Monday, February 28, 2005
Law Aims To Save Galisteo Ruins
By Patrick Miller
For the Journal
It's not much to look at today, but for more than three centuries, Pueblo San Marcos was probably the most imposing village anywhere in the Galisteo Basin.
Buried beneath undulating banners of cholla and juniper, it's now little more than swales of rust-colored earth peppered with millions of potsherds and aqua-blue pieces of turquoise culled from a mine in the Cerrillos Hills, a few miles to the west.
From about 1350 to 1680, more than a half-dozen similarly sized pueblos spanned the basin. San Marcos was the largest, and its 2,000-room village was probably the valley's economic powerhouse, according to Mark Michel, president of The Archaeological Conservancy, an Albuquerque-based organization that now owns most of the site.
Spread over about 60 acres on a bluff overlooking the San Marcos Arroyo, the pueblo thrived thanks to its lucrative trade in turquoise and distinctive lead-glazed ceramic pottery.
"San Marcos is only one of two places in the New World where it was developed. The other was Honduras," Michel said.
The archaeological record indicates the pottery was a hit with surrounding pueblos, including residents of the Jemez Mountains, who paid for the pottery with a hot commodity of their own obsidian. Flakes of the shiny black volcanic glass are everywhere at San Marcos.
Archaeologists can't say just how many people lived in the basin during the Pueblo era.
"A lot of people were here, but not at the same time," San Marcos site steward Bill Baxter said, surmising that the pueblo probably had from a few hundred to a few thousand residents at any given time.
Plentiful water drew people to the area, he said. San Marcos is only a few dozen yards from natural springs, which still gurgle beneath stands of willows and cottonwoods.
Humans are again flooding into the valley, building homes on land where the pueblos lie buried.
A few years ago, the prospect of more people in the area would have given archaeologists like Michel cause for worry. But now he's confident that a recently passed law will keep the basin's archaeological treasures from damage.
Passed by Congress last year, the Galisteo Basin Archaeological Sites Protection Act is the first step toward what Michel hopes will be a long-range plan to preserve the Galisteo Basin's most important sites, most of which are on private land.
The majority of landowners cherish the ruins and strive to protect them, Michel said, but some sites have been lost to the ages because of neglect.
Pueblo San Marcos itself was part of an unbuilt subdivision when the conservancy purchased a 20 acres from the developer in 1980.
"It preserved that part of the site and led to us eventually acquiring the rest of it," he said.
The new law designates 24 sites in the basin. "It sets up a framework for protecting them in a public and private partnership," Michel said. "It does allow the federal government to acquire sites from willing landowners."
But Congress has yet to fund the bill. Michel said his group is asking for $2.5 million to fully implement the act.
Spanish explorer Francisco Vásquez de Coronado first passed through the Galisteo Basin in 1541.
"We don't know if he had contact with San Marcos or not," Michel said. "But he certainly had contact with many of the Galisteo Basin pueblos."
By 1620, a Catholic church had been built at San Marcos, and by that time, Santa Fe had become the seat of Spanish government in what was the northern frontier of New Spain. As more and more Spaniards settled into the basin, the pueblos grew increasingly restive and in August of 1680, hundreds of pueblo warriors marched into Santa Fe and laid siege to what today is called the Palace of the Governors. After a bloody 11-day battle, the Spaniards fled south to El Paso. When they returned 12 years later, the Galisteo Basin pueblos were largely abandoned.
"The decline actually began with Coronado," Michel said. "The revolt finished them off. It's all very speculative, but Coronado could have likely introduced European diseases and there could have been environmental factors as well."
Regardless of how the pueblos withered, there is no doubt the Galisteo Basin is a national treasure unlike any other, Michel said as he stood on a recently excavated mound of earth. The pueblos were among the largest in what would become the United States far surpassing the size of settlements in the Chaco Culture National Historical Park or Mesa Verde National Park.
A recently completed dig exposed the remains of a Catholic chapel, complete with choir loft, baptismal font and altar. The chapel's floor was decorated with something unique: pawprints from what Baxter surmised was the chapel priest's cat.
No other such pawprints have ever been discovered, he said. "Cats were brought to New Mexico from the Old World."
The turquoise that made San Marcos rich is still mined in the mountain that the Mexican Indians, traveling with the Spaniards, called Chalchihuitl. The Spaniards extracted lead and silver from the mountain and built at least three smelters at San Marcos, some of the first in the Southwest, Michel said. Santa Fe County will purchase the mountain, still called by its Mexican name, said Paul Olafson, the county's Open Space and Trails manager.
History is literally right below your feet at San Marcos, and site steward Baxter is always ready to open the book.
"This is a place that can be visited," he said.
Pueblo San Marcos tour
To schedule a free tour of Pueblo San Marcos, contact The Archaeology Conservancy at (505) 266-1540.