Southwestern US

Scouting museum collections for teaching

The Maxwell Museum of Anthropology at the University of New MexicoHad to interrupt the morning identification to head over to the Maxwell Museum.    Every time I head in to the Maxwell I wonder, why don’t I come here more often?  It’s a terrific museum – definitely worth a visit if you’re ever in the Albuquerque area.

I visited the Maxwell this morning to look for a collection for my zooarchaeology class to work with this fall.  I need an assemblage small enough that students can manage it as a part of the class but large enough – and identifiable enough – for students to learn from.  Fortunately there are several options at the Maxwell, and they are well-curated  (not always a given) and so will be easy to work with.  Dave Phillips, curator of archaeology, kindly interrupted his morning to show me some possibilities.

I think we’re going to go with the faunal material from the Tijeras Pueblo archaeological site – there’s plenty of it, there’s good chronological control, and there’s the potential for the students to come up with some interesting research questions.

Coffee and assorted bones

I’m starting off this morning in the lab, cup of coffee by my side, working with some borrowed museum collections.  This picture shows what I’m looking at right now:

Bones from the Navajo project

Photo copyright Emily Jones, 2011

These bones are from a site in northwestern New Mexico; the site was occupied (we estimate) around 1660 A.D., by historic Navajo (or Diné) peoples.  This is just one of a suite of sites I’m examining, all Navajo-affiliated, and all from the 16th and 17th centuries.  Most archaeologists think Athapaskan-speaking Native Americans (including the Navajo) entered the southwestern US in the 15th century, though some argue for earlier or later arrival.  Early on, it seems, the Navajo were mostly hunter-gatherer, maybe with a little agriculture, but at some point they adopted sheepherding with great enthusiasm.  I’m interested in learning about this transition in subsistence, which is why I’m analyzing the zooarchaeological remains from these sites.

So far, I’ve been really impressed with the diversity in subsistence strategy represented.  Many of these sites seem to be evenly split between agriculture, hunting, and gathering of wild resources…and there are a few domestic sheep/goat sneaking in to the record in the 17th century, as well.  Earlier sites seem to have been used for more activities than later ones; it seems like the later sites are more often either hunting-specific or agriculture-specific.  I’ll have to wait to see if this pattern holds up when I get to the statistical analysis!