Introduction to the Gallina Landscapes of History Project


Welcome to the first in a series of semi-annual blog posts for the Gallina Landscapes of History project. If you want to look at any posts on social media, you can search for #GLoH2018. This project has been ongoing for about a decade in one form or another, although this is the first year with partner organizations (Santa Fe National Forest Service) and research projects (Nexus1492), as well as interns. We were also quite lucky to have some help from SWCA in the form of equipment and time. All in all, it’s a big, opening year for renewing research and connections in the San Juan region and on the archaeology of the Gallina region.

As a few of you know, in the American Southwest, I focus on the Upper/Lower San Juan and most of the southern Southwest, including across the border in Mexico. I also work, in the Caribbean with the Nexus 1492 project. These regional focuses may seem quite broad, but for the type of analyses and methodology I do (ceramic, spatial, and network), this sort of “30,000 foot/10,000 meter” overview helps me sketch together broad patterns that might not be apparent otherwise. I’ll talk a bit more about that in the conclusion post for the 2018 field school.

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Image by Catherine Gilman from Archaeology Southwest Magazine 29(1), edited by Lewis Borck and J. Michael Bremer

The students and my volunteer assistant who signed up for this year knew, or at least now know, much of this background. They also signed on to join a public-oriented field school, which means a portion of their training is in public interaction and outreach. Thus the blogs. But before we get to the student blogs, let’s talk a bit about what this type of collaborative and partnered project can mean.

In particular, what it meant for this year.

First the downside. We lost our field site the day before the students showed up. Literally. This had nothing to do with us, and wasn’t the fault of our partner organization (the Santa Fe National Forest). In fact, the SFNF was incredibly helpful throughout this whole process. Instead, us losing our research area had everything to do human increased climate change leading to one of the worst droughts in recorded Southwestern history. That is a blog post on it’s own. Cut to 2018, where there had basically been zero precipitation (rainfall or snow) in northern New Mexico since December 2017 until a weekend storm in mid June 2018. Zero.

The northern Southwest, at high elevations, is prone to naturally caused wildfires from lightning strikes in even the best weather conditions, but with spring and then early summer winds kicking in and some of the lowest moisture conditions ever recorded, public land managers in multiple agencies (Bureau of Land Management, National Forest Service, State and County lands, etc.) implemented Stage 2 fire restrictions. Essentially, people were still allowed to use these public lands, but only without using fire in any way (propane stoves are okay). The entire U.S. celebrated Memorial Day weekend a few days before the students arrived, and with it, there was an explosion of visitors to the Santa Fe National Forest. This is normal. One of the primary uses of public lands is for recreation in one form or another. But along with that visitation came a rash of untended campfires. Because of the conditions, even tended campfires (now banned because of the Stage 2 restrictions), can quickly get out of control and start a large wildfire. Untended ones are much worse. Over that weekend, the SFNF put out around 125 untended fires. The supervisor for the SFNF, based on that, decided to go into Stage 3 closure. This means all of the public, including non-essential NFS workers, contractors, etc, were not allowed onto Forest Service lands.




Again, this all happened the day before my students arrived. Understandably, there was a bit of stress and frantic scrambling on my part as I tried to salvage a research project with very specific aims and types of sites needed to fulfill those aims (more on this in the last blog post). In the end, this became another learning experience for the students as they were able to watch and see just how much archaeology depends on networks of archaeologists, archaeological organizations, and community connections and interest.

Lewis giving a talk on Gallina archaeology to Santa Fe National Forest staff at the Coyote Ranger District. Photo by Anne Baldwin.

By the end of that first week, the students had met with a number of other field schools, gotten tours of multiple archaeological sites whose inhabitations ranged from 2000 years ago to just about 300 years ago, and driven with me to a lot of meetings that probably seemed like casual conversations as we tried to salvage the season. An offer to excavate at another project’s site in an amazing location eventually came through as well, but by that time, we’d happily found an amazing archaeological settlement on private land in the Llaves valley that perfectly fit our research goals.

Kari Schleher, from Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, gave us, and the University of New Mexico field school students, a tour of San Marcos Pueblo, one of the largest pueblos in the American Southwest from the AD 1400s to the late AD 1600s.

