While most college students start their summer trying to catch up on lost sleep from the tiring semester, one group of New Mexico State University students set their alarms even earlier than normal.
Every summer, NMSU anthropology students have an opportunity to participate in field school, where they can get hands-on archaeological experience. Students spent six weeks this summer excavating and mapping the Cottonwood Springs Pueblo, one of the largest 14th century Jornada Mogollon villages in southwest New Mexico.
“Field school is an opportunity to gain a practical, applied understanding of archaeological field methods,” said Mary Brown, an anthropology graduate student in the College of Arts and Sciences. “Students get hands-on experience in digging, mapping, artifact identification and documentation.”
NMSU anthropology professor Bill Walker directed this year’s field school along with Brown. The group collaborated with archaeologists at White Sands Missile Range.
“Our group started the real task of digging a trench about 3 meters long and 1 meter wide. We’d scrape at the dirt with trowels, slowly shoveling it into buckets, which we then ran through a screen. Most of what we’d find were sherds of El Paso Brown and El Paso Polychrome pottery,” said Keighley Hastings, a junior studying anthropology.
The group’s main focus was to discover how climate change affected this area, and how the people adapted during that time.
“The pueblo itself was as large as a Nebraska town, and with a great view of the mountains,” Hastings said. “I can well imagine it would have been a lovely and dramatic place to live back when it was inhabited.”
Days were long for these students. They would start each day at 7 a.m. to hike out to the pueblo, work until late in the afternoon, and then drive back to campus.
“We would park, unload all our gear, water coolers, etc. and carry it another 100 yards or so to the actual site. Once on site, we set up shade tents, uncovered our excavation units and pick up where it left off the day before,” Brown said.
The team spent about six weeks traveling to and from Cottonwood Springs Pueblo, Monday through Thursday. Fridays were spent in the lab cleaning and analyzing all the artifacts from the week’s work.
This year’s location stood out greatly because of its size. It is one of the largest pueblos in the Jornada, with great potential for findings. Students spent every day seeking information about daily life, practices and influences of its inhabitants.
According to Bill Walker, every year students gain experience and insight in archaeology, and seek to learn something new.
“My group got very lucky with the unit we were digging in,” Hastings said. “We found a large corrugated Seco bowl, submerged under and inside of some adobe blocks and dirt. The pot was intact, which is incredibly rare as finds go. Finding that was like hitting a home run the first time you ever touched a baseball bat.”
The students said field school really started to put everything they had learned in the classroom into a new perspective. It was a learning opportunity that not every student has before graduating.
“It wasn’t just the amazing odds of having found the bowl that made an impression on me,” Hastings said. “The bowl was from 1300 A.D. Using a toothbrush and slowly filing away the dirt from it, it struck me that the pot hadn’t been touched by a human being since before Christopher Columbus came to the North American continent. All those years of sitting in the ground until June 2016, when I touched this little piece of its rim.”
“Thinking of all the history that had passed since the pot had been made was really shivery and quite humbling,” she said. “This experience made the whole field school worth it to me. I wanted to experience archaeology firsthand when I went to field school, and I ended up getting to do just that.”
Brown said each student has a unique intention and purpose for taking field school.
“You definitely get out of it what you put in, and if you’re all in, you will learn so much,” she said.
NMSU Anthropology Department Head Rani Alexander added, “Archaeological Field School is more than just fun in the sun. The students learn important lessons about stewardship of cultural heritage and what archaeology reveals about human diversity and past lifeways,” Alexander said. “By completing the archaeological field school, the students are qualified for employment in archaeology and cultural resource management on public lands.”
The Charles M. Gunn and Barbara L. Parker Memorial Scholarship provided scholarship support for students attending the Cottonwood Springs Pueblo field school for Archaeology and by the Society for American Archaeology, Cheryl L. Wase Memorial Scholarship for the Study of Archaeology.
For more information about field school and the anthropology department at NMSU, visit https://anthropology.nmsu.edu
Author: Taylor Vancel – NMSU