Pueblo artifacts unearthed
Published: Wednesday, October 20, 2004
Updated: Tuesday, November 20, 2012 17:11
In the mid-1990s, looters offered Richard Chaves, who just purchased a plot of land in central New Mexico, several hundred thousand dollars for whatever artifacts they could find buried on his ranch.
In January 1996, instead of accepting the offer, Chaves approached Michael Adler at the SMU Department of Anthropology for advice. Chaves carried with him a shoebox full of artifacts he gathered from the surface of the land, and he sensed the potential archaeological value of what might still remain unearthed.
Chaves turned out to be right. The artifacts in the shoebox captured Adler's interest and the two men began planning how to excavate the ranch. From that afternoon meeting has emerged the identification of the Chaves/Hummingbird site in New Mexico, an annual summer project for students and faculty of the anthropology department since 1998.
Since Oct. 1, the first floor lobby of Fondren Library has housed an exhibit showcasing some of the artifacts and other findings from the excavation.
The site consists of a Pueblo Indian village dating from the 13th and 14th centuries and located along one of the tributaries of the Rio Puerco. Its archaeological name both honors the Chaves family and refers to the ancestral Pueblo village, known as Hummingbird Ruin. Excavators intend to improve the documentation of the prehistory of the region and the river, which served as a crossroad for regional relations during this time period, according to http://www.smu.edu/isem/humming-bird.
The idea for exhibiting the material culture uncovered at the site began as a discussion between John Phinney, a professor and librarian in the anthropology department, and Adler, research director for the excavation. Phinney said he is pleased with the results, which include arrowheads and other stone projectile points as well as examples of Puebloan pottery.
"All of [the artifacts] are originals, some of which the graduate students reassembled with glue on campus," said Phinney, who designed the exhibit and prepared it for display. "I think people are getting a good look at what's been happening at the site. I've been getting lots of nice comments and phone calls about it."
Despite the large number of artifacts recovered as a result of the Chaves/Hummingbird project, Adler believes the most important contribution to the project may be the opportunity it has provided Adler and others to educate more people about Pueblo culture and archaeology.
For the past two summers, Adler used the location for the SMU Summer Field Program in Archaeology, where students get first-hand knowledge of excavation and archaeological analysis.
"There has been an ever-widening group of people who have gotten involved," said Adler, who is director of the field school.
Adler has also reached out to the remaining Pueblo Indians in the area, inviting them to participate in the excavation.
"We've tried to get some of the local tribes in it to see what they know about their past, and so we can see who these people were affiliated with," he said. "The involvement of the public, the outreach, the involvement of a lot of different groups — I think that's been the most important contribution of this project."
Thanks to the work of Jay Pheuer, a graduate student in the anthropology department, the span of that outreach has grown and continues to grow. For the past two summers, Pheuer has overseen a 10-day program that invites 10 to 12 middle school students to experience archaeology firsthand at the Chaves/Hummingbird site. Some of the students travel from a school in Albuquerque, while others travel from a school in Rochester, N.Y.
Pheuer said he got the idea after realizing how little chance there was for non-graduate-level students to get direct exposure to archaeology. The middle school students in Pheuer's program have the opportunity to participate in activities such as excavation, artifact washing and mapmaking.
At the end of the program, students compose reports based on their findings. The quality of the results surprised even Pheuer.
"The first year, I was absolutely amazed," Pheuer said. "The work that they produced was impeccable. And they would listen and always do what they're asked and they would ask questions when they didn't know things."
The program will continue next summer, but the scope of the project's outreach continues to grow. Pheuer and others involved in the ongoing Chaves/Hummingbird excavation are working to obtain grant money for a larger program that will bring to the site middle school-aged kids from both Albuquerque and from the local Hopi, Zuni and Acoma Puebloan tribes.
"I want to bring some of these kids together because you learn about the culture by entering into it, by being fully immersed in it," Pheuer said. For now, he will focus on next year's 10-day program.
Research Director Adler said that the SMU Field School would not use the site next summer, instead allowing for more intensive analysis of what has already been found.
Those interested in seeing examples of those findings have until Friday to view the exhibit, located just inside the first-floor entrance of Fondren Library.