In 1971, a team of excavators working at the Arroyo Hondo Pueblo site south of Santa Fe found a small pottery jar about the size of a fist in the ruins of a collapsed roof. After dusting off the lid, they found about 100 conus shell beads and, separately, five abalone shells that had been polished into pendants, including one inset with turquoise.
“Here was one artifact that indicated someone had a rare treasure, a unique necklace of shells that came from a great distance,” said Douglas Schwartz, principal investigator for the project.
The site off Arroyo Hondo Road south of Interstate 25 was only inhabited from about 1300 to 1425, and not even continuously. The conus beads probably came from 1,000 miles away in the Gulf of California while the abalone originated along the Pacific Coast. Both most likely reached the settlement via a long series of trades, Schwartz said.
These are the kinds of finds that keep Schwartz, now a senior scholar at the School for Advanced Research and its former president, going. He spent more than four decades working on Arroyo Hondo and this week launched a website presenting the results.
The site includes an archaeological summary of the the project, a chronology, the nine volumes published about the work, a list of the nine dissertations resulting from the research, 37 special reports on subjects such as fiber and feathers, an extensive photo gallery and even reminiscences of excavators, all in an easy-to-navigate form.
It chronicles the five seasons of field work and the following years of lab analysis, research, writing, editing and publication.
Schwartz said Friday that scholars with questions about the beginning of classic pueblo life — what the Spanish saw when they arrived — will find many answers in one convenient place. Students will have access to photos, descriptions of artifacts and the ecology of the area, as well as information on how to develop an archaeological project or even put a camp together.
For members of the public, the site is a comprehensive resource for learning more about prehistoric times in Northern New Mexico.
Arroyo Hondo started out as a 100-room hamlet in about 1300. Within the next 30 years, it exploded into a 1,000-room pueblo, Schwartz said.
The location on the edge of Arroyo Hondo Canyon was ideal. There was a nearby spring and good farmland downstream for growing corn and other crops. It was on the edge of grasslands where antelope and jackrabbits roamed, and it was near the mountain forest filled with deer and bears. Schwartz said excavators found 125 pieces of bone and identified 91 species of animals.
The community originated around the time of a drought that devastated the Southwest in 1275. People were raiding nearby hamlets for their stored food, and some decided they needed a safer place to live. They picked the site on the rim of Arroyo Hondo Canyon and enclosed it with four walls. The only way in was through one little gate. They encouraged others to join them. The pueblo quickly grew from one little hamlet to 10, each with its own plaza.
But it didn’t last. Around 1330, the weather changed. Drought returned. Harvests began to decline and the animals started moving higher up into the mountains. By 1345, the pueblo had shrunk back to nothing.
But once the drought subsided around 1370, a new village sprouted on top of the old one. Up to 250 rooms were built, but then came another drought that emptied the pueblo again by 1425, Schwartz said.
Modern technology, of course, allows communities to extend their resources, Schwartz noted, “but ultimately there’s going to be a limit. The story here is: Watch out that you don’t overrun your resources.”
Schwartz, who became president of the School for Advanced Research after four field seasons of excavations in the Grand Canyon, obtained financing for the Arroyo Hondo project from the National Science Foundation and the National Geographic Society, as well as from private donors such as Perrine and Marshall McCune.
The 20-acre preserve surrounding the pueblo was owned by the School for Advanced Research, but it was transferred to the Archaeological Conservancy in 2003.
In 2006, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The preserve is not open to the public except with permission. A field trip for School for Advanced Research members is planned for May 19. To join, go to members.sarweb.org.
Contact Anne Constable at 986-3022 or email@example.com.