During this, I was continually working with Mike Bremer, the Forest Archaeologist in the Supervisor’s Office, and staff from two zones (Espanola/Coyote, Jemez/Cuba), on the Santa Fe National Forest to craft an exemption permit that would allow us to do some restricted research on the Forest. These exemption permits are just as much about ensuring our safety in the event of a fire as they are about making sure we don’t start a fire as well. This was particularly important to help form the foundation for next year’s research. Eventually, with a lot of help from our colleagues in the Forest, our permit was approved and we were able to get out and do some survey and site recording on Forest property during the closure, while continuing survey and excavation on the archaeological site on private property that we were allowed to work on.

At this point, in my archaeological career, I’ve worked as a contract archaeologist, as an agency archaeologist for Federal land management, in the non-profit sector, and in academia. I’ve even worked in both the U.S. and in Europe. But this was easily the most challenging field season I’ve had. It was also one of the most fulfilling. As the following blog posts attest, I think, this was definitely visible to the students and my assistant as well. Let us know what you think, or have questions about, in the comments. Enjoy!


The Archaeological Politics of Water Rights in the Southwest

by Rosaida Brahim


Throughout the past couple of weeks we have met several Southwestern archaeologists who have been kind enough to give us a tour of the sites and/or parks they oversee. Out of those archaeologists there was not a pair that shared the exact same view on what archaeology tells us about the past, but one common message rang loud and clear: archaeology has consequences.

I was surprised to learn the extent of which this was true. It should be noted that in the Netherlands, which is where I study, where I live, and where most of my theoretical knowledge comes from, it is all relatively simple. At most archaeologists add to the red tape land developers need to navigate in order to build on areas where there is a potential for archaeology – but this only delays things, and the city expands without any further ramifications.

In the United States, however, it is a decidedly more complicated and multi-layered issue. Take water rights, for example. In New Mexico, water right laws are still linked with early Spanish laws: whoever managed the land, has the right to use the resources on the land. To this day, in one of the most arid environments in the United States, archaeological evidence of water management can be a serious concern for indigenous groups in New Mexico because they can demonstrate their continued landscape management hundreds of years prior to Spanish colonisation, and thus their contemporary rights to water management.

One square of a larger waffle, or grid, garden system at an archaeological site inhabited between A.D. 1300 and 1600 and located between Española and Santa Fe.

Before I continue in this direction, I must emphasise that many researchers can become pessimistic in thinking about such issues. Do indigenous groups only claim to be related to these more ancient peoples because they have something to gain from it? Are indigenous land protection values just romanticised? Those are the questions that pop up in many archaeological courses dealing with situations such as these, but the reality is not as easy as reducing this to a political and economic agenda. The simplest it can be put is that such connections are felt deeply within the culture. Yet these connections are not always easily seen in the archaeological record.

When archaeological evidence, which is almost never bulletproof and whose interpretations often reveal researcher bias, is used to determine the validity of ancestral claims, this is when the consequences become dire. Water rights claims have been argued and contested in courts on a large scale since the 1980’s, with tensions rising between indigenous and non-indigenous groups as well as between various indigenous groups themselves. Water rights are of course not the only example of such polarising cases, but it serves as an ample reminder to anyone entering the field of archaeology that their research is not limited to the past, and reverberates throughout living communities.



Ackerly, N.W., 1996. A Review of the Historic Significance of and Management Recommendations or Preserving New Mexico’s Acequia Systems. Santa Fe: Historic Preservation Division.

Ingram, S.E. and R.C. Hunt, Traditional Arid Lands Agriculture: Understanding the Past for the Future.



A Journey to Make a Point

by Dylan van Dijk


We have surveyed and excavated at a Gallina Phase site (AD 1100 – 1300) in the Llaves Valley in northern New Mexico as part of the Gallina Landscapes of History (GLoH) project. In the pictures below you will see two beautiful obsidian projectile points found during the surveys. However, there are no immediately adjacent sources of obsidian available around the site, so where does it come from?

Steven Shackley has mapped most obsidian sources in the Southwest region. Based on his map and on the expertise of Lewis Borck, the obsidian found at our site originates most likely from the Jemez Mountains. This narrows the possible sources down to Polvadera peak, Cerro del Medio, Banco Bonito, Obsidian Ridge and Bear Springs Peak (See image below). XRF spectrometry should be able to identify the exact source, but for now there is only an assumption based on morphological descriptions.


