N.M. summer dig draws students

College course unearths beads, other relics

San Juan College researchers and students work on an archaeological dig near Farmington. The college offers students and community members the opportunity to participate in an active archaeological dig. Enlarge photo

Courtesy of San Juan College

San Juan College researchers and students work on an archaeological dig near Farmington. The college offers students and community members the opportunity to participate in an active archaeological dig.

FARMINGTON, (AP) – Researchers speculate that one of the largest Anasazi ruins in the area still lies buried by the banks of the San Juan River on Tommy Bolack’s B-Square Ranch.

San Juan College offers students and community members the opportunity to participate in the active archaeological dig, uncovered each summer from the rocks and dust where the bluffs come to a point along the riverbank.

It is unremarkable to the untrained eye, but for program director Linda Wheelbarger, her students and Bolack, it offers an opportunity to change the way we think about the past in San Juan County, N.M.

The Totah Archaeological Project 2012 Field School completed excavation in mid-July on the Point site, one of the only active Chacoan great kiva sites.

The six-week field school session, which is led by Wheelbarger, contributes to research on Chacoan Anasazi culture in the northwestern New Mexico area.

“It’s very exciting, working on this great kiva,” Wheelbarger said. “Most of these sites were excavated in the 20s and 30s, like the great kiva excavated in 1921 by Earl Morris at Aztec (Ruins National Monument).”

The dig unearthed more than 30 beads and a ring made of a coal-type material.

“I think that this (kiva) is a Chaco outlier, but I think that it was made by people that lived here rather than by people that came up from Chaco Canyon,” she said.

Although this find might seem meager to most people, Wheelbarger speculates that the great kiva at the Point site was the centerpiece of a large settlement mirroring the ruins found at Chaco Canyon, and that many large sites may still lie buried where the San Juan River passes the bluffs.

“It was very interesting, having lived in this area all my life, but I didn’t know how rich it was,” intern Jacob Schirer said. “When I was little, I’d go to (Bolack’s) museum, but I didn’t know there were ruins out at the bluffs. There aren’t very many kivas in active excavation at this time, so it’s exciting to be able to say that I’m participating in one.”

Schirer said he’s been interested in archaeology from a young age and the most exciting part of being in the lab is piecing together fragments of vessels found at the Point site.

“The one I’m looking at now is corrugated, and it’s fun to see it come together into what it used to be,” he said. “It’s definitely an experience I won’t forget.”

Wheelbarger said despite the program’s cost of $623 for in-state students and $1,235 for out-of-state students, the program remains lower than others.

The program recruits 24 field-school positions as well as 15 internship positions. Interns are required to complete at least two weeks of work at the site or in the lab, write a journal and submit a 10-page research paper.

This year’s dig attracted 11 students and five interns, three of whom are local.

“I try and do a complete field-school experience,” Wheelbarger said. “Most jobs are in (archaeological) surveying, so I have my students do a lot of surveying. I take them on a lot of trips – to Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon, Aztec Ruins and Salmon Ruins. We do a firing and make pots.”

We are expecting some wonderful artifacts on (Bolack’s) ranch. Unfortunately, those bluffs are made of very unconsolidated sandstone. It covers up the site during the winter.”

The Totah Archaeological Project arose out of Bolack’s discovery of his first Anasazi black-on-white bowl in an irrigation furrow in an onion field in 1959.

He first attempted to begin research and field-school possibilities on the B-Square Ranch in 1972, and he engaged in a dig until 1974 when funding ran out.

In 1998, Bolack partnered with San Juan College, and the Totah Archaeological Project was established a year later.

“They’re trying to restore (the kiva),” Bolack said. “According to the measurements, it might be bigger than the one in Aztec. We’re trying to dig it all the way.

“I’m hopeful that we may find something interesting out there,” he said. “There’s quite a settlement there, underneath all that alluvial field. Who knows, there might be another Earl Morris (find).”