The Archaeological Conservancy acquired a 25-acre tract adjacent to the Wells Petroglyph Preserve in Northern New Mexico on December 18th utilizing funds from our POINT emergency acquisition fund. The Wells Petroglyph preserve was established in 2000 when artist Katherine Wells donated 148 acres of her property situated on the escarpment of Mesa Prieta, a 12 mile long basalt formation north of Espanola located between the Chama and Rio Grande rivers. The slopes of the mesa contain basalt boulders covered with tens of thousands of petroglyphs. The glyphs have been stylistically dated to the Archaic, Pueblo and Historic periods probably spanning a period of time from 5,500 BC to the present.
About 7500 years ago, Archaic people began carving images on Mesa Prieta’s basalt surfaces. These Archaic images tend to be abstract geometric glyphs with occasional human or animal footprints. Around A.D. 1200 it is believed that a large number of Puebloan people came into the Rio Grande and Chama River valleys from the Mesa Verde region. The majority of the images on the escarpment are linked stylistically to the Puebloan occupation period. In A.D. 1598 a permanent Spanish settlement was established near the confluence of the Chama and Rio Grande rivers as New Mexico’s first capital, San Gabriel del Yunque. The capital was moved to Santa Fe in 1610. Historic petroglyphs on the escarpment include Christian crosses, horses, churches and heraldic lions believed to emulate lions depicted on Spanish Coats of Arms.
Beginning in 1999, The Mesa Prieta Petroglyph Project was established to: record the images; to educate the archaeological community, local people, descendant Native American community members and visitors about this unique resource; and to protect and preserve the mesa for generations to come. The Archaeological Conservancy has entered into a cooperative agreement with the Mesa Prieta Petroglyph Project to carry out its goals on our preserve. Working with the Conservancy and other landowners, the Project has recorded over 40,000 petroglyphs on the mesa. It is now estimated that the entire mesa contains as many as 70,000 images. The Conservancy’s 156-acre preserve contains over 9,000 recorded images. The 25-acre addition has been partially surveyed and no-doubt it contains hundreds if not thousands of additional images. Over 600 people a year are given guided tours of the Conservancy preserve by Project volunteers.
The Wells Petroglyph Preserve is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as well as the NM State Register of Cultural Properties. In 2014, the Cultural Landscapes Foundation recognized Mesa Prieta as one of the nation’s eleven most threatened and at risk landscapes.