exhibit opening comes at the same time as the museum is finishing construction on a new building that will free up more exhibit space in the Lawler building.
The next phase of the permanent exhibit to open in the Lawler building will cover the time period of 18,000 to 12,000 years ago before humans arrived in the Central Highlands. It should open early in 2014.
Also next year, Langellier hopes to move the Porter steam engine from the parking lot to the museum entrance and staff it so people can pay their entrance fee at ``Sharlot's Depot'' and get information. The steam engine comes from the old mines at Congress south of Prescott.
The timing for the exhibit expansions and Sharlot's Depot depend on fundraising success, since the state's contributions to the state-owned museum have dwindled in recent years.
The new exhibits will utilize the museum's vast collections whenever possible.
``The whole object of course is to continue on the path that Sharlot Hall herself set, which is to bring history alive through our collections,'' Langellier said.
For example, the newly opened exhibit features numerous tools used by ancient American Indians, such as metate and mano rocks for grinding food that were found at the Prescott Lakes subdivision and Peeples Valley.
And the next phase will feature a mastodon found on the Prescott National Forest near Kirkland south of Prescott in 1994.
The new exhibit is state of the art, Langellier noted. National Geographic illustrations and video screens help tell stories.
It features mounted wolves, mule deer and pronghorn antelope alongside life-like mannequins of Clovis people. The huge male wolf was shot in northern Alberta because of a bounty on it for killing cattle, and it closely resembles the dire wolves of prehistoric times, Lynch said. It has a broken nose, possibly from taking on a caribou, and part of its ear is chewn off.
In one scene, a Clovis hunter is slinging a dart into a pronghorn with an atlatl while the dire wolves prowl closer.
In another, a Clovis girl plants seeds in a streambed after strategically moving rocks and pebbles to catch the water, while another girl sets a rabbit snare.
The backdrops feature huge photos of local landscapes.
Children will enjoy looking for some of the smaller creatures in the exhibits such as the caterpillar, grasshopper, frog and lizard that exhibit designer George Fuller created.
Cody Bennett and Tim Yungman got a permit to collect hundreds of rocks from the Prescott National Forest, then washed them and placed them in the exhibit. Barbara Rogers did the graphics. The late archaeologist Leon Lorentzen handcrafted tools such as the atlatl.
``It was such a huge team effort,'' Lynch said. ``Everybody just pushed themselves to exhaustion.''
The exhibit helps visitors understand the history of the Clovis people. Only two Clovis arrowheads have been found in the northwest quadrant of Arizona, and one was found about 20 miles south of Ash Fork on the Prescott National Forest.
The video screens allow the stories to change with science, Lynch noted. For example, the latest Clovis theory argues that the Clovis people actually came from Europe instead of crossing the Bering Straight land bridge.
Information from: The Daily Courier, http://www.dcourier.com