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Mapping course trains students to work in cultural resource, land management jobs

A group of 10 anthropology students at New Mexico State University spent their summer on the Jornada Range studying the historical development of agriculture and ranching in the 20th and 21st centuries.

New Mexico State University anthropology graduate student Reagyn Slocum collects a reading from a total station. She was one of 10 students enrolled in Rani Alexander's summer archaeological mapping course at the Jornada Range Chihuahuan Desert Rangeland Research Center.

Through careful examination of spatial patterns of the structures, features, and artifacts at the College Ranch Headquarters, Rani Alexander's archaeological mapping class (ANTH 389/523) learned about change in ranching practices and rural life through a full-process research and mapping project.

"The class is a good example of NMSU's land grant mission in action. Archaeologists in the Department of Anthropology and Range Scientists in the Department of Animal and Range Sciences have collaborated for several years to advance teaching and research of the cultural resources located on the Chihuahuan Desert Rangeland Research Center," said Alexander, professor of anthropology.

The university owns the ranch headquarters the students map each academic session. The Chihuahuan Desert Rangeland Research Center (CDRRC) is a major location for arid lands research in the College of Agicultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.

The CDRRC was established in 1927 to conduct "educational, demonstrative, and experimental development with livestock, grazing methods, and range forage," through the College of Agriculture, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. The CDRRC is also home to the Summerford Mountain Archaeological District, containing over 350 rock art images and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This was the fourth semester the archaeological mapping course was offered. The headquarters at the historic ranch offers an ideal setting to teach archaeological mapping, Alexander said.

Senior anthropology and environmental engineering major Roberto R. Ortiz from Hatillo, Venezuela, said the skills he learned in this course were immeasurable and invaluable. He is eager to put his knowledge to use in a future career abroad in either Africa or Latin America. Ortiz said he sees a need for his skills in third world countries with large indigenous populations.

"My new skills in developing maps in areas where few outsiders have entered will contribute to the science," Oritz said.

Those who want to work in archaeology, either in historic preservation or cultural resources management, have the opportunity to work in groups and record the spatial relationships between structures and artifacts using a variety of archaeological survey instruments, such as total stations, theodolites, and transits originally designed for general surveying.

"I had never used a theodolite, transit or total-station before taking this course," said Hatem Samhan, a second year graduate student from New York City. "Now I can set one up in minutes." Samhan said he had never used software to build a map before and in this class he was given the tools to construct multiple maps, each with a specific use and purpose.

In addition to earning the three credits upon completing the course, students will have the basic information to begin work on a graduate level research paper in historical archaeology, Alexander said.

"The mapping course was amazing, and I really learned a lot," said Joanna Deardeuff, senior anthropology major from Mesa, Ariz.

Mapping and mastery of survey instrumentation is an important skill for any archaeologist, Alexander said. The course encourages students to develop the skills they will need for employment in any archaeological position.

"Before taking this course I was not aware how to take the information gathered in the field and make something useful out of it," Deardeuff said. "And now I'm capable of doing that."

For more information about the Chihuahuan Desert Rangeland Research Center, visit http://chihuahuansc.nmsu.edu. For more information about archaeology at NMSU, visit http://www.nmsu.edu/~anthro.