LAS VEGAS, N.M. – Anthropology students from New Mexico Highlands University were the first to document a site and analyze artifacts of a prehistoric Anasazi Pueblo on the banks of the San Juan River on the Navajo Nation in northwest New Mexico.
The three students were participating last summer in a three-week Highlands anthropology program field school on the Navajo Nation.
“Our anthropology students gained some impressive skills in site documentation, learned about pre-Columbian history, and perhaps even more importantly, learned a great deal about Navajo traditions and beliefs,” said Vick Evans, the Highlands anthropology faculty member who led the field school. “One of the most crucial things the students learned is that this is a living culture and the Navajo have a connection to their ancient past.”
Evans said many of the Navajo’s sacred ceremonies are tied to the sites and landmarks.
“The site is an Anasazi Pueblo dating approximately from the 5th to 14th centuries based upon the pottery sherds we found. The site has a mixture of Anasazi pottery typical to Mesa Verde in southwest Colorado and Chaco in northwest New Mexico. There were also signs of agricultural field houses and a large ceremonial kiva on a hillside,” Evans said.
The idea to be the first to survey the prehistoric site came about when Jeremy Begay, a Navajo who has been a cultural resource management archaeologist for 15 years, made the suggestion to Evans. Begay is also an environmental science management graduate student at Highlands.
“Any work that deals with cultural resources has to be first reviewed and approved by the Navajo Nation Heritage and Historic Preservation Department,” Begay said. “Vick Evans, myself and the Navajo representatives from the department met in March and the field school was approved. I think the Navajo leaders saw the benefits of a partnership with the Highlands anthropology program because it allows the Navajo to help up-and-coming archaeologists better understand Navajo viewpoints on archaeology.”
Begay, who was the required Navajo Nation representative at the archaeology field school, said it was an outstanding way to give the Highlands students hands-on experience with the world-class resources of the Navajo Nation.
“The Highlands University field school went extremely well. I think there is great potential for this partnership with Highlands to be continued for years to come,” said Begay, who is from the Haashka’hadzoho clan of the Navajo Nation.
Lily Ewing and Victoria Bibb, both anthropology graduate students with an emphasis on Southwest studies, participated in the field school. The students also earned their bachelor degrees in anthropology from Highlands.
Ewing said the field school on the Navajo Nation was transformative because it was so different from what can be learned in a textbook.
“The field school opened my eyes to the different perspectives of how the Navajo people’s ancestors lived, and it was an honor to collaborate with the Navajo Nation,” Ewing, 26, said. “It was incredibly informative to identify different artifacts and wall features of the structures. Gaining the hands-on experience was very beneficial.”
Bibb said the most valuable aspect of the field school was working with other archaeologists and applying technology to the site work.
“I got some really good mapping experience identifying different archaeological architectural features like kivas and plaza areas,” Bibb, 21, said. “I used the knowledge I gained in a geographic information systems class at Highlands to accurately pinpoint different areas of interest at the site. It was exciting to be the first to do this kind of documentation.”
Begay, Evans and her students presented their findings at the August Pecos Conference, the largest Southwestern archaeology conference.