A Brief Overview of a Thesis.

This is going to be a short,somewhat rambling post, as I feel like my brain has been through the wringer,but it’s going to be about my thesis research. Part of my thesis involved conducting pedestrian survey and limited excavation at a site on private land along the upper Pecos River in northeastern New Mexico. Over the course of the fieldwork, artifacts were collected from the surface during survey, and a smaller number of artifacts were recovered as part of the excavation process. This fieldwork was conducted during the last semester that I took courses as part of my program of study. You see, I really didn’t know what my thesis research was going to be on until the preceding semester. I would not recommend this approach to grad school. It’s much, much better to go into it knowing what your topic of study is, so that you can work towards that goal as you progress through thecourse work. Oh well, c’est la vie, live and learn.

Setting up a total station is always an event.

There has been progress on my thesis as since the completion of the field, but it has progressed in fits and starts. Thanks to Victoria Evans of NMHU and Dean Wilson of the Office of Archaeological Studies, I’ve been able to identify the pottery types that were collected as part of the fieldwork. Lily Ewing did much of the ground stone analysis. Being more comfortable identifying lithic artifacts, I’ve done a lot of the work of identifying the lithic artifacts recovered at the site. The main objective of my thesis is to try to identify the cultural affiliation of the site based on the cultural material found in association with the site. However, this site is well know in the local area, and arrowhead hunting has been an ongoing pastime for a verylong time. Now this isn’t to say anything bad about people who collectarrowheads. While trained archaeologists cringe at the idea of people goingabout collecting any kinds of artifacts, I truly believe that most people don’treally know or understand why its such a bad thing to do, and I’m not going to condemn anyone who goes out and picks up an arrowhead here or there, especially if the site is on their private property. That being said, the site I was working on was lacking in most formal tools, and while we did find a few diagnostic projectile points on the surface, almost half of those we did find came from the limited excavation we conducted.

Meet the field crew, part archaeologists-in-training, part burros.

Now, I said what I said about your casual arrowhead hunter. Again, I think it boils down to a lack of public awareness that such practices are illegal on public lands, and that removing artifacts destroys the information about their context. What really grinds my gears is when people go from casually hunting artifacts to actively looting a site. When we first started working on the site, there was an active looters tunnel into one of the room blocks on the site. The looter had literally dug a tunnel into the hill, following a lateral wall which protruded out of the hill side. Incredibly, they had dug so far back they encountered the back wall of the room. Thankfully, they had not started to dismantle the back wall, but rather seemed to be in the process of following along the back wall.

Looters tunnel visible in lower right, excavation of overburden above. Masonry wall visible behind excavation.

This step from casually collecting to actively looting is infuriating for several reasons. First of all, any artifacts recovered by looters are essentially stolen property. If this site was on public land, this amounts to stealing public resources. Being that this site occurs on private property, the looter is additionally stealing from the property owner. One unusual circumstance of archaeology in the U.S. is that any site that occurs on private land is the property of the landowner. This includes the artifacts and any associated structures. The only part of a site the property owners does not own are any associated human remains, and these are covered under the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act of 1990, but that’s another topic. In addition to stealing cultural resources, it disturbs the site and can make it difficult for archaeologists who study the site after a looting event.

An awesome field crew, all of whom have my deepest thanks and appreciation.

Despite the lack of formal stone tools like projectile points, there was a large amount of uncollected lithic debitage littering the site. Even in the absence of tools, the debitage can tell us what materials were available to the people who lived there. Taking it a step further, it is possible to determine what types of stone are available locally, as the waste flakes from locally procured stone greatly outnumbers waste flakes from nonlocal stone types. Most of the stone represented consisted of chert and chalcedony, and based on the cores that we found, appeared to have been stream rolled. This indicates that the material came out of a geological formation somewhere along the nearby Pecos River, as the raw material had made its way into a river and been stream rolled prior to being collected and used to create stone tools. The idea that the material is locally available also comes from the sheer amount of that type lithic material that was observed on the site. In contrast, only a handful of obsidian flakes were found. The nearest source of obsidian is across two rivers and one mountain range away in the Valles Calder of the Jemez Mountains, more than 70 miles away. In addition to the lithic assemblage of artifacts, there was an absolute plethora of ceramic sherds littered about the site. A sample of these artifacts were collected as part of the survey and excavation, and analysis of those artifact revealed the presence of several varieties of Black-on-White decorated pottery and even some diagnostic utility wares. While the date ranges for each style are different, most of them overlap over a certain stretch of time. That’s all for now. I know my descriptions were pretty vague, but I’m not completely ready to give up all the details. Suffice it to say I’ll be spending the next month tying up the loose ends in my research, so should be a fun month.


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