Dendroarchaeology Fieldschool 2006 Projects

The general project area for the 2006 season was in western New Mexico near the El Malpais Conservation Area.

The field portion of the course involved sampling four sites, all of which are located on lands administered by the New Mexico Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Rio Puerco Field Office. The sites include two forked-pole hogans, a historic homestead, and a previously unrecorded log-and-brush fence. Based on architectural styles, both hogans are assumed to be Navajo constructs and the homestead is assumed to have been built by Anglo ranchers; the log-and-brush fence could have been built by Navajo, Anglo, or Hispanic occupants of the area.

In addition, the students also sampled historic peeled trees in northern New Mexico (publication forthcoming).

location map

mt. taylor
photo by R. Towner

Dominated by Mt. Taylor, also known as Dootl’izhiidziil--the Navajo sacred mountain of the South—the area is nestled between the Colorado Plateau on the north, Rio Grande Valley on the east, and Mogollon Highlands on the south at an elevation of 6500-7500’ asl. The most significant geologic features of the area are the great lava flows emanating from Mt. Taylor, which are bounded on the east by sandstone cliffs of Cebollita Mesa.

Although abundant archaeological research has been conducted in the area of the past 100 years, only two recent CRM-related projects directly concern this project. The first was a predominately volunteer project, supported by the Bureau of Land Management, to record many of the historic homesteads on the Monument and BLM lands to the south and east. The lead volunteers, K. and S. Harvill, did a tremendous job documenting the many sites and features. Their 1990 photographs have proved to be an invaluable resource for both research and preservation efforts. The second was a more traditional CRM survey conducted by Cibola Research Consultants in 2004; they recorded both hogan sites, LA 143525 and LA 143526, that were sampled as part of this project.

The El Malpais area has been the subject of significant research in the past—both dendrochronological and archaeological. Dendrochronology received a major boost by the discovery of long-lived Douglas-fir trees on the El Malpais lava flows; the dendroclimatic information gleaned from these trees has played an important role in recent reconstructions of long-term trends in southwestern precipitation patterns (Grissino-Mayer 1996).

el malpais
photo by R. Towner

The nature of the project and project participants necessitated a dual set of project goals. First, student training was of paramount importance. The primary objective of the Geosciences 497J/597J course is to train students (undergraduate and graduate) and professionals in the collection, analysis, and interpretation of dendroarchaeological samples. This goal was clearly met: the course involved lectures on dendrochronological theoretical and methodological principles, and the field portion presented “real life” technical, logistical, and methodological problems for the students to solve. It also provided the opportunity for students to work as a team in a field setting as they received training and practice in standard dendroarchaeological sampling techniques. Finally, the laboratory analysis portion of the course taught the students the basics of wood species identification and crossdating, and allowed them to develop their own interpretations of the data collected in the field.  

2006 group photo
 Dendroarchaology in the Zuni Mountains, 2006          photo by S. Gallassini

In terms of the specific sites investigated, our goals were strictly dendroarchaeological. We wanted to glean as much chronological, behavioral, and environmental information from the sites and samples as time allowed. We conducted no additional archaeological documentation or analysis beyond that necessary to interpret the contexts of the tree-ring samples. In the chronological realm, we wanted to learn when the sites were initially founded, how long they were occupied, and when they were abandoned. In terms of behavior, we were interested in the site occupants’ view of wood as a resource—which species did they exploit for which structures and architectural elements? What tools and methods did they use to procure and modify wood to meet their needs? Did they preplan construction and stockpile timbers? Did they repair and/or remodel structures? Dendroarchaeological samples contain two types of environmental information: climatic and distributional.

A dendroclimatic reconstruction was far beyond the scope of this project, although Grissino-Mayer’s (1996) El Malpais reconstruction provides relevant data. The tree species exploited by the site occupants are the results of both cultural choices and environmental availability, and we noted—but not in any formal systematic fashion—the locally available species near the sites. Finally, the excellent documentation of the homestead by BLM volunteers allowed us to conduct “casual repeat photography” research as well.

Cebolla Hogans and Fence

forked stick hogan
photo by 

Cebolla Homestead Cabin

cebolla homestead cabin
photo by 

Repeat Photography

cabin print 1
photo by 

Acknowledgements: This project was a collaborative effort of the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research and Bureau of Land Management Albuquerque District. The recently retired BLM archaeologist Mr. John Roney and Rio Puerco Field Office Director Tom Gow deserve credit for bringing the sites to our attention and our thanks for facilitating the project. Dr. Tom Swetnam, Director of the LTRR, has supported the Dendroarchaeology course in many ways, for which we are extremely grateful. As always, Jeff Dean’s aid and advice have proved invaluable. Jim Parks, Rex Adams, and Chris Baisan of the LTRR helped immeasurably throughout the class. Finally, the students and participants, Stephanie Hubert, Steve Jack, Troy Knight, Leigh Perry, Marcy Reiser, LouAnn Way, and Andy Yentsch did the work and deserve my sincere thanks.


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