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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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Anthropology students excavate Santa Teresa pueblo for fieldwork experience

After taking Bill Walker's native ceramics anthropology class, students should be able to recognize and identify a variety of pottery from the region.



New Mexico State University professor of anthropology, Bill Walker, at left, brushes away some debris to find a former pit from an 800-year-old pueblo he and his native ceramics students are excavating. Pictured with him is Hatem Samhan, a graduate anthropology student. (NMSU Photo by Daniella De Luca)

They should also be able to endure a bee sting, or several!

A class of about 10 spends their Tuesday afternoons mapping, digging and excavating a site behind the Tyson Chicken factory in Santa Teresa, N.M.

Through this course, the students are exposed to a great deal of "Indiana Jones-type" moments from digging in the dirt with archaeological tools to being chased away by swarms of bees.

"I'd definitely rather excavate outside than look at ceramics in a lab," said Craig Saastomoinen, a graduate anthropology student. Fieldwork opportunities such as this are not always available, so when the opportunity presented itself, Walker incorporated it into his class.

Walker said the ruin under examination, known as "Bob John's Pueblo," was part of the El Paso Cultural phase between 1200 and 1450 A.D.

The site was last excavated in the 1980s, and an adobe house was built over part of the pueblo village, thus preserving it. The house was a museum for several years and then the building was vacated. The group concentrates most of their effort on the two rooms inside what used to be a visitor's center / museum. They are excavating and relying on earlier field reports to determine the last time the pueblo was occupied, and they believe it was about 800 years ago.

"There's something, possibly an earlier floor, under that floor. We just want to find out," Walker said.

"On previous trips, we came out to look at the (pottery) sherds and surroundings, and we recently mapped the area inside before we really start to dig," said sophomore Jessica Phillips.

Mapping an area is important for archaeologists to see the layers of the earth and deduce where the walls or other significant fixtures were located in order to get a clearer picture.

So far, the group found a few different discoveries including pottery sherds, a hearth, storage pits and a burnt corncob preserved in the sand.

The group will continue their trips on Tuesday afternoons throughout the month and then write reports to be published in a local journal, which will be presented at future conferences.

Videos from the dig can be found on the NMSU YouTube channel by searching the keyword "pueblo" at http://www.youtube.com/NewMexicoStateU

For more information about the anthropology program at NMSU visit and browse www.nmsu.edu