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.
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.
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.
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!