Students Participate in Archaeological Survey at Petroglyph National Monument

May 28, 2014 -- Fifteen CNM and UNM anthropology students got to experience a day in the life of an archaeologist recently when they participated in an archaeological survey at the Rinconada Canyon Trail in Petroglyph National Monument.

Jul 17, 2015


CNM Anthropology instructor Susan Ruth was asked by Ron Fields, an archaeologist at the Monument, to recruit students to survey a portion of the canyon to determine if any artifacts were removed or churned up during heavy rains last fall. The trail has been closed since the rain washed some of it out and added great amounts of sediment.

The students spent one day lining up horizontally and combing through a small area along the trail. They used a Global Positioning System (GPS) to record coordinates of any artifacts they found, which have been added to the Monument’s database and mapping system.

Petro1.jpg“We found a lot of artifacts, which was surprising because the area has been walked over for hundreds of years,” Ruth said. “After the students found out what they were looking for, there seemed to be more (artifacts) than was previously believed.”

The area around the Monument was inhabited by people, dating back thousands of years ago.

Among the artifacts the students found were grinding stones made out of a volcanic rock called basalt. These stones were likely used to grind seeds by hunter-gatherers of the Archaic Period, which dates to at least 2,000 years ago. There was also evidence of “stone boiling” in the form of fire-cracked rock. Rocks and worn-out grinding stones were heated up in a fire and placed in a vessel or basket to heat water. The rock cracks when heated, creating small but distinctive angular stones.

Other objects they found were pottery fragments that date back 500 to 1,000 years ago and are associated with the ancestors of modern-day Pueblo Indians. The students also found evidence of short-term housing made of brush and mud used by early peoples.

“It was important that we not disturb the artifacts,” Ruth said. “The spatial context is important. It’s not so much the artifacts we were looking for, but the information associated with them.”

Ruth added that at first students were quiet as they were learning what types of objects to look for. “When they started finding the artifacts, they got really excited. This was an awesome learning experience for the students,” she said.