The sources of obsidian might seem near to our site in the Llaves Valley. However it is 35 miles (56km) as the crow flies to the closest obsidian source in the Jemez Mountains.  Recent research concluded that an average, modern, healthy person can walk 20 miles (32km) a day. If the same was true in the past, then a one way trip would last at least 2 days. But walking in a straight line from A to B is not the most efficient way of walking in terms of energy, time, or even water loss. To better understand movement on the landscape, archaeologists create least-costs paths. This is a path across the landscape from A to B calculated on what route takes the least amount of effort. These paths can be very useful for recreating possible walking routes.

Let’s take a closer look at the differences in altitude from our site towards the closest obsidian source at Polvadera Peak.


Imagine yourself walking this path. There is quite some difference in elevation and walking this elevation change is not easy at all.  It would be far easier to walk around mesas, rather than going over them. This will make the walking distance longer, but easier for the participants. Meaning that they have to carry less water and food to restore lost energy and fluids. If they run out of supplies, they must also be able to refill their stocks. All the above and more must be considered by people traveling to collect obsidian. The result is a journey that is longer than it can be at first glimpse when looking at maps.

So a trip back and forth from their home in the Llaves valley to the Jemez Mountains could easily last a week or longer. But why are they putting so much effort in getting obsidian? Especially considering that Cerro Pedernal chert  was closer to the site than the Jemez Mountains. We do find the Cerro Pedernal chert on our site, and there is evidence that the Gallina people made tools from it, however no projectile points of this material have been found thus far. Which is rare, because projectile points from chert are a common practice in the Gallina Phase.


So far, it seems that the people who inhabited our site, preferred obsidian over chert for projectile points, maybe because it is easier to work with. However, there is evidence that they are willing to put more effort in collecting obsidian. Thus, the material culture in the archaeological record gives archaeologists an insight into choices people made in the past.

Archaeology and Politics

by Sam Miske


“Archaeology is always political.”

Seconds after these controversial words had left the lips of my professor, over a dozen hands were raised in the air. They belonged to highly agitated students whose ideas of an apolitical and objective archaeology did not agree with our professor’s outrageous claim. Although I hadn’t raised my hand, I agreed with my fellow students.

A year later, after having read and experienced much more archaeological research, I realised my professor had been right all along: archaeology is always political.

As Randy McGuire has written, “I cannot politicize archaeology. Archaeology is inherently political, and we best deal with that fact by explicitly confronting the political nature of archaeology.” Indeed, if we pretend that our research is objective and apolitical, we will still end up with a politicised archaeology–just one where the inherent political biases and their real-life consequences go unexamined.

The project I am currently working on provides an excellent example of archaeology’s political nature. Under the supervision of Dr. Borck, my fellow students and I are researching (through archaeological survey and excavation) the Gallina culture. The Gallina culture was in northwestern New Mexico in the United States from about 1100 to 1300 CE. It is considered part of the better known Ancestral Pueblo archaeology. You might think that excavating some pottery and structures from 700 years ago would be a politically neutral act, but you could not be more mistaken. In fact, even if we were to ignore our inescapable political context for a moment, Gallina archaeology is political in both form and content.

With form, I refer to the kind of research we are doing. Our research forms a part of a broader indigenous archaeological movement that strives to promote indigenous, rather than neocolonial, interests. In her famous book An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz describes how indigenous peoples’ interests have long been neglected in historical research in order to uphold oppressive, neocolonial structures. Any indigenous archaeology should therefore strive to combat harmful, neocolonial narratives about indigenous history.

Since our project is quite new, and since no modern native group has legally and publicly claimed the Gallina as their ancestors, we are currently still exploring collaborative relationships to help direct our research goals. A lot of effort is being made to establish these relationships, since they are the foundation for any indigenous archaeological research.

I also claimed that Gallina archaeology was political in content. Specifically, I was referring to our theoretical interpretations of the archaeological record. First, the Gallina are interesting from a political perspective since, based on spatial and architectural analysis, people like Lewis Borck and Erik Simpson have argued that the Gallina–previously described as isolated and backwards–formed a conscious social movement against the rise of hierarchical societies elsewhere (eg. the spectacular yet hierarchical societies in Mesa Verde and Chaco). Secondly, nonhierarchical societies such as the Gallina are always of interest to those who advocate and study alternatives to our current capitalist society. Anarchist and Marxist theorists have a long tradition of informing their theory with anthropological and historical research. The same is true vice versa: archaeological theory has been greatly influenced by anarchist and Marxist thinkers.

