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NMSU anthropology field school unlocks history of land-grant community, meets job needs

Release Date: 13 Sep 2022
NMSU anthropology field school unlocks history of land-grant community, meets job needs

More than a dozen New Mexico State University anthropology students spent the summer, not only discovering the history of a centuries-old settlement in northern New Mexico, but also gaining important training that will allow them to fill a critical need for professionals in cultural resource management, referred to as CRM.

“There’s been an explosion of work in cultural resource management, but there’s been a massive drop in the number of people who are recently trained and able to enter the industry, because for two years, most institutions could not offer field schools due to COVID,” said Kelly Jenks, the anthropology professor who led the NMSU field school. “So, there’s actually a bunch of people who are applying to do these field training programs right now because they need the training to get a job.”

Jenks specializes in Spanish land-grant communities. There are more than 150 of them in New Mexico, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Communal grants were made to groups of individuals to establish settlements and often to provide a buffer between Native American groups and budding cities. Communal land grants were also made to pueblos for the lands they inhabited.

Sixteen undergraduate and graduate students joined Jenks at the Cañón de Carnué Land Grant, located east of Albuquerque in the area now referred to as Tijeras Canyon. These lands were first granted in 1763 to 17 families, which included 45 people. Students in the field school spent six weeks working on the site of San Miguel de Loredo plaza settlement, which was occupied between 1763 and 1771.

“The lands were granted to these families who were mostly people who didn’t have a lot of resources,” Jenks said. “From the colonial government’s perspective, this was a way to give them lands in exchange for having them be a ‘buffer settlement’ to occupy this canyon that was a source of danger to Albuquerque and to block any of these attacks. They were supposed to be able to defend the lands against any attack as a condition of getting these lands.”

Jenks partnered with the Cañón de Carnué Land Grant and the City of Albuquerque’s Open Space Division to investigate the settlement site and give recommendations about its preservation.

Albuquerque’s Open Space Division encompasses a network of properties with important natural or cultural resources that provide resource-based recreation and environmental education for the community.

The field school trains students in skills like excavation, mapping, archaeological surveying and artifact analysis. During this particular field school, students also learned how to address the cultural resource management concerns of the city. The San Miguel de Loredo plaza settlement had suffered damage from previous excavation in the 1940s and from road construction in the 1970s. Jenks’ group filled in an old trench to stabilize the surrounding rooms, and through test excavations, they were able to evaluate which parts of the site were intact and which were damaged or destroyed.

Jenks will continue working with the city and land-grant community to make further recommendations regarding fencing and other protections for the site.

“The students who participated in our field school, in addition to the basics, got to experience what it’s like to work actively with the community,” Jenks said. “And they also got to experience some of what it’s like to do CRM – the specific terms, rules and procedures that are required in archaeology when you’re doing it for compliance purposes. That’s why we did this project in this place. Most of these students are going to end up working in that industry.”

Cassidy Hancock graduated from NMSU last year but returned for field school training.

I was not able to complete my field school training that summer,” Hancock said. “So, taking the time to plan for this field school confirmed that I actually want to continue pursuing work in this field.”

Cassey Godman is a senior anthropology student, and this was her first field experience.

“While it was incredibly challenging at times, it was a thousand times more rewarding,” Godman said. “Meeting so many different people, working and living together comes with some obvious challenges, but I left with lifelong friends and more experiences than I ever thought I would get. It was amazing, and I highly suggest it to anyone who has ever been even slightly interested in archaeology.”

Field school work allows students to not only learn techniques for uncovering artifacts of previous generations, but also to help recover the narrative of how they lived.

In 1770, the San Miguel de Loredo plaza settlement was attacked, and survivors fled all the way back to Albuquerque. They were unwilling to go back and resettle their lands, so in 1771, the mayor of Albuquerque forced them to go back and destroy their homes. That was the end of the first land grant. A second land grant came in 1819, and this community continues today, with some tracing ancestry back to that first group of settlers.

“One thing we noticed during fieldwork is that this site has produced a surprising amount of exotic material for what we thought would be a fairly poor, isolated buffer settlement,” Jenks said. “Our excavations recovered metal tools and some pottery imported from central Mexico, and earlier collections included small fragments of olive jars from Spain and porcelain from China. We also found a copper artifact that appears to be a crossbow bolt related to the Coronado expedition of 1540-1542, which was totally unexpected.”

“Every time we step into the field there is an element of the unexpected that has to be addressed and expected,” Godman said. “My favorite example is the small one-by-one meter unit we dug towards the end of the field school. It was supposed to be super easy and small where we expected to run into sterile dirt within 60 centimeters. By the end of 140 centimeters, we were still finding artifacts that absolutely should not have been that far down. We lovingly nicknamed that unit the pit of doom.”

Jenks says they will learn more about the people of San Miguel de Loredo plaza settlement’s daily lives once they have analyzed all the data collected.

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