NMSU anthropology students continue excavation of ‘empire’ pueblo


WRITER: wthv8420
CONTACT: William Walker , wiwalker

Students in New Mexico State University’s Department of Anthropology recently participated in a field school excavating Cottonwood Spring Pueblo north of Las Cruces.

The field school ran June 23-29 and the students, who commuted from Las Cruces to the pueblo each day, learned basic excavation techniques, artifact processing, and artifact analysis

“The pueblo dates from about 1300 to 1450 A.D.,” said Kristin Corl, a crew chief on the project who is working on her Ph.D. in anthropology. “I led six students in working on one part of the pueblo, a 200-room section, and our goal was to date various parts of the rooms and also determine the architecture.”

Corl said they primarily use three techniques to date various aspects of the pueblo.

“By collecting ceramic sherds, we’re able to get an idea of when the site was occupied and who they were trading with,” Corl said. “We’re also able to do carbon dating on very tiny pieces of charcoal and tree-ring dating by examining the wooden beams from the roofs.”

Corl, who earned her master’s in anthropology at NMSU working with William Walker, an anthropology professor and principle investigator at Cottonwood Spring, is now working on her doctorate at the University of Texas – San Antonio.

Corl has been working on the site since it was opened by White Sands Missile Range, which co-owns the land along with the Jornada Experimental Range and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 2012.

“After about 1150 A.D., a lot of smaller pueblos throughout southern New Mexico disbanded but there was an aggregation of people at this pueblo on the Jornada del Muerto,” Corl said. “So it’s a really interesting time period and one I wanted to stick with and learn more about.”

The pueblo was inhabited by the Jornada Mogollon people, a sub-group of the Mogollon people, who were native to southern New Mexico and west Texas. The pueblo was inhabited just before Spanish contact and is one of the larger pueblos in the area, with more than 400 rooms in six sections spread over a mile-long area.

Hannah Clark is another crew chief on the project and is working on her master’s degree at NMSU.

“This was my second time working at Cottonwood Spring,” she said. “This time around we worked in area ‘A’, which has about 200 rooms. We worked on 10 rooms, excavated three different layers of the floor, and uncovered 60 features, which is unprecedented; we’re not really sure what that particular room was used for. Some people think it was a ritualistic room; my idea is that it was a meat-preservation room. So that’s something we’re still trying to determine.”

Allison McCullar is an English major who recently added anthropology as a second major. This field school was her first experience in excavating a site.

“I took an anthropology class as a gen-ed requirement and really loved it, so I decided to add on anthropology,” she said.

While initially nervous because she didn’t know much about excavating and was worried she would destroy artifacts, McCullar worked on Clark’s team and enjoyed the experience.

“I expected the excavating to be more physically challenging but, aside from the heat, it wasn’t as bad as I thought,” she said.

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