In 2015, the Salmon Pueblo Archaeological Research Collection project (SPARC) was funded through at a National Endowment for the Humanities Collections and Reference grant (PW-228168-15). The goal of this project is to preserve and make accessible incomparable legacy data from the important excavations of the Chacoan cultural center of Salmon Pueblo.
SPARC is a collaboration among four institutions: Salmon Ruins Museum, Archaeology Southwest, the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities at the University of Virginia. This project has been conducted in consultation with the Zuni Cultural Resources Advisory Team, the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office, and the Navajo Nation Historic Preservation Division.
Background: Salmon Pueblo
Salmon was a large pueblo and cultural center built around AD 1090 on the north bank of the San Juan River, 45 miles north of Chaco Canyon in northwest New Mexico. Many tribes and nations trace ancestry to this place. Althought is known by other names in the numerous Indigenous languages of the Southwest, it is commonly referred to by the surname of colonial settler George Salmon, who owned the site from the early 1890s until 1956. Today, the site is owned by San Juan County and preserved through the efforts of the San Juan County Museum Association, a nonprofit organization.
The Salmon Pueblo great house was the first major colony established by the Chacoan people. It is one of the largest Chacoan communities found outside of Chaco Culture National Historical Park. It is also one of only a few outlying Chacoan great houses excavated in the modern era. At its zenith, the pueblo had over 275 rooms spread across three stories in an E-shaped configuration. People inhabited the pueblo until about AD 1280, when much of the site was burned and inhabitants migrated to other areas of the Southwest.
Salmon Pueblo was extensively excavated by Dr. Cynthia Irwin-Williams from 1970 to 1980 through the San Juan Valley Archaeological Program conducted by Eastern New Mexico University. With the help of many individuals, field schools, and institutional collaborators, more than 35 percent of the 150 ground-floor rooms at the ancient pueblo were excavated under Dr. Irwin-Williams direction. The results of her Salmon Pueblo excavations were not published during her lifetime.
From 2001–2014, the Center for Desert Archaeology (now Archaeology Southwest ) helped to bring Dr. Cynthia Irwin-Williams efforts to fruition through various initiatives. Their support, led by Paul Reed, included a collection management partnership with the Salmon Ruins Museum to organize, rehouse, curate and conserve the 1.5 million artifacts recovered during excavation. In 2002, this project was funded by a Save America’s Treasures grant (through the National Park Service and National Endowment for the Arts). (More information about that process is available here.) The Center for Desert Archaeology and Salmon Ruins Museum collaboration also resulted in a series of reports published in 2006 (Thirty-Five Years of Archaeological Research at Salmon Ruins, New Mexico, edited by Paul F. Reed) and in a virtual rendering of Salmon Pueblo and virtual exhibit titled Chaco’s Legacy with Douglas Gann.
SPARC: Partners in Data
In May 2015, Carrie Heitman and Paul Reed received a National Endowment for the Humanities grant to create the Salmon Pueblo Archaeological Research Collection, or SPARC. The goal of this project was to preserve and make accessible the incomparable legacy data from excavations at Salmon Pueblo in the 1970s. This entailed three major stages of work: (1) digital acquisition, (2) data integration and management, and (3) online preservation of and access to materials.
Through a dedicated website and shared presence in the Chaco Research Archive, SPARC resources will be distributed to diverse audiences interested in issues ranging from material culture studies, Indigenous religions, identity and ethnicity, and the transformation of human communities over time—making it responsive to the National Endowment for the Humanities’ “Bridging Cultures” initiative by expanding Americans’ understanding of Native peoples of the past.
The finished archive contains 11,000+ scanned images, 30,000 pages of scanned original Salmon field documentation, and access to a relational database containing 24 tables.
Seven major tasks have been accomplished:
- Digitized all relevant archival documents (29,395 page scans)
- Encoded metadata for all of the photographs (11,729)
- Refined data for all 23 data tables
- Constructed the underlying relational database (MySQL)
- Ingested all 23 data tables
- Created of an interactive map
- Successfully implemented a IIIF (International Image Interoperability Framework) viewer for document images.
The four-way partnership has allowed us to make the entire Salmon Pueblo archive freely and openly available through an online research portal. SPARC is an exceptional primary resource for a range of disciplines from across the humanities and social sciences with shared interests in material culture, North American cultural heritage, and Native American history. Making the full range of excavation data from Salmon Pueblo openly available allows researchers to address fundamental questions about this historically and culturally significant expression of human complexity, such as: How and why did people in the New World first choose to band together into large-scale communities? What was the genesis of religious and political authority in the formation of chiefly societies?
SPARC’s online database allows users to query 23 distinct datasets from the original 1970s project and Archaeology Southwest’s Salmon Initiative (from 2001–2018). Users can access basic inventory data (e.g., ceramics), track specific artifact types (e.g., obsidian, ornaments, wood, perishables), explore Salmon’s feature database (with nearly 2,000 records), or delve into specific analyses of a number of different material classes (lithics, faunal remains, bone tools, perishables, etc.). Viewing the specific room records, along with images from various contexts, will allow users to fully access Salmon’s potential via the Web.
Not a Ruin
Salmon Pueblo was built and inhabited by ancestors of contemporary Native peoples of the Southwest. Today it is not considered a ruin but a place that is alive with ancestral connections and where migration was part of a larger spiritual journey.
Today, 26 tribes serve on the National Park Service Tribal Consultation Board for Chaco Culture National Historical Park. For the purposes of this project, these tribes were contacted and invited to provide input on SPARC and the website. At this point, however, the SPARC website does not provide information on their interpretations or histories of Salmon Pueblo.
Our hope is that SPARC is a first step towards decentering Euro-American forms of interpretation/classification for items of cultural heritage. We would like to work with interested tribes to create an improved version of SPARC that could serve as a model for how to front-load Indigenous perspectives about these items.
Carrie C. Heitman, University of Nebraska-Lincoln/Center for Digital Research in the Humanities, PI & Institutional Lead
Paul F. Reed, Archaeology Southwest, Co-PI & Institutional Lead
Worthy Martin, University of Virginia/Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, Institutional Lead
Larry Baker, Salmon Ruins Museum, Institutional Lead
Robbie Bingler, IATH Senior Programmer Analyst
Shayne Brandon, IATH Systems Administrator
Karin Dalziel, CDRH Digital Development Manager & Designer
Jessica Dussault, CDRH Programmer/Analyst
Emma Gibson, Arch SW Data Specialist
Annie Reiva, CDRH Grad Research Assistant
Doug Ross, IATH Programmer Analyst
Greg Tunink, CDRH Programmer/Analyst
Laura Weakly, CDRH, Metadata Encoding Specialist
William H. Doelle, Arch SW, Advisor
Stephen Plog, UVA, Advisor
Jennifer Thoegersen, UNL, Digital Data Curation Specialist
Katherine Walter, CDRH, Advisor
Project Research Assistants, Volunteers, and Consultants:
Erin Brooks, SRM, Data Entry Volunteer
Catherine Elliott, UNL UCARE Student
Nancy Espinosa, SRM, Curator
Brianna Haberyan, UNL UCARE Student
Kelsey Hoppes, UNL Research Assistant
Sydney Tillotson, UNL, UCARE Student
San Juan County Museum Association