The Archaeological Conservancy
Preserving The Past for the Future
The Archaeological Conservancy has established over 555 sites in 46 states over the past 41 years. The preservation process for each project is ongoing – starting with acquisition and continuing with the management and maintenance of each site. This brief discussion highlights the Davis Ranch site in western New Mexico and other southwestern sites to demonstrate how the Conservancy uses funds to accomplish our preservation goals.
The first and usually the largest expense incurred in creating a preserve is the cost of acquiring the land. We rely heavily on foundations, corporations, and large donors to fund land acquisition. This is the initial step taken to create an archaeological preserve. Sometimes the land is donated to the Conservancy. The Davis Ranch site, located just north of Quemado, in west-central New Mexico was donated during the summer of 2015. Davis Ranch consists of five pieces of land, ranging in size from two to 20 acres.
The five sites comprise two quarries located on mesa tops, and three pueblos on the lowlands beneath the mesas. The mesa tops are covered by a thick blanket of quartz, quartzite, and chert rocks that once served as a source for making tools. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) archaeologists determined that one of the quarries dates to Paleo-Indian period. The other quarry had numerous broken ceramics around it, which could indicate that it was utilized by late-prehistoric groups.
One of the pueblos has seven concentrations of room blocks and three large middens. A mile north is another pueblo, which is located just below the Paleo-Indian quarry. This pueblo features 15 or more rooms and a sizeable midden. The third pueblo is about a quarter of a mile to the north. The pueblos are located above a flood plain where the inhabitants likely planted crops. Ground stone artifacts such as manos collected from numerous locations on the ranch indicate that extensive plant processing was taking place there.
BLM archaeologists also found Tularosa Black-on-White, St. John’s Polychrome, and Windgate Black-on-Red ceramics that were apparently crafted by the Mogollon people, who occupied this area between A.D. 200-1450. The Mogollon produced the earliest ceramics in the American Southwest.
This is a crucial part of the preservation process, not only to deter trespassers, but also to prosecute looters. Most courts, especially in the western US, will not convict individuals for trespassing, property damage, and looting unless that individual had crossed a perimeter fence marked “No Trespassing”.
Fencing usually cost between $3 to $8 a linear foot, depending on where they are being built and what type of fence is being constructed. The Conservancy normally use five strand wire fences with “T” posts on 20-foot centers. Barbed wire in rural areas where cows are present and smooth wire in urban areas. Barbed wire in rural areas where cows are present and smooth wire in urban areas.
Davis Ranch was fenced in the Spring of 2021 and was funded by a generous grant from the Southwest Intervention Fund for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. All-terrain vehicles, bikes, and motorcycles are of particular concern for many archaeologists. These vehicles can destroy cultural material and displace artifacts out of their original context. Maintaining a site by fencing will provide a barrier and makes it much more difficult for the vehicles to enter the properties. Surface material is especially vulnerable to damage and once an archaeological site has been disturbed, the context of the site can never be reconstructed and the information contained is lost forever.
Creation of a management plan for all new preserves is an important step. The plan is created by a committee which includes the former landowner, adjacent landowners, archaeologists, Descendant Community members, such as Native Americans, and neighboring landowners. The meeting is usually a one-day event that is held in a meeting room near the preserve. It includes a morning visit by the committee to the site followed by an afternoon discussion session. The plan is not a consensus document, but instead it represents a forum for ideas about managing the preserve.
The plan is then made available to the Conservancy board members to be considered whenever important decisions about the preserve need to be made. The Management Plan can be revised, expanded, or amended if circumstances at the preserve change.
The Conservancy recruits volunteer site stewards to assist us in watching over our preserves and to conduct tours of the preserve. There are usually neighbors or local avocational archaeologists who are interested in preservation. Several states in the SW region including Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, and Utah have statewide volunteer site steward programs that the Conservancy partners with. We often train our stewards about the archaeology of the preserve they protect and offer them handout, photos, and maps they can use to explain the significance and history of the preserve. Once the stewards have been selected and trained, the cost of managing the site steward program is minimal.
One of the Conservancy’s main focus’ is educational use of our preserves. We do our best to offer tours on demand to school groups, archaeological interest groups and the public, usually led by an archaeological expert. We also create virtual tours using drone footage and archival photos. This educates the public about our mission and gives our members and the general public the opportunity to visit a significant site from the convenience of their home.
Most of the preserves we acquire lack an adequate archaeological map. Maps are an important planning tool for identifying areas that need backfilling, reseeding, or standing walls that need stabilization. We invite archaeology students as well as interested avocational archaeologists to practice their mapping skills on our preserves. We also hire professionals to map our preserves using traditional mapping technique as well as LiDAR. Professionals who specialize in mapping often donate their services to the Conservancy.
Sites that have been looted using mechanical equipment should be backfilled to protect the remaining intact deposits. If a looted masonry room is left un-backfilled, surrounded by intact deposits, through time, the four walls of the vacant room will collapse, corrupting the archaeological integrity of the intact adjacent rooms.
The Conservancy conducted an extensive stabilization project in 2013 at Garcia Canyon Pueblito, a Navajo structure built in NW New Mexico between A.D. 1712 and 1722, perched on a boulder 70 feet above Frances Canyon. Working with the professional stabilization team from Salmon Ruins Museum in Bloomfield, NM, the project stabilized and reinforced the structures on the site. This important project was funded by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the NM Department of Cultural Affairs.
In the arid Southwest, adequate ground cover is vital to preventing erosion as well as discouraging invasive species of shrubs and grasses. The 196-acre Smith Family Petroglyph Preserve (pictured right) in Utah County, UT, adjacent to Lake Utah. Revegetation of a ½ mile long section of the preserve with native grasses was necessary after a devastating wildfire swept through the preserve in 2020.
The Conservancy encourages use and visitation of our preserves. The Davis Ranch site over the years has amassed a collection of ceramics and ground-stone artifacts that the original landowner donated to the Western New Mexico University Museum and to the City of Albuquerque Open Space Visitors Center. One of the most interesting pieces in the collection was a child’s pot, slightly larger than a half dollar coin, that Davis found in a posthole he was digging for a fence.
Tiny ceramic animal figurines and small plates with children’s fingerprints embedded in the clay have been found in the Sinagua area to the north and west of the Davis Ranch. The archaeological record indicates the Mogollon and Sinagua peoples interacted, and it’s possible that their children were trained in ceramics making.
The Archaeological Conservancy | 2021