In conclusion, both the form and content of Gallina archaeology are political. Of course, not all archaeological research has the same explicit political themes as we do. But even when the politics aren’t clear, archaeology can never escape its political context. Archaeology is either complacent in its political role, pretending to be objective and apolitical, and thereby supporting the status quo–or, it is critical in its role. The message of this blogpost could be summed up in a famous quote from Karl Marx, which applies to archaeologists as well as to philosophers: “Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.”



Karl Marx, 1845. Theses on Feuerbach

Lewis Borck, 2015. Gallina as a Social Movement. Archaeology Southwest Magazine 29(1)

Randall McGuire, 2008. Archaeology as Political Action

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, 2014. An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States



Polishing a Sandstone Axe

By Luke Oomen

Photogrammetry is creating a 3D-model using pictures of an object, building or landscape from many different angles. There are different kinds of software available; some for free, others rather expensive. This software is able to recognize different features on the images and can put them all together by overlapping these features and linking the images together like a digital puzzle. Once the three dimensional model is created, you can look at it from any angle. The more photos you take, the better the end result will be, but it will also take longer for the software to process all the images.

Using photogrammetry in archaeological projects creates multiple advantages for processing, storing, and later accessing data. Taking photos in the field does not take as long as drawing and can be as accurate. A smartphone with a high quality camera is good enough for taking the photos. Of course you can also use a high grade camera from Canon. With the possibility of using cheap tools, this method is accessible for the wider public. It democratizes data analysis in the archaeological sector. The three dimensional model can be stored in a local database or on the internet. So you don’t have to store the actual artifact. This saves space, which is becoming more important as museums run out of storage. By analyzing the data in the database, it can be decided whether it is worth it to recover or restore the actual artifact and store it in the museum. When working with bigger structures that cannot be moved, augmented reality and virtual reality can help to make the archaeology available for the public. This allows the architecture to be shown as how it looked like hundreds of years ago. A good example of using virtual reality in reconstructing the past is the Virtual Rosewood Research Project by Edward González-Tennant. Here is the link to his site:  In the end photogrammetry is easy to do. The program will do the work for you. The challenge is in taking the photos correctly.

For this blog, I made a 3D-model of a tri-notched chipped and ground stone axe from the Gallina area (1100-1300 AD) in New Mexico using 3DF Zephyr Free.

The first try was a practice round to get the feeling for how to use the camera, what to do with the lighting, and whether it is better to rotate around the object or to rotate the object. I used my smartphone, a Huawei P8lite with a 13MP camera, to make the photos. Because of the object holding the axe, I wasn’t able to photograph its bottom.

Rough, sandstone tri-notched Gallina axe/hoe in process of being digitized at the camp house. Photo by Luke Oomen.

It took me five sets of photos in total to realize that the first try, the practice round, would be the only (semi) successful 3D-model. With two of the sets, one with my smartphone and one with the digital camera, I used the stationary object technique and circled around the axe. The second try did not have enough suitable pictures for the stone axe, but it accidentally did for a package of meat in the background. So first lesson learned: Get a clear background.

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Program identifying pixels in the background package of meat. Image by Luke Oomen.

For another set, I used a cup to hold the axe and took 49 photos, however, the reflective surface of the cup distorted the images and the outcome was an unrecognizable model of the stone. Second lesson learned: don’t have reflective surfaces in your picture.

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Pixels being captured from light reflected off of a coffee mug. Image by Luke Oomen.

I set up the tripod so the camera couldn’t move. I took a total of 121 photos, but I didn’t manage to get enough suitable photos for a decent 3D-model. Whether it was the lighting, the camera, the background or something else I don’t know exactly. Third lesson learned: there are a lot of factors to take into account!

Static image of the final 3D model of the Gallina tri-notched (sometimes pol notched or bi-lobed) axe/hoe. Image by Luke Oomen

In the end I edited the result of the first try and I ended up with an incomplete but beautiful three dimensional model of the stone axe. This is the link to a YouTube video of the model:

Nature and Archaeology

By Dado Postma

[Header image shows erosion of adobe walls (darker brown in left and center of image) and room fill at San Marcos Pueblo near Santa Fe. Photo by Lewis Borck.]

