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The Conservancy acquires a site that appears to be Teipana,a pueblo abandoned in the mid-17th century.

The Mexican colonizer Juan de Oñate named the Piro Indian pueblo of Teipana (or Teypana, Teypama) “Socorro”—meaning aid or help—in 1598. He chose that name because the residents gave the Spanish colonists food and other needed items. In 1626, Franciscan fray Alonso de Benavides founded the mission of Nuestra Señora del Socorro at Pilabó Pueblo, located about six miles away
from Teipana. The former Pilabó Pueblo became the modern town of Socorro, but the location and fate of Teipana, the original Socorro, was for many years a mystery.

In 1980, archaeologists Michael Marshall and Henry Walt undertook archaeological and historical investigations along the Rio Grande north and south of Socorro. Known as the Rio Abajo Survey, this was the first systematic survey of archaeological sites in the area since the 1930s. Marshall and Walt located numerous previously recorded sites and discovered new ones. Following clues provided by locals, they found a large, previously unrecorded pueblo south of the town of Luis Lopez, which Marshall named Plaza Montoya after a nearby farmer. Although few structural remains were visible on the surface, Marshall was able to discern a rectangular adobe pueblo surrounding a central plaza that covered an area about the size of two football fields. He estimated the pueblo to have had some 200 rooms and, based on surface ceramics, to have been occupied between about A.D. 1500 and 1650. Spanish documents indicate that Teipana was located on the west side of the Rio Grande and south of Pilabó, both attributes that apply to Plaza Montoya Pueblo. Although other evidence such as Plaza Montoya’s size and date suggested it could have been Teipana, only excavations could provide further evidence for this assumption.

Since 2000, archaeologist Michael Bletzer of Southern Methodist University has led excavations at Plaza Montoya, assisted by Tom O’Laughlin of the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History and numerous volunteers. The results of their work support the idea that the site is the Teipana Pueblo of the Oñate period. Iron nails, spikes, and other metal objects found during the excavations indicate Spanish contact. Investigations in all four roomblocks surrounding the plaza showed the largest of them to be at least 13-rooms wide and four-to-six-rooms deep, with at least 12 second-story rooms. This amounted to 60 to 70 rooms in each roomblock for a total of more than 250. A magnetometer survey undertaken in 2003 helped uncover a large number of plaza features, though interestingly none of these features were kivas.

The research at Plaza Montoya shows that the site was occupied later, and was far larger, than neighboring sites. O’Laughlin and Bletzer think that could be due to the Spanish policy of reducción or congregación, whereby native settlements, generally those with smaller populations, were consolidated by the Spanish to make them easier to control. The mission pueblo of Pilabó/Socorro was just six miles away and could have been settled by the residents of Teipana in the late 1630s or early 1640s, perhaps after suffering significant losses in a smallpox epidemic. Notwithstanding this possibility, the excavations of Teipana/Plaza Montoya show a complete and orderly abandonment in which all usable materials were removed from the pueblo. This fits the scenario of Spanish relocation. “The Plaza Montoya study offers a key glimpse, otherwise unattainable, of the complexity of native population and settlement trends in early colonial New Mexico,” Bletzer wrote.

The Bureau of Land Management brought the site to the attention of the Conservancy, which purchased 9.7 acres containing an estimated 40 percent of the pueblo from the estate of Chuck Headen. The Conservancy is in discussions with the adjacent landowners about acquiring the remainder of the site. Some of the artifacts recovered by Bletzer’s team are on display at the new El Camino Real International Heritage Center south of Socorro.

—Tamara Stewart