This post is one in our annual series of essays by our Preservation Archaeology Field School students. We invite you to continue following along with their experiences over the next few weeks.
(June 24, 2019)—At New Mexico’s Gila River Farm site, where we have been excavating, I like to imagine what the passage of time has been like on the site since the adobe pueblo builders lived there nearly 700 years ago.
The homes and the remnants of these people’s lives show us they were living through a time of change we now call Salado. It was a time when cultures and traditions mingled and merged and something new emerged.
Change in the Upper Gila has continued to present day. The people who built the pueblos have moved away and others took their place. The landscape has changed, as well. The Gila River has run alternately deeper and shallower over the last several hundred years, and hills have likewise collected sediment and eroded. A modern agricultural canal now runs directly adjacent to the pueblo village.
Sometimes, I’m struck by remembering that people lived in the rooms we are excavating. As I work in the place they lived, I like to imagine them at their own daily tasks and life. They prepared food and warmed themselves at the cobblestone-lined hearth. They ate, slept, and took care of their families in here.
Eventually, the residents of the room we are excavating no longer used it, and as time went on, the walls suffered from not being maintained and chunks of adobe fell into the space and covered objects the occupants left behind. Other residents of the adobe block added to the rubble with their own items and unwanted objects. We find broken pottery, cast-off flakes of stone-tool making, scorched animal bones, and broken manos, as well as rock cracked by the heat of fire in this “cultural fill.”
Many of the ceramic sherds we are finding are what we would expect for the time and place, but some are pieces from hundreds of years earlier or from vessels traded here from far away. I imagine them as treasured items passed from parent to child, or perhaps happened upon and recognized as a piece of their ancestors’ history and brought into their own home. I also imagine that it would have been a sad day when these items broke or became unusable and needed to be discarded.
After the pueblo builders at Gila River Farm left their homes, the rooms were open to the effects of nature. Sediment drifted in, carried by the wind as dust. And rainfall helped layers of dirt from nearby hills push their way into and eventually bury the degrading adobe walls.
Much later in the twentieth century, farmer and plow came and disrupted and churned up the pueblo. Metal and glass objects and rock were pushed downward while ceramics and other cultural fill were brought upward.
The story of the pueblo room blocks and their history is being continued by students and archaeologists. We come in with shovels and trowels and uncover the room one sifted bucket at a time. The deeper our excavation, the more time in the history of the site we are able to explore. We are peeling back the layers of sediment and wall fall to again reveal the once-treasured items and the instruments of daily life.
We sift the objects from the dust, and then we label, clean, and bag them so we can use them to learn even more about the people who lived at the Gila River Farm pueblo. And I picture that in the future students and scientists will continue to visit this place with new questions about pueblo builders’ lives we haven’t even thought of yet.