The interaction between nature and human activity has been going on for tens of thousands of years, although the human environmental impact seems to have reached its peak in the last few centuries. In some ways, this is seen as people conquering nature. However, there are some cases where nature cannot be conquered. In archaeology for example, nature can sometimes prevent archaeologists from obtaining knowledge about people from the past.

In the region where we’re working, we are currently in Stage Three restrictions because of the dangers of both starting, and being trapped by, forest fires. This means that we were not allowed on National Forest Service lands and thus working on our original sites was impossible. Because of community connections the project lead has, we were able to find another site to excavate and survey where these closure restrictions do not apply.

At this site however, nature is still problematic. On one side of the ridge on which the unit houses and the pit houses were built, the slope is eroding. A lot of the artefacts at the site are also misplaced because of the downwash that carries the artefacts down to the sagebrush flats. Understanding the processes of nature is therefore necessary to interpret the changes in the landscape and what this could mean for the archaeological record. But nature isn’t always destructive, it can also preserve archaeology very well in arid environments, in bogs, or in very cold environments, but most of the time this is not the case.

Beginning of an erosional wash in a pit house on top of a ridge. This channel flows down to a sage brush flat and has been rearranging and redistributing archaeological material for 700 years. Photo by Dado Postma.

There are near infinite ways archaeological sites can be damaged, but nature is the most prevalent. Nature can affect archaeological sites in many different ways, either on a small scale, such as rainfall that ruins profiles on unit walls, animals that damage or displace artefacts, or on a larger scale like with flash floods or forest fires that destroy entire archaeological sites. Often in these cases there is nothing an archaeologist can do about the destruction of archaeological sites by nature, but that does not change the fact that data is missing. This is a challenge all archaeologists must deal with and work around.

Archaeologists therefore should be able to adapt to unforeseen circumstances and try to find ways that allow them to find answers for their research questions. It never happens that an archaeological site is completely preserved, nature always affects the archaeological record in some way. The question often is, how much did nature affect the archaeology and in what ways. Understanding this process is called taphonomy or N-transforms in archaeology. The interpretations archaeologists make are based on the data available to them. It’s a type of unavoidable sampling based on incomplete data. Studies into similar occupations from the same time-period and region however can be used to strengthen theories, correlate ideas, fill in the gaps from our missing data.

Making Connections

By Jaye Smith

A recent poll conducted by Society of American Archaeologists (SAA) and global marketing firm Ipsos found that 51% of those surveyed feel that archaeology is important to their community.  A vital component of any archaeological project is engagement with local communities and other people interested or connected to the archaeological record.  During the Gallina Landscapes of History Project and Field School (GLoH; on social media this year as #GLoH2018) under the direction of Lewis Borck and with an amazing team of archaeologist interns from the University of Leiden, we have been able to experience first-hand the necessity of both federal and local engagement, and the positive outcomes it can produce.


Upon our arrival in the region, the Santa Fe National Forest was closed due to extreme drought and the resulting dangerous fire conditions.  Dr. Borck immediately started engagement with the federal officials who manage the Forest to try to craft a compromise plan for the Project.  In addition, he tirelessly engaged with local Forest Service employees, regional ranchers and landowners, local community leaders, tribal community leaders, and the genizaro community at Pueblo de Abiquiu.  He scheduled lectures and presentations to bring GLoH to the public’s attention.  The fruits of these endeavors resulted in a local landowner offering his land to the GLoH Project for survey and excavation so the Field School could continue even as the Forest remained closed.  This section of land contains (as of this writing) 2 previously looted unit structures, 3 probably undisturbed unit structures and at least 5 pit houses, most of which have been impacted by erosional and or agricultural/pastoral activities.  The artifact scatter is abundant over the entire property, providing numerous opportunities for the team to learn from Dr. Borck the art of survey in both desert and woodland environments, and excavation techniques in unit structures.

Lewis talking to Dylan and Sam on survey about Southwestern archaeology. Photo by Jaye Smith.

At the beginning of June, due to the forest closure, it appeared the Field School might have to be just a cultural tour of the Southwest; now, thanks to an engaged local community, it has blossomed into an extensive research field project.  This outcome was only possible due to the exhaustive efforts by the GLoH team to make connections – time truly